Monday, October 5, 2009
Prospecting for Opal in the Mojave Desert
There's a little store in Pahrump, Nevada, called Gotta Get a Map. Inside you will find just what you expect, maps and books and rock hammers and a delightful lady named Cassandra.
Now we learned about this place from the local Chamber of Commerce, where the lady had told us that Gotta Get a Map was the place to go to learn about rock hounding in the area and was she right. We spent a delightful hour with Cassandra as she showed us her rock and mineral collection and shared with us a place to go looking for fire opals!
The next day we took off bright and early, if you call 10 am bright and early, and it was a short drive to the opal location. We had also brought a book, Rock hounding California and it, along with Cassandras directions helped us find the spot with ease!
Parking at the end of a four wheel drive road we were so excited that we took off with no thought of water, food, or emergency medical supplies. It looked to be so close to us, but the mudstone cliffs were actually a lot further than we thought. Arriving, it didn't take long to see the mine shafts where people had dug deep into the cliff walls searching for fire.
We found pieces of broken opal, or at least white opalite. It was really all over the place as some was from broken concretions left by the other rockhounders and some was just weathering out of the cliff walls. Showing Renita what I had found I told her to enjoy as I turned back to the truck to get the supplies we had so carelessly left behind.
The walk across the arroyo was covered with rock and debris from numerous flash floods. There were only a few dead and dried out cactus but I managed to find them and had to stop to pull out long dead spines,(I seem to have a knack for attracting cactus). Arriving at the truck I got our food and spent some time looking for the camera, which of course Renita had remembered to take.
By the time I arrived back at the spot, Renita showed me a large bag full of opal concretions! In such a short time she had learned the look of the crust which covers the opal nodules and had quite a few good looking specimens! I dropped the pack and started looking myself, picking up piece after piece but not finding any fire opals.
Now they really aren't fire opals, those are red opals from Mexico, but regardless we didn't find any, just lots of pretty white opals. There were so many that I quickly filled the pack and another grocery sack.
It was already one pm and the sun was hot and burning. The afternoon is not a time to be prospecting in the Mojave Desert,(At least we didn't have to worry about being bothered by Gila monsters, sidewinders, or scorpions), but I was getting burned pretty good and so we headed back to the truck.
The drive back to Pahrump was only 34 miles and we stopped at a huge black dike of amphibole that Renita had noticed on the way out. We also passed a place where people were working their gold claims, but no one invited us to stop so we passed by.
Now the opal here is crazy opal, which means that it has dried out and cracks easily,(that's why its called crazy opal and is hard to work in lapidary), but it was still opal and we have a bunch of large concretions yet to open, so we still have hopes for some fire opal. Regardless it was a fun day in the Mojave Desert and we have more rocks for the fifth wheel! Clear skies.