John Church at work.
I got the opal bug when rockhounding out here with my Stone Healer ex-wife Geri in the 80's. I'm a stone-finder according to the psychic readers I have seen. In 1994 I gave up on the power companies answering my resume's, I pulled the knife out of my back, and started vending at Gem and Mineral shows and other events as Swordfish Mining from Oregon selling off my year worth of collecting. In 1995 Leah and I joined our forces in the Virgin Valley of northwestern Nevada putting in the first of our joint claims. Prospecting and digging for opals in Virgin Valley since the 70s & 80s respectively, we found our home here. From the 90's on together. Leah unfortunately passed away in 2005. Her mom; Marie, daughter; Crystal, and Lillian (opal princess in training) continue their opal mining and participation in the lapidary community. Marie is active in many arenas one of which is Water for Wildlife and are shown on her website listed in the links. Swordfish Mining has been offering opals since 1995 and selling claims into the new millennium.
Swordfish Mining is still prospecting here. I can't wait to find something new. Leah Brashear and her family and John Church have mined our numerous claims and at the various fee digs: The Rainbow Ridge Mine, The Royal Peacock Opal Mine, as shareholders in the Bonanza Mine LLC, and at the Opal Queen Mine. We had our own claims then and even more producing holes now. The neighborhood here was families that owned and operated as small miners who bought or made claims in their spare time and the odd rugged individuals who made a run at having a go of mining the queen of gemstones. They are willing to gamble time and sweat for the stellar opals we can find. Lots of the cutters or jewelers that do offer Virgin Valley cabochons and opal jewellery, dig here in person for their supply. Do not come here thinking to get rich knowing nothing about the gem business. Do not fall for the Cash and Treasures Hype on easy money either- you can't just go sell it. The mines DON'T buy your opals.
This very pretty sandstone historically sold as Owyhee Pink and can also be seen in Winnemucca at the US Bank surrounding the Vault door and the Scott Shady Court Motel and on buildings in Salt Lake City, UT, San Francisco, CA, and in Boise, ID. Currently we are selling only stone or rough blocks and pallets of scrap for landscaping. If you are represent a gold mining company and would be interested in a partnership to exploratory drill the possible precious metal target identified by the USGS Survey and described in the Mineralogical survey of the Refuge please contact me by personal message.
2013 in QUARTZSITE, AZ. 2010. Space 557 against the West fence. This year I will be taking faceted stones and Depression priced gemstones, Oregon Fire opal, Mexican Fire opal, Schiller Sunstones, Star garnets, Virgin Valley wood beads and rare zeolite cabs.
Early March Klamath Falls Rock and Arrowhead Club Annual Gem and Mineral Show. Klamath Co Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls, Or. See our Ad in Rock and Gem magazine. The home club.
Memorial Day Weekend. I set up at the Denio Jct Art and Craft show on the lawn. Hours are from 10 am to 3 pm Sunday and Monday. Also that weekend The Ryals 4th Annual Virgin Valley Gem and Mineral Show takes place in Virgin Valley. Vendors are welcome to tailgate or set up their booth. It is hosted by the Opal Negra Gift Shop at their millsite in Virgin Valley. 2 miles south of the CCC campground towards the Rainbow Ridge Opal Fee dig mine. For more information contact Pat or Scott Ryals at http://thegemdealer.com/
1st weekend in June is the Denio Community fund raiser Steak and Chorizo B-B-Q, $15 a plate with an extensive desert table. It's the biggest annual event with a community fundraising raffle. Prizes are expensive firearms or community handmade quilts, opal Jewelry, and much, much more. Team roping, steak feed, and dance with live music. Kids events with prizes. Come on out and enjoy a real old west get together and hospitality. Concessions http://www.denio-nv.net/
Fourth of July is spent here in the valley whenever possible. The Madras show is where I am if not here. Mining takes precedence.
