Fire on the Ridge – Oregon’s Premier Fire Opal – Update – 1/8/2018 – My understanding is that ownership of the mine has changed and that fee digging is no longer available.
This is a post about my absolute favorite place to mine, the Juniper Ridge Opal Mine in southern Oregon. If you are ever lucky enough to get to dig here, it is an experience you will not soon forget. There are a lot of pictures in this post, so read on and hopefully you will experience a little taste of how special this place is!
First, this is what we are looking for 🙂
Step #1 in getting to the mine, is to contact the mine owner, Chuck Newnham. You can look at their website to get contact information. I will post a link at the end of this article.
It is important to note that the mine is located in a remote, environmentally sensitive area, so as they will tell you, NO SMOKING at the mine. If you are one of those unlucky folks that are paying $6/pack for cigarettes these days, you might want to just email Chuck and buy some opal rough. Starting a wildland fire in this country will negatively impact your retirement.
After meeting Chuck at the snow park on the highway between Lakeview and Klamath Falls, you head up into the mountains for a 20 minute drive to the mine. The last mile of the drive gets a little steep and rough, but just remember what is at the end of the “trail”.
As you top out on the ridge, the entire valley spreads out before you. Even without the opal mining, this is a great place to be.
This is one of those places where the hours will just be a blur. You start working on a seam of opal and soon it is lunch time. Remember to stay hydrated and prepare for intense sun. The mine is around 6,000 feet in elevation and it does not take long to toast the tops of your ears or burn your balding head through that little vent in your hat. Take my word for that last one. I just tell my friends that it is raining harder these days.
Here is the result of a very successful day at Juniper Ridge!
I thought that I would throw in a couple more pictures just to whet your appetite a little more! Have fun and see you at the Juniper Ridge Opal Mine! And YES, that last picture is a 12 pound opal egg!
Had a chance last week to take a short trip down to Plush, Oregon to mine Oregon Sunstones. Originally planned on only mining a couple of days, but what we found the first couple of days motivated us to spend another 1/2 day doing some serious jack hammer and screening work in one of the new Dust Devil pits. Here is a couple of pictures (front and back) of my favorite stone from the trip. It weighed out at 101 carats and is the second best Oregon Sunstone that I have ever found. Green, Red and Schiller all in the same stone and very bright!
Next is a picture of the entire find for the two and 1/2 days of mining. Total weight was 910 carats. The big stone in the foreground weighed 292 carats, but will need to be trimmed up to a couple stones because of a natural fracture in the middle. Killer Day in the high desert!! Can’t wait to go back and dig some more……….
Not a color you normally see in nature? That was my thought the first time I saw some of this rough. The blue is so stunning and the fact that it comes out of a thunder egg, makes it all the more cool! Judging from our sales of this opal, people really seem to like jewelry made from it. Very nice cabs and earring stones!
The claim that the blue opal comes from is owned by Steve Schultz of Silver Streams in Idaho. I have a link to Steve’s website on our home page www.cascadegems.com. Look under “Friends” for Silver Streams. Steve tells me he will have some Owyhee Blue Opal rough available in Tucson, during the gem show in early February. I will tell you though that Colleen and I put a serious dent in what he mined this year. He will be set up at The Rock Show in the Kino Sports Complex (aka) RV Electric Park in space F2. If you stop by, tell him Doug says Hi!
Noyam and Tony own and operate Service Station Gems in Marsing Idaho about 34 miles outside of Boise. During January and until mid-February each winter, they reside at the Desert Gardens Gem Show (Quartzsite, Arizona). I have known Noyam and Tony for only a couple of years, many of you I am sure have known them for decades. Service station Gems specializes in rare jaspers (rare generally meaning that they have not been mined for a long time and the supply is limited or in private collections).
Their signature rough and one that they have been the exclusive supply for is Hell’s Canyon petrified wood. They have been marketing the wood since 2009, when they made the deal to purchase the entire known stockpile from the children of the original owners at an estate sale in Eastern Oregon. In the early 1950’s this rock hound family had collected it from the area where Hell’s Canyon Dam was later built. An article about the wood was published in the Lapidary Journal in Feb 2010. Tony tells me that this is likely to be the last year of rough sales on the Hell’s Canyon. They are down to a small supply of good rough and slices; he does not expect it to last through the Quartzsite show. If you want some of this beautiful wood, I would not hesitate to visit them early in the show.
