95% of all Opals are mined in Australia, in legendary towns like Lightning Ridge. Places full of bravado, Wild West attitude, and a sort of pioneer spirit that seems plucked straight from a romantic novel. This is where the best quality gemstones are unearthed, where the types of Opals that Queens proudly wear are collected from the earth as a labor of love, where black Opal is predominantly found. The vestigial 5% is mostly mined in places like Ethiopia, Mexico, and Brazil. Places that are often a bit more relaxed when it comes to federal oversight, places where the trade is oftentimes perilous and incredibly dangerous — full of bandits, desperados, and hostile fauna. But, did you know that in the US we’re also known for our love of Opal hunting? We have a rather rich community of adventurers that devotes themselves to this pursuit. In this article, we’re going to investigate the US Opal hunting community and give you a few stops and key mining sites in case you want to get in on the hunt and find Opal in the United States.
A Treasure Hunt For Opals
In the US we have a rather colorful love affair with gemstones and precious metals. We simply can’t get enough of them, it’s embedded in our DNA. Why did we venture out into the coyote-infested patch of dirt called the West? Because rumor had it, folks were tripping over gold nuggets. Part of our western expansion was a direct result of our infatuation with gold. We simply love a good old fashion treasure hunt, the fun of staying in an RV (or back then, perhaps a covered wagon) and bunkering down next to a mine.
It’s a pastime that’s rather enjoyable to many.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the best States to find Opals in within the US:
Types of Opals Found in the USA
Most American Opals are found in western states with a high degree of geothermal activity, remote mountains, volcanic rocks, and valleys. This Opal-rich region - from Washington to California - includes the same Western Trail many pioneers took.
Nevada in particular is renowned for its wealth of Opal, and is America’s predominant supplier of the gem. The state’s production includes magnificent specimens of black Opal and a vast array of common Opal. Collectively, the various Opal mines in the United States generate around $90,000 on an annual basis. Mining for Opal is a niche business but one that is active and tourists can participate in.
Image Courtesy of Travel Nevada
Many Opal mines are open to the public and for a small fee, you can actually dig in them and try your luck at finding your next gemstone.
Meanwhile, the type of Opals you might stumble on - when it comes to the precious variety of these stones - include black Opals, fire Opals, common Opals and lesser acclaimed types such as dendritic Opals, hyalite Opals and Luisiana Sand Opal.
USA, a Prospector’s dreamland
Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, Opals, gold, silver, etc, — sure most of these precious commodities are mined in places like South Africa, Colombia, Australia, and India, but what few people realize is that the US also has a fascinating history when it comes to its gemological roots. There are plenty of gem hunting spots in the USA and they afford great destinations for lone prospectors and families looking for a thrill. Most of these sites are on smaller logistical scales than some of those foreign operations, but they still make an exciting outing and adventure themed vacation for many Americans.
Things to consider when traveling to a mining town:
- Confirm by telephone their dates and times of operation.
- Take into account their rules and guidelines. Each mining operation is likely to have a unique set of rules, and it's important to respect them. Rules are in place for a reason — most of the time to look out for your safety.
- Use quality gear, appropriate to the unique site you are mining. Criteria and recommended tools may vary accordingly so be sure to arrive prepared. The Royal Peacock Opal Mine (Nevada) for example, currently requires shoes with rigid toe protectors, hard hats, and safety glasses — they have limited picks, shovels and rakes available for rent on site.
- Each site charges an admission fee.
- Some sites have overnight camping, while others offer trailer homes at an affordable rate.
- Pro tip — some camps have estimated that 60% (or more) of the rocks discarded by amateur gem hunters are in fact gem-laden. Novices simply don’t have the patience for the work or the experience required to recognize the treasure hidden within.
What might you find?
Well, more often than not, amateur miners either unearth common Opal, or when lucky enough to stumble upon precious Opals they discard them, fully unaware of their value. BUT, every-so-often treasure hunters have managed to unearth a valuable find, recognizing it as such. For example in Kern County, in the Opal Canyon of the Mojave Desert, a stunning specimen was extracted. Dubbed the “Mojave Flame ''it was a luminous fire Opal that glows with intensity --- it was valued at over $50,000 by the Opal Miners Association back in 1975.
Image Courtesy of Scott's Blog
Top 4 mines to Visit
Here are the top 4 mines to visit in the USA if you’re interested in Opal hunting. Most of these mines are located in the world-famous Virgin Valley in Nevada, a remote, surprisingly rich Opal district that produces some of the world’s finest black Opals.
- Royal Peacock Opal Mine (Nevada)
- Virgin Opal Bonanza Mine (Nevada)
- Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine (Nevada)
- Spencer Opal Mine (Idaho)
In places like Idaho, you’ll find such great Opals as fire, banded, hyalite, and opalized wood.
Here at NIXIN Jewelry we cherish this extraordinary stone. We invite you to come find your one of a kind.