Labor day weekend 2011: Snyder's Rockhound Ranch Pow Wow. Valley Springs, CA. Held at the Snyder's Hereford Ranch in Valley Springs, CA it's the largest outdoor show north of Quartzsite. Details, information, and flyers on the web at http://www.valleyspringspowwow.com/
I'm afraid I won't be there in 2012. California has finally priced me out of the show business down there.
The dugout on the Swordfish is now a coyote den. Please do not disturb the local residents. Burros also shelter there in storms.
BE SAFE THIS FAR AWAY FROM TOWN! You are quite away's from any hospital or ambulance. I takes 2 1/2 hours for them to get here and then 3 hours to get back, and not everybody gets the Reno, or Boise helicopter. The closest available first responders come from Denio. 45 min for us to get there, on our own unreimbursed nickels which also means 2 hours out of our day at least or 5 if something really needs us. Lakeveiw, OR is the closest hospital, but the ambulance comes from Winnemucca, NV. There is no reliable cell phone service except at the pullout part way down the Thousand Creek grade, towards Denio, where I put up an orange traffic marker. Most miners here have regular phones not cells. Bring your own phone cards if you want to use one.
You won't see much litter on Highway 140 here as I participate in Nevada's Adopt-A-Highway program. A decade of adopting the 3 1/2 miles from the Rest Area to the top of the Thousand Creek grade. You will see nothing but recent trash on the road. You do own the highway...Keep it Clean. I might change my sign next year to this website from the current Swordfish Mining signs.
There is no trash service on the refuge. Please take all your garbage and refuse to the rest area canisters contained in a bag and shut the lid. Contain your load please. Pickup truck beds aren't a trash can but a moving litter dispenser.
Calls for fee mine digging information will not be returned. You have to call the 3 fee digs themselves and leave messages if they are not there for information. Their website's are all listed on my Links page here, Messages about me will get returned as soon as possible. Just maybe not this week, so don't fret. Miners and gem sellers have to spend a lot of time away from the phone to survive. Please do leave a message.
ABOUT MY SWORDFISH GROUP OF CLAIMS:
The discoverer, or least the miner living on the mining site was Mrs. Lockheed (Loughead). She was the Queen of the Valley in many minds. She mined on every property worth mining out here that had been discovered. She prospected outside the current mining district also for other local precious opal outcrops. She walked to the high opal deposits on and past Catnip mountain to beyond Gridley Lake. No, I can't tell you where those are, and neither can the BLM even tho' they admit they were there on a map they no longer have. Those areas have all been withdrawn from claiming by an act of Congress. I'm looking for a copy of the Winnemucca BLM rockhound handout map which they no longer furnish.
She raised her "second" family for awhile on the old Green Fire Mine located on what is now the Swordfish Claim Group (not the new Green Fire claim which has been sold after it was moved down river in the 60s. There are many different stories about Mrs. Loughead. The original Green Fire mine is reported on by John Sinkakis in "Gemstones of America". I claimed this same area as the Swordfish in 1994. It is not open for public opal digging at this point.
The Swordfish claims were underground mined where the fabulously rich pocket made underground precious opal mining feasible. Opal is not just automatically everywhere in the opal bearing clay layer. many a man has died without finding his lode down under. Historically the only way to have excellent opal recovery of fragile gemstones was to mine it by hand like we still do. There is a stunning black opal with multicolor flagstone broad flash on display in Gaumers Museum in Red Bluff, CA that was mined from the Swordfish deposit myself. It is a true 5 bright flagstone.
I would trade an cut opal for a definitive photo that actually shows her old tunnel mine on Sagebrush Creek (NOT the Rainbow Ridge tunnel or the abandoned Virgin Queen mine). Please just scan your original and e-mail me the digital picture. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is the repository of John Sinkakis' vast library of books, magazines, field trip notes, and gemstone cutting records. They are not available to the public. As a side note The GIA was gifted an excellent collection of polished dry Virgin Valley opals from Rainbow Ridge Fee Dig by the current owners and some from the other mines too. These stones came from the students who mined them and the mine owners who donated them to provide a definitive representation of the Virgin Valleys' fine opals suitability for gemstones. The GIA can document the stability of all these stones from the first weigh in to those still found in the existing collection along with their representative samples from other world mining districts. I guess.
