(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — They’re here in Erie.
You can’t see them during the day. They’re not hidden, or anything like that, but they’re there and you have no idea. They look like average rocks – plain, hard, very rock-ish. But wait until dark and turn on a UV black light, and they’ll glow bright orange.
Their trademark name is “Yooperlites,” a type of rock found throughout the world but “discovered” in 2017 along the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are affectionately referred to as “Yoopers” and so the discoverer, Erik Rintamaki, dubbed the stone Yooperlites. However, the rocks are actually syenite with fluorescent sodalites.
On April 19, the official Yooperlites Facebook page posted that a member of their team had found sodalites on the shores of Lake Erie near Cleveland. That begged the question: Can the glowing rocks be found locally in Erie? To answer the question, YourErie.com went to Scott McKenzie, a geological expert and assistant professor at Mercyhurst University.
“I have seen one nice example of Yooperlite from a local beach – it was found at night with a black light by a rock collector visiting Erie,” McKenzie said. “The better black lights may be able to find other interesting minerals in gravel pits.”
The type of black lights matter, McKenzie cautioned.
“All kinds of black lights will work to find Yooperlites, but the better ones will find more than the cheap ones. I like to call the cheap flashlights ‘Pee-dar,’ since they’re usually used for people to find cat urine in their houses,” he said. “If you have a decent light and go out when it’s dark, you might find six or eight different types of minerals that will fluoresce.”
A cheap black light flashlight is available in local hardware stores for about $8. The beaches are local. And all a person has to do is wait for dark and slowly walk the beach shining the black light at the stones until they find something that glows. Hunting for the sodalites is easy and relatively inexpensive, but it’s not always fruitful. During a recent, cold evening before unseasonable snow, a trip along a local beach with a black light found trash and a sack of fish eggs typically used as fishing bait. After an hour of wind and cold, no fluorescent sodalites had been found, but there were some impressive toads in the parking lot.
You don’t always find fluorescent sodalite while searching the beaches with a black light.
Truth be told, while syenite with fluorescent sodalites might be somewhat rare, they’re not worth a heck of a lot. “Yooperlites” can be purchased online and are listed for as little as $3 (though one stone is listed for $2,500). They’re still objectively fun to find and gawk at. McKenzie noted that many other interesting finds can be had locally with a black light.
“There could be literally hundreds of different possibilities,” McKenzie said. “Most diamonds would fluoresce. The closest (diamond) found near us was in Cleveland. Back in the 1960s, a little girl on a field trip found a greasy pebble. Her teacher thought it might be something, so they took it to an expert and it was determined to be a diamond. The little girl carried it with her everywhere until she lost it four days later, never to be found again.”
So how did all of those gems and minerals wind up in little ol’ Erie? The answer goes back to the way the Great Lakes themselves were formed. Glaciers once covered much of North America, expanding and receding for millions of years. The glaciers had covered the area as recently as 12,000 years ago. And similar to how birds pollinate plants, Glaciers picked up and dropped things along their path as well.
“The ice sheet over Erie was a mile thick,” McKenzie explained. “Glaciers are kleptomaniacs. They picked up these rocks by dragging across them, and then they brought a lot of the rocks here. If you walk along the stream beds in the area, you’ll be able to find garnets in them. That gem stone has been found around here pretty frequently.”
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So if you’re walking the beaches in the evening, or a river bed in the dark, keep your eyes down. Just below your feet could be a gem or a mineral, if only you knew how to look for it. For now, a black light will at least help you find a fluorescent sodalite on the beaches in Erie — it’s not a diamond, but it’s still “pretty neat.”
“There’s this thin veneer of human civilization all around us, but just beneath it is a fascinating planet,” McKenzie said.