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Thursday, October 23, 2014

"Road Trip Meanderings" ~ The Wall

        Here I am in the desert of North West Nevada a barren remote place. If you ever come out here; have plenty of gas, at least one good spare tire and good tires on your vehicle, food and plenty of beverage.
        Anyway, here I am at the #Royal Peacock Opal Mine digging for opals. I've studied on coming here for years. I've seen the u tube videos. I've seen the treasure hunting shows. Opals are my birthstone. I've tried to prepare myself. I've tried to see what my chances of success are. I knew it would be hard work. You pay pretty good money to do this. Its not exactly cheap.
        I'm at the base of this wall, this 100,000 year old wall. Its over my head but I dig down and in. Eventually digging about 4 feet down and three feet in. Its my third day. I've found valuable stuff, beautiful fiery opals. I've found interesting stuff. Wood that is as much wood today as it was 100,000 years ago. Other wood hard as rock, some with shiney bits that have "opalized". I chip away at the petrified dirt and rock looking for treasures. The hours grow long, it is hot, there isn't a cloud in the sky and there is no shade. I study the lines in the rock looking for clues. Every once and awhile I'm rewarded with some kind of treasure. Sometimes an opal sometimes a piece of petrified wood.  I think and wonder about what this must have been like right before the Yellowstone volcano covered it in ash. I chip away. Everything I have is covered in dust, including me. I seem to be doing better than most of the other people digging at the wall or raking through the tailings. Unless you have done this before its hard to really prepare yourself for how hard it is. There again I think I was a little more serious about finding something good. I think some one came by and said I was digging like a man possessed. Well~ I did come here to find a $20,000 opal! Ha,Ha!!!! By the middle of the second day my right arm felt like it was going to fall off! I started having to use my left arm, which is totally useless. I hammered away with it anyway .
   For most of three days it was just me and that wall. I talked to it and sometimes I think it talked back. I feel lucky to come away with some of its secrets.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"The Epic Road Trip" ~ Camp Peacock Day 2

        This morning had several more diggers than the day before. Most how ever were not digging in the bank. Most were going through the tailings and having some luck at finding some small stuff. Maybe some good small jewelry stuff. The kid from the night before found a couple of small fire opals and one piece that was o.k. size but had fractures in it. I didn't tell him. I just congratulated him on his find. The loud mouth was jumping from spot to spot not really finding anything.
       I had left my tools at my spot to save it. The day turned kind off hot, I wasn't having much luck. Some time around noon, I decided that this was hard work. I was getting sun burnt. I had done really good the day before. No one had yet found anything as nice. It wasn't my $20,000 opal that I had hoped to find but I had some nice pieces for some jewelry. I was deciding that I would finish out the day and probably head to the Redwoods  and the Oregon coast the next day. I had gotten really excited about getting to the coast when I found out that the Redwoods National Forest was just over the state line from where I was staying. Like so much of this trip; I had been wanting to see the redwoods since I was a kid. So it didn't help my motivation at digging for opals when I was so excited about going further.
     Late in the afternoon, I sat back and was surveying my wall, which by this time was about 4 ft deeper and 3 ft more in. I had dug a big hole and was surveying my work. Part of the operation, they stress is to keep the wall straight and especially not to under cut. I noticed there was a bulge in my wall right under the ash ball. Right in the middle. I decided , what the hell I'll smooth it out. I hit once and heard a dink, than I tapped it again and a chip about as big around as a dollar coin came off. What shone back at me was pure shiney black glass. Not only that it looked like it might be big. What I could see looked like the size of a base ball. "Oh MY God!" Could it be? Jake and Piu kind of hang back and check back and forth with every one to make sure every one is doing o.k. I looked back and Jake was sitting on the ground a few feet back from me. I looked back at what appeared to be a big opal,then I looked back at him. He asked "What did you do?" I said" I don't know but I think I've found a big opal."  He came over and started cleaning out from around it. He immediately wet some dirt and covered the exposed part to keep it from cracking. I handed him a screwdriver and he cleaned off enough to see the outline . Sure enough this thing was as big as my forearm. I'm not a particularly emotional person, I don't get excited easy, but at this point, I giggled like a child on Christmas morning. Some say I was whooping and hollering the whole time. If we got this out it would be a museum piece. At $600 to $800 a carat, it could very well be worth $20,000. As we continued cleaning out the outline Piu came over and told us that we had 10 minutes until the quitting horn sounded. We worked to get it uncovered but there was no way. It was at this point I stated that I would be staying another day, that I was of course not leaving that behind.
        I got back to my camp site once again covered in dirt, exhausted but excited. the kid packed and drove off.  After a quick shower and quicker dinner. A couple of beers and I was asleep soon after it got dark.  
      Day 1 finds

