Along the shoreline of Lake Superior, folks in the Upper Peninsula have recently taken an interest in rock hunting and head to the beaches at night in search of a rock that’s known as Yooperlite. The specimens glow under a black light and after being examined at a Michigan Tech laboratory, it was found to be the first time the active fluorescent mineral was documented in the State of Michigan.
When rock hunter Erik Rintamaki was combing the beach one night near Sault St. Marie, he made an interesting discovery. “I was trying to figure out a way that was easier to find agates on Lake Superior so I bought this black light flashlight to go out at night and try to find agates,” said Rintamaki .
Rintamaki is a third generation rock hound and what he found would have an impact on the Upper Peninsula, the mineralogy community, and tourism. He added, “I found these and had no clue what I had found. I went home and Googled it, took them to rock shows, everything I could, and no one had any answers for me. So I ended up getting in contact with Kelley Laughlin and everything went from there.”
Laughlin has been collecting and dealing in minerals and specialty stones for over 30 years, and is very familiar with fluorescents. He quickly realized that there was something special about the sample.
“Erik did not know at the time that sodalite had never been found in Michigan before. When he told me that he found this mineral that fluoresced, I thought that he might want to get in contact with my friend, Shawn Carlson who is a geologist and is also working on the Michigan mineralogy project listing all the new minerals that are found in Michigan,” said Laughlin.
Carlson said, “I took it into my laboratory in Iron County and did some of the testing work and the preliminary analysis looked like sodalite so I brought some samples to Michigan Tech to confirm using their scanning electro microscope.”
“They contacted me and said you might have found something that’s never been found in Michigan before,” said Rintamaki.
Sodalite is mineral that fluoresces with an orange glow under ultra violet light. It was discovered in the late 1800’s in Ontario, Canada and Carlson believes that it was brought here at the end of the last ice age.
“The glaciers probably broke of fragments of this Igneous Complex in Ontario and transported these rocks into upper Michigan where they are now on the Lake Superior shore and people can go looking for them with a an ultraviolet flashlight,” said Carlson.
After understanding how significant his find was, Rintamaki concocted a name for the stone and it has taken off rather quickly.
“I’m a Yooper, so I wanted it to have a connotation of where we’re from so I figured Yooper and people had mentioned maybe it was sodalite so I stole the end of sodalite and Yooper and put them together–Yooperlite,” said Rintamaki.
With a catchy title and access to plenty of shoreline to find these things, rock hunting is bringing people to the northern coast of the UP from Sault St. Marie to the tip of the Keweenaw.
Carlson added, ‘There have been some people recently who have been up to Copper Harbor. They found them around Copper Harbor, but theoretically you could find them on any beach.’
Geologists like Carlson are excited about Rintamaki’s discovery because it creates a new interest amongst a younger generation. He said, “I gave two little girls some of these rocks and a UV flashlight and they took them to school and they had hundreds of kids amazed by these glowing rocks. When you introduce people especially at that age to science in such a positive way, you’re going to get scientists and this is how they get introduced to it.”
Carlson is well respected in the mineralogy community. He himself has discovered over 40 minerals that were never found in the state before, and one specimen that had never been recorded anywhere in the world.
“If you look at the story, it really probably is the biggest story in earth science on planet earth for September of 2018, this is huge. And anytime you can actually get a story like that that draws the average person in, a person that otherwise wouldn’t care or know anything about rocks, I think that’s fantastic,” said Carlson.
Yopperlites have created a common interest. Rintamaki has made a business out of the word and currently gives rock hunting tours two nights a week in the Sault Ste. Marie area and also markets some of his rocks and related items online.
“My hope is to be doing rocks full time by March or April, as soon as the snow is gone. Then I can do night picking tours 5 to 7 nights a week,” said Rintamaki.