I talked to Tony earlier this week to see what else they would be bringing to Quartzsite. Here is what he expects to have there for sale … Lots of cabochons of all types; Picture Jaspers … Wild Horse, Cripple Creek, Red Desert, Cave Mountain, Original Owyhee, Rocky Butte, Fire Cracker (Antelope Jasper in the 1970s), White Cloud, Monarch, Red Top, Brenda, Hidden Valley, Serenity and Red Robin. He says he will have from a few to several hundred pounds of each type. He may have some high quality face cut pieces of Strawberry Hill and Painted Desert, but he is not sure at this point
On the agate front….. Plumes … Graveyard Point, Million Dollar Hill, Sagenite, Nipomo Sagenite, Snake River Dendritic, Regency Rose and Rainbow Lace.
One thing that I was excited to hear about was that Tony had uncovered a barrel of Feather Ridge Plume agate buried in the back of his warehouse. This rough was mined over 20 years ago. Noyam sent me a few pictures of this rough and it REALLY looks good! Tony said that he would be bringing some of this to Quartzsite, get there early, I don’t think it will last.
Tony also told me that they would be bringing some one-of-a-kind items and a few nice specimens of old Grassy Mountain Petrified Wood.
You can find Noyam and Tony at the Desert Gardens Gem Show (Quartzsite) in space I15 and J15. They should be there by January 1st and are looking forward to visiting with lots of old friends and making new ones. They can be reached year around at (208) 896-5355. I get a lot of enjoyment out of talking to Noyam and Tony about the history of mining in the Owyhee and Graveyard Point areas and hearing all about the various claims and the people that mined them.
One of my favorite types of jasper to work with is Carrasite from the Owyhee in eastern Oregon. This jasper has a lot of similarities with Morrisonite, orbs, stringers and lots of wild unpredictable patterns and colors make this a highly sought after rough. As a porcelain jasper, Carrasite takes a beautiful glass polish.
Charlie Carras found and mined the site in the 1970’s. The current owner, Steve Schultz took over the claim in 1999 and has mined on it every year since. I have included a picture of the (DEEP) pit Steve is working in the Owyhee. This picture will help you appreciate the amount of work involved and the investment required to bring the Carrasite rough to market. Prior to Steve taking over the claim, it had never been mined over 10-15 feet deep, he is now over 65 feet deep. Steve tells me that is where the brighter colors come. The location of this jasper is not to far from the Morrisonite claims in the Owyhee.
I have a link to Steve’s website on our home page www.cascadegems.com. Look under “Friends” for Silver Streams. Steve tells me he will have some Carrasite rough available in Tucson, during the gem show in early February. Knowing how popular this jasper is, I wouldn’t hesitate to go talk to Steve early. He will be set up at The Rock Show in the Kino Sports Complex (aka) RV Electric Park in space F2.
I would like to introduce you to a new jasper recently discovered and being currently mined by Steve Schultz of Idaho . I have a link to Steve’s website on our home page www.cascadegems.com. Look under “Friends” for Silver Streams. Steve is calling his new jasper Owyhee Mountain Dendritic Jasper. I was able to purchase some of the rough from Steve at his house while purchasing his Owyhee Blue Opal and Carrasite rough.
At first glance to me, the new jasper looks like a combination of Chinese Dendritic Jasper from the Owyhee and Apache Sage Rhyolite from the desert southwest. The colors present in this new material range from dark reddish purple to yellow. The jasper is very solid, with great patterns that will make it very attractive to rock hounds. I have only cut a few pieces of the rough so far, but all indications are it will be very good to work with and take a easy shine with cerium on leather. I will tell you that as soon as I got home from the trip to Idaho and cut a couple of cabs, I emailed Steve and purchased more of the rough.
I have included a picture of the locale where Steve is mining this material WAY OUT in the Owyhee. This picture will help you appreciate the amount of work involved and the investment required to bring this new jasper to market. Steve tells me he will have the new jasper rough available in Tucson, during the gem show in early February. He will be set up at The Rock Show in the Kino Sports Complex (aka) RV Electric Park in space F2.