The Epic Road Trip~ Camp Opal Day 1

   After a fitful nights sleep. (I later realized my air mattress didn't hold air. Note to self check all of my stuff not just the new stuff.)  I woke up early the first morning.  Well actually it was my normal 5:30 wake up. Funny how things change. 30 years ago I was going to bed at 5:30.  It was chilly! A heavy frost! I lit a fire and made some coffee and a little breakfast, enjoying the quiet stillness. Funny thing; when I was setting up my camp site there was a rooster constantly crowing. I had an experience once where I stayed at a horse ranch in a converted barn, in the other half were the horses and a rooster crowed most of the night. This rooster hadn't crowed since the sun went down. Which was a relief, but still funny, here it was morning and it wasn't crowing.
    When I had checked in Jake had told me to have my "rig" ( my truck and tools) in line in front of the office by 7:45. There was one other car. It was a short drive up to the mine. We are at the sight of what was, 100,000 years ago, a lake surrounded by trees. Then the Yellowstone volcano erupted knocking down all the trees and covering everything in ash.  Now it is hilly desert. The side of this hill has been scraped away to a depth to where you can actually see "ash balls" in the side of the hill. They are grey circles in the side of the hill and the theory is that the biggest and best opals are to the sides and under these ash balls.  I did not know this at first but was immediately drawn to  a big one. This is when the other guy helping me Pui, from Tahiti, a very nice guy, told me that he thought it was a good spot. Then he told me the theory.
       The "bank" that they have bulldozed away is still probably 7 or maybe 8 feet high. Pui goes to the top and takes a post and breaks away the top two or three feet of bank to get down near the ash ball. It is still pretty chilly when we start, the sun hasn't come over the mountain yet and it is still shady. Soon the sun comes roaring up over the mountain and it warms up quickly. There is NO shade at the mine. The day wasn't too hot and by mid morning I had mucked out all that over bearing material and was down to working level. In the wall you can see where water had run down through the layers and I was told to follow those lines especially if they were around or went through the ash ball. I chipped away with my pick. every once and a while you have to rake and shovel out your work space. They video on U Tube says that miners miss a lot of the opals. As I was shoveling out my space, sure enough right on the top of the shovel was a nice piece of precious opal! When the guys saw it they asked where the other piece was. I said "I didn't know" and we scratched around it the dirt until we found 3 other small pieces that made it a whole. In all, if handled right, they would make 2 nice pendents and maybe a ring or ear ring. By this time some other folks had shown up mostly going through the tailings.  I dug through the day, finding some other small opals some precious, some common,  and some nice opalized wood.  Nothing as dramatic and fiery as the first finds but still some pretty nice stuff. I was well pleased and was told that I could pay for my trip with what I had found. Selling was never an option in my book. I had done good better than anyone else. I was tired and hot. I was coming back the next day. I wanted to have a nice dinner, so I cut out an hour early
    I took a shower, kind of checked things out a little more, drank a beer. By this time it was probably 5ish. There that crazy rooster was crowing again. He was obviously mixed up about what his job was, not that I'm complaining. There were more people coming in. Up next to me comes this ford 350 truck driven by some kid filled with all kinds of stuff. He has one of those bike taxi that he bought in Denver, he has furniture and everything else. He says he graduated school and was on a big road trip back home, which was 4 hours away. He is struggling to get something out. I offer to help, he say "thanks but he has it under control." Its going to be another chilly night, the last one of the whole trip. I build a fire and start my dinner. The kid invites his self over, he is cold, turns out all he has is a tarp and a sleeping bag. He isn't so bad, although he is eating an apple and talks about being a vegetarian and how hard it is to get vegetarian food on the road. As I eat my duck comfit sandwich,I find this kind of odd in this day and age. I've bought loaves of bread I had made to give out as presents. I had given one to Jake the day before and now offers one of the mini loaves to this guy but he declines. Another thing I find funny. Although I want to relax and read, the kid is not a bad guy. The things go south. This other guy invites his self over which is not bad at first. We are all talking about the opals and all. The the new guys ego builds and he starts all this big talk, I get my book and retreat away from the fire. Then he loudly starts talking politics. There was a time I would have argued with him but at this stage in my life I have more things going on and have pretty much checked out. At some point I have had enough and went to the fire and told them; "That I had payed for this campsite and that it was a politics free zone."  I didn't want the kid to be cold but I think they both got the message. The new guy went back to the trailer he was staying in and the kid went and wrapped his self in his sleeping bag and tarp. On the way out he asked me to wake him if he wasn't awake the next morning. I chuckled to my self remembering those days when I was his age and could sleep standing in a corner or in a crowd of people. The fire died down and I laid my tired body down to rest.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Road Trip Meanderings #2

       The Royal Peacock Opal mine is just a very few miles away from “The Black Rock Desert” where just a couple of weeks ago 50,000 people came together for the “Burning Man” festival, a cultural art and music festival of radical self-expression. Huge works of art are on display and at the end of the week it is all burned and the desert is returned to its primal self. Crews of volunteers go around making sure every speck of trash and glitter are picked up.  It’s on my next thing to do very soon list. LOL!!! 

