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Opals

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 Mining Opals in Wyoming, USA

Disclosure of opal mine may trigger rush to Wyoming.

The discovery of a 34-pound opal in central Wyoming could trigger an old-fashioned mineral rush this week.

On Friday, the Wyoming State Geological Survey will publicly release the location of an enormous opal deposit found near Riverton in central Wyoming, probably one of the biggest opal formations in the country, said Dan Hausel, a state geologist.

The giant opal is a common type, not particularly valuable itself, experts said. But its discovery raises the possibility that the deposit hosts substantial amounts of fiery orange opal and the precious iridescent variety. Geologists already have seen traces of these more valuable types.

 Gem mining is notoriously unpredictable: Valuable veins of precious opal may - or may not - twist unseen through the more common variety of opal found at the new site.


Photos compliments of Tourism SA

So it's possible no one will express much interest, Hausel said.

But the claimants may line up Friday, high-tailing it from the state geology office to the opal site, throwing down corner stakes and racing to file paperwork with Fremont County.

"The thing that amazes me is that people haven't already staked claims out there," Hausel said. "There's hundreds of thousands or millions of tons of opal in there - fire opal, traces of precious opal. ..."

Opal is thought to form over hundreds to millions of years, after water percolates through silica-rich rock, drawing out minerals. In certain circumstances, the minerals drop back out of the water, forming opal's watery mixture of silica dioxide streaked with minerals.


Photos compliments of Tourism SA

  "Volcanic rocks, that's where the best opal comes from," said Jim Cappa, a geologist with the state of Colorado.

In Colorado, rockhounds have plucked fairly nice opal from Specimen Mountain in Larimer County and elsewhere, he said.

"It's widespread. But when you think of gem-quality opals, those come from Mexico and Australia," Cappa said.
 One Wyoming rockhound was skeptical that the new area - about 14 square miles of sagebrush scrub hills - will turn into a productive one for opal miners.

There are three grades of opal, said Melvin Gustin, who lives outside of Riverton and runs a small rock shop and jewelry business with his wife.

Common opal is a fairly unimpressive milky-white rock, he said; fire opal glows orange or red; and precious opal, the most valuable, glimmers with iridescence.

"I've never seen any fire opal here," Gustin said. "Now, that's what the world's seeking. I don't think it's worth claiming myself."

But Hausel has found the fiery variety