In the spring of 2006, I was mining sunstone at the Dust Devil mine outside of Plush, Oregon with my mining partner Dalan Hargrave. One thing about this part of the country is it is either going to be too “HOT” or too “COLD”. The word comfortable, never really comes to mind when I am there mining.
This was one of those hot trips. Our mining strategy was to get up right at daylight (approx. 4AM), find a cup of coffee and head for the pit. By noon, the heat waves would be rising off the ground and the deeper you were in the pit, the less breeze you were going to get. Sunstone mining requires innovation as is evidenced by the following picture.
I need to emphasize at this point that at this point in my sunstone digging career, I hadn’t really set the world on fire with my success. I had, thanks to a very generous spouse, acquired a 20 pound jack hammer and a very nice Honda generator. I think my coming home from the first attempt at sunstone mining with a black and blue hand and a torn muscle in my forearm had indicated to her that I needed help (and power tools).
By about 2PM on my 3rd day of mining, I had excavated a jacuzzi sized hole next to Dalan’s diggings. I want it duly noted by all readers that I specifically gave Dalan his choice of digging spots. He chose the one to the left of me. To this day he still will tell anyone that will listen that I chose first, simply not true 😉 Because it was now about 95 degrees in the shade, most of the hopeful diggers had retreated to the shade canopy at the Dust Devil office. I was also starting to entertain the option of taking a little siesta in the shade and re-hydrating with a bottle of Gatorade until the angle of the sun was a little more comfortable.
As I was cutting into the wall of my jacuzzi, I saw a broad flash of red as part of the wall crumbled into the bottom of the hole. I set the jack hammer aside and brushed my way carefully through the dirt to see what might be there. One is always cautiously optimistic when you have seen that bright red color. Certain practical jokers have been know to drop a red Jolly Rancher candy into your diggings when you aren’t looking. I will not mention any names. I was absolutely stunned when the large flat face of a sunstone crystal appeared. Although I don’t remember it, everyone told me I just kept repeating “Holy Crap”. Along with this stone there was another nice stone which would have been a great find by itself. I just sat down and stared at the big stone for a few minutes as digging buddies came over to see what I had found.
I couldn’t pull myself away from the digging, so Mike, a fellow miner, took the stone up to the office to show the other diggers and the mine owners. After I was sure that there was no other treasures in that pocket, I headed up to the office area. Up at the office, there was a crowd of people all gathered around and needless to say, the stone had created quite a stir. Dalan had cleaned the face of the crystal and that made it obvious how great of a find it was. Red and green with a broad Schiller flash, all the things you hope for in a nice sunstone.
Needless to say, the Holy Crap stone spent the rest of the mining trip in the safe at the Dust Devil, being brought out occasionally to show other interested miners.
It was very obvious to me that I did not have the skill or experience to cut this 292 carat stone, so I asked Dalan to take on that task. After the trip was over and Dalan had flown back to Texas, I sent him the stone to cut. After considerable study, he came up with the idea of carving a mother polar bear and cub at the mouth of a ice cave. The schiller flash on the stone, became blowing snow. The stone after cutting weighed 202 carats and Dalan mounted it on a white marble base (snow), with silver icicles and finished it with a wood base.
Dalan entered this piece in the 2007 AGTA Cutting Edge Awards competition and placed First in the Object of Art category.
After the competition, Polar Spring as it became named, spent the next two years on display at the GIA Museum in Carlsbad, California. Polar Spring is now on display at the The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals. The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is located 25 minutes west on Highway 26 from downtown Portland, Oregon, near Hillsboro.
I carved the other stone found that day into a 32 carat pendant that my wife now wears. Here is a picture of the stone after it was carved and before Dalan turned it into a pendant.
It is fun to note that a couple of days after I found that stone, another miner from Switzerland, Katerina Kestemont found a very nice sunstone and yelled out, “I found a Holy Crap stone”.
It would seem that since the term “Holy Crap Stone” has been used now multiple times, we can create an acronym, HCS for texting. Stay tuned for up to the minute reports from the mine…..