The Epic Road Trip~ The Royal Peacock Opal Mine

            I had wanted to get to the mine early in the day and have most of the day to check the area out. As it turned out; I didn't get in until around 5 pm. I had stopped in Winnemucca for lunch and the last bit of civilization for the next 3 or 4 days, but that only put me behind an hour, maybe.  It took me a lot longer to get there than I had estimated.
       As I entered the campground/store area, I was first greeted by a big old black and white cat who was content to roll over on his back and let me scratch his tummy as he playfully boxed and bit at my hand, never once making contact. Out of a nearby house a young guy came out and greeted me and had me fill out some paper work. This young guy turns out to be Jake. Self-taught opal guru, archaeologist and local character, maybe 27'ish. The store was filled with fire opals, all gleaming bright and colorful.
       The camp store was surrounded by big colorful ceramic type flowers. The bathrooms out here all have signs on them to keep the doors closed to keep the snakes out.  The landscape is stark.  I try to imagine it 100 million years ago when this was a huge lake with trees growing all around. Then; the Yellowstone Volcano erupted and changed it to this. Creating the perfect place to dig for precious “Fire Opals”! 

     I soon have Camp Peacock looking good; settle down for a well-deserved adult beverage, a light dinner and asleep before it was good and dark. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Road Trip Meanderings #1

                    On my road trips, I often think about what other, earlier travelers may have gone through. Especially since being out west, I think of the pioneers. There were some people much like myself. Well maybe not like myself. I probably wouldn't have made it over the Appalachians! LOL! But there were hardier peoples, explorers and here is my theory. Some made it all the way across the plains, the heat, humidity, snakes and Indians. Only to reach where Denver is now and there before them were the Rocky Mountains.  They said; “Enough was enough!” and Denver was born. Other more intrepid explorers crossed those very same mountains to come to the Great Salt Lake and the desert beyond. They said “Freaking A!” and Salt Lake City was born. The travelers and explorers that made it all the way to Oregon after traveling through all those hazardous places must have thought they had found heaven when they came out of the deserts of Nevada and east Oregon and stood among the redwoods and caught the first whiff of the Spruce trees. I know that’s the way I felt!     

The Epic Road Trip~ from Parshall to The Royal Peacock Opal Mine

           I take off from Parshall heading west towards Steamboat Springs in a down pour. At the top of Rabbit Ears Pass, it’s pounding the snow. I have to pull over and put her in 4whl drive.  It soon switches back over to rain. When I get to the other side of steamboat there is a clearing and a cheer goes up, then another shower. Each time there is a clearing there is a cheer, each time a shower, no worries, I know the long term forecast. West of Steamboat I head north towards Baggs WY and interstate 80. This turns out to what seems to be the longest parts of the trip. I’ve only been this way once or twice before and it was several years ago.  I mistakenly think that Baggs is a WHOLE lot closer to the interstate. I’m outside Rock Springs taking my first break. Over the years I’ve developed a system for driving long distances. I don’t get motel rooms. I tend to want to sleep in and get late starts. Instead, I drive 4 or 5 hours then take an hour or so break. Every third break I take a 2 hour break and at least a 30 minute nap. So, I poke along driving and napping across America! Ha,ha!!!!! This trip I’m not worrying about making time, so at this point I take an hour nap. I take one more break before day light. Day light finds me crossing the Great Salt Lake, it shimmers all around me.
        It’s a glorious morning. Most of the rain has ended, but the clouds hang low over the desert, it’s as if you could almost reach up and touch them. They hang just above the big trucks. The highway is long and straight but everything is going well. “The Road Warrior” (the name I’ve christened the truck) is preforming beautifully and is very comfortable to drive and sleep in.  The miles go by. 
            Midafternoon finds me in Winnemucca. Winnemucca is a fair size town with bistros, and other restaurants and services. I think Johnny Cash was talking about the streets leading into Winnemucca being long and dusty because this looks to be an up and coming place.
       It’s another 3 hours out into the desert to the opal mine. The sign reads 178 miles to the nearest gas station. It is remote to say the least! If you ever head this way, you better have plenty of gas, food and drinks maybe two spare tires.

     I find myself finally at my destination, the Royal Peacock Opal Mne around 5pm PST