The Guide (published for GIA members to wholesale price all gemstones) makes no differentiation in price for opals except for Mexican and Boulder as to where they came from. Once an opal is a gemstone, it can be fairly graded and priced by industry standards. These do discount per carat prices depending on where gemstones come from. Honest miner/dealers will always disclose their sources and any treatments.
The Stone Tree with the future claimholders from almost 30 years ago.
This Opalized log is from a layer usually found weathered out on top of the ground or upright as stumps. These are Leah's' children perched on the NON PRECIOUS OPAL log. This is a privately owned claim and is NOT a public collecting area. There are adjoining claims for sale. Felony Mineral Trespass is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine. Don't let us or the rangers catch you damaging the ONLY TREE HERE because you are too cheap to buy some woods from the miners.
If you make us go out to our claims and you are caught illegally mining, even if you were defrauded by murderous criminals from prison, you WILL have to give back everything you mined as stolen property/evidence and you'll be talking to the Sheriffs. Then you'll get to talk to our local judge and let him rate your stupidity versus criminality. I live here and do not have to travel far to testify at your trial. BLAH BLAH BLAH This a published formal warning that I shouldn't have to state if it weren't for stupid thieves that will rot in jail when caught if they can't pay restitutions.
The owners were thankful the Refuge management put up a large informational sign on the Stone Tree claim by THEIR tree. I'm sure it has slowed the disintegration from souvenir hunters. Please remember that you are visiting a valid claim with permission to look, not collect, and should not vandalize their log. It is not precious, it is a landmark fossil. WE claimed all opal AND petrified wood in the good old days and all those valid claims are still valid with all their rights concerning ALL materials and timber found on the ground.
The Owyhee Rose Sandstone is the decoration and construction material. Precious opal is very rare in this formation. It is actually opalized sandstone. The Brashear's own the claims on the quarry and sell it on site for $200 a ton, you load at the quarry. Blocks are $500 a ton as they are pallets loaded for landscaping use. Call first, don't get caught stealing from us by the rangers who live next to the quarry entrance and have it posted.
The rest of the wildlife refuge is always open to rock hound the legal 7 pounds of material a day. That limit has been enforced - be warned that the rules are published, posted, and available so you can't play dumb treating the refuge like ordinary free for all out of sight on BLM land.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 775-941-0725.
PO Box # 124
12-24-60 to 10-20-05.
My words for Leah:
Life has always been an adventure and Leah was a willing participant. So tender a soul, but with the backbone of steel that these lonely mountains hone, she would bravely jump to defend those who would be hurt by mean people.
She could be a real handful too as some squabbling buckaroos found out after they got man-handled right out the front door one wild night at the Diamond Inn. She needed people around her but not like that.
I know that when she got to that last river we all must cross from this earthly realm to the life hereafter, that everyone else is going there, has already been there, or is getting into the waters. All that have gone before us await on the spiritual side for our arrival and everyone we must leave behind in their loss are just living until the day that they too get caught up in Gods net.
I can only imagine all the wondrous places that Leah re-visited on that shore to the gathering drums before she crossed. I truly believe that Leah is alive with all her loving ancestors. I bet they saw the sun come up at her rebirth celebration. I imagine she is still having opal dreams as she sleeps with the angels.
PLEASE NOTE: Love is the biggest memory of all and might be all you take with you when you go.
OFF WE GO. LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE BEST LIVED.
The Earth is your Mother, She holds you.
The sky is your Father, He protects you.
The Rainbow is your Sister, She Loves you.
The Wind is your Brother, He sings to you.
Never a time this was not so. Hoka-hey-ho"
Native American Proverb
Note: All text and photographs copyrights reserved by John Church.
Re-publication not for gain is permitted with proper URL credit given.