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 reader and I truly believe in that from personal experences. 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 years worth of personal 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 and from the mid 90's on together. Leah unfortunately passed away in 2005. Her mom; Marie, daughter; Crystal, and her daughter Lillian (opal princess in training) continue their opal mining and participation in the lapidary community. Marie is active in many arenas of public service, one of which is Water for Wildlife and are shown on her website listed in the links.
Swordfish Mining is still prospecting here and can't wait for the next pocket. Leah Brashear, her family and me, John Church, mined our claims and also 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 claims producing since then. 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.
The very pretty sandstone historically sold as Owyhee Rose 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 Crystal is selling stone as rough blocks and pallets of small blocks for carvings.
The original Facebook group for Virgin Valley Opal is for showing off AND selling Virgin Valley Opals only. No spam or 3rd world static there, but any one is free to publish related content and sales except for known felon and enemies of the rightous.
March is the Klamath Falls Rock and Arrowhead Club Annual Gem and Mineral Show. Klamath Co Fairgrounds in Klamath Falls, Or. See thier Ad in Rock and Gem magazine. My home club and everyone needs to join their home club if this art form is not going to die. I host a annual prospecting dig in Virgin Valley at my mines for members and guests. Klamath Falls is the sunshine capital of Oregon because it freezes the snow out of the air. Virgin Valley is drier, but gets a lot colder. The snow evaporates here.
1st weekend in June is the Denio Community fund raising Steak and Chorizo B-B-Q, only $15 a buffet plate AND our extensive dessert table. The biggest annual event with raffle prizes such as multiple guns and jewelry and a community handmade quilt and much more have been raffled off in the past. Team roping, sheep busting and other events go on all day, then there is a dance with live music. Kids events all have prizes. Come on out and enjoy a real old west get together and hospitality. Concessions by the school like burgers and Indian Tacos at the rodeo grounds http://www.denio-nv.net/ . The town turkey shoot is in November, bring your own gun for outdoor pistol and rifle and provided target .22s indoors at $5 a ticket keep the town funded. Winners get ample local grown meat Items. Ham, Bacion Chorizo and the proverbial turkeys.
The dugout on the Swordfish is now a coyote den with a packrat midden. Please do not disturb the local residents. Burros also shelter inside there in storms. Within this hill are things you can not even imagine, but I have seen in my dreams and were described by one of the original underground miners who worked here in the 30s. The rangers accidently burned the door off when they were destroying all the big sagebrush in the creeks for habitat improvement. They also bulldozed the original Green Fire Mine mine entrance back into the road base.
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 that is not faster.. The closest available first responders come from Denio, such as myself. 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 plus of adopting the 3 1/2 miles from the Rest Area to the top of the Thousand Creek grade cleaned it up well. You will see nothing but recent trash on the road. You do own the highway...Keep it Clean. 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. I was having to pick up behind last years host Keith as he lost trash not secured bags and drove right by the mess coming back from the transfer site. Off season it is this local miner who picks up behind any litterbugs and vandals. Pickup truck beds aren't a trash can but a moving litter dispenser which is why I adopted the 3 miles across the entrance.
Calls for others fee mine digging information will not be returned. You have to call the 5 fee digs themselves and leave messages if they are not there for any information. Their website's are all listed on my Links page here for you to use. Messages concerning me or Swordfish Mining operations will get returned as soon as possible. Miners and gem sellers have to spend a lot of time away from the phone to survive. Please do leave a message.
ABOUT THE SWORDFISH GROUP OF CLAIMS:
The discoverer, or least the miner living on the mining site was Mrs. Lockheed (Loughead). She was known as 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 from Orovada to Summer Lake. She walked to the high opal deposits on and past Catnip mountain to beyond Gridley Lake. No, I can't tell you where those all 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. They have all the site and sections listed but don't give out the map, or lost it.
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.
The Swordfish claims were underground mined where the rich pocket made underground precious opal mining feasible. Opal is not just automatically found 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 tailings 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. I already have pictures of her guests camping in front of the bluff on the Swordfish Calim Group, I need the entrance to her workings at creek level). 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'm not a member so I can't get that info to you.
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). I imagine a new section should be devoted to the Ethiopian opals now that they are a force in the worlds opal markets and not the same as everybody elses' opal. The price has gone up 10 to 25 times the introductory cost already. 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 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. Felony Mineral Trespass is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine. Don't let the rangers here catch you damaging the BIGGEST TREE now that it belongs to them. Remember before you do a crime; Everything on the refuge is a felony. BE GOOD!
If you make us go out to our claims after you are caught illegally mining, 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. This a published formal warning that I shouldn't have to state. No record - No problem as it's only the first offense. Repeat offenders bought their own demise and only deserve everyones scorn, not pity. WE claimed all the different minerals on our claims including opals AND the petrified woods containing them or even just semi precious. You are not permitted to make those decisions on somebodys valid mining claim. Only on unclaimed ground is your ideas of I see it it's mine or gods gifts arguments valid.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 775-941-0725 for honest information answering your questions. I'm not pretending to be a lawyer.
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.
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.