Northern Nevada - Opal; Eastern Oregon - Sunstone; and more...
by Lee Bates
I left early in the 24th of June to head to Oregon for a yearly trip with my 2 brothers Jay and Scott. On Satus Pass WA, I hit a deer with my car and killed it. I hate to see animals suffer. The deer whistles on my 1967 Cougar have worked many times but this deer jumped from behind a hill and apparently did not hear them. I did not swerve, since I did not want to roll the car. Ten hours later I met my brothers at Mann Lake, OR for fishing.
The fishing was poor so we sat around in the 100 degree heat telling stories. We went to the hot springs in the Alford Desert... to soak... in the 100 degree heat. This is the only time of the year that I am not cold. We met Carl Thomas, our old prospector friend who lives there on the desert. He needs a knee replaced and looks like he is dying. He is 88. I will never forget his late wife chewing him out for giving me her best rocks. I am good at getting free rocks. (You ought to see me get free hats at air shows. My wife says where are going to put all these free hats?) We had a milk shake in Fields, OR but since the restaurant changed hands the shake was more expensive and not as good as in the past.
The next day we headed south to Virgin Valley in Nevada to camp at the Hot Springs and mine precious opal. My brother, Scott, worried about seeing his son in Whitefish, MT, drove back the next morning. That night it rained so we went to bed early. A wild burro brayed in the desert keeping me awake. I think he was calling his harem. I sleep in my 1967 Cougar on a board and a foam mattress, I have for 20 years. I take the passenger seat back out to make room. Beats putting up a tent. I amaze $150,000 motor home owners who look out their picture window in a campground at me sleeping in my 39 year old Cougar camper.
We went to the Honeymoon Opal Mine the next day but had no luck. People back at camp told us how they were getting good Precious Opal at the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine but it was closed that day. Precious Opal is formed when silica replaces the wood and opalizes instead of petrifying, forming irregular patterns which reflect light in every direction and angle, creating every color of the rainbow. It is beautiful to behold.
The next day we went to the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine and started finding opal right away, like everybody else. I was digging away when I hit a dirt clod that suddenly gave off a reflection from the sun. I cleaned the dirt clod and "the stuff dreams are made of" appeared. A precious Opal about 80 carats reflecting every color of the rainbow. Was I dreaming? I'd finally hit pay dirt after all these trips to the opal mines. I showed my precious find to everyone around. We kept digging and found about 20 more opals. That night a yuppie from Sacramento pulled in at 10 PM into the campground with his huge trailer and new pickup with an ATV. Since I could not go to sleep with his noise, I joined him at his fire. We burned beautiful cabinet boards from his father's construction sites and he told how Daddy paid for his power boat racing. Why was I not born to a rich father?
The next day we drove north to Lakeview, OR for supplies but forgot to dump off the garbage. Then on to the top of Hart Mountain, OR, an Antelope Reserve, to soak in another hot springs and camp. I told a woman camped near the hot springs that I was going in nude. She said that was ok since she had been married several times before. We saw two Pine Martins which are extremely rare. Then all hell broke loose. A hail storm hit us just as we were dividing up our precious opals. Hail bounced off the hood of my car so hard I was afraid it would dent the steel. The thunder was weird - it went BOOM, CRACKLE, BOOM! Three tornados tore through the sunstone mines on the valley floor below.
The next day we met Jay's rock club, the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society, at the Sunstone area near Plush, OR. Sunstone is a precious gemstone which is cuttable into jewelry. The next day at the Dust Devil Mine people found good Sunstones right away, but I had no luck. One guy from our group found a 155 carat Sunstone worth about $1,000 dollars.
The next day we went to the Spectrum, Mine where Jay and I found many good big Sunstones with red flash and schiller. We dug for 8 hours. We used water to wash our tailings which from now on I will never be without. At the potluck that night we invited the mine owner who showed us a huge 300 carat Sunstone. The potluck was excellent with grilled chicken, crПme puffs and pizza. I had olives stuffed with garlic for the first time in my life. I bought tailings from the Himalaya Tourmaline Mine near San Diego, CA in which I found 40 good cuttable red and green tourmalines. Also at the Spectrum Mine, I bought Diane a Namibia Blue Agate pendant which was wire wrapped for $50 (a good buy - it was worth $150 ). My wife loves me again.
The next day we headed for Hampton Butte to dig for beautiful red and green petrified wood. I arrived at Riley, OR after crossing the desert with only 1 1/2 gallons of gas left. I could just see someone coming across my bleached bones in a rusting Cougar in the middle of the desert. Jay and I ate in a restaurant in Burns. I think I scared the waitress with my 10 day old beard (prevents sun burn). At Hampton Butte I hiked out 1-mile looking for loose roundels on the surface but found nothing. What beautiful Juniper Pine country.
The next day we hit it big with beautiful green and red petrified wood becoming a king. It was perfect 80 degree weather - Ellensburg had 100 degree weather - I told people I had to go to the desert to escape the heat. Also, since there was no water there were no bugs. I used up Jay's hot shower water cleaning my rocks. That night we sat around talking about UFOs so I naturally told my Sasquatch story.
The next day we drove to the Paulina limb-cast area, now famous as the place where Jay stepped on my hand to out-reach me for a big limb-cast. Limb-casts are clear glass-like pieces in which silica replaces wood producing a clear duplicate of part of the tree. Jay as usual found more pieces than I did (but I found the big precious opal). Then all hell broke loose, again. It thundered and rained so hard, we all got the hell out of there before we became trapped in the gulch. I drove up to Washington against a 60 mph headwind. When the trucks went by they almost blew me off the road. I stopped in a campground at Satus Pass to spend the night. I showed the campground host my big opal. She did not realize that I was the same guy after I shaved.
The next day, after 14 days, I arrived back at Ellensburg. After my shower, I had to call a plumber to clean the rocks and dirt out of my drain. The trip cost $400 and was typical of the trips I have taken with my 2 brothers for the last 34 years. Our dad used to go with us, and my nieces and nephews, but my dad is dead and my nieces and nephews are grown up. Since all 3 of us Bates brothers have had prostate cancer, I hope we can continue to do these trips. Jay is a good cook of steak and beans every night and I wash the paper plates. We vary the menu with steak and pork and beans one night and steak and chili the next night. "Cookie we have to stop feeding these boys beans" (borrowed from Mel Brooks' movie, Blazing Saddles).
PS: What is the big 85 carat Precious Opal worth? Tune in next summer for the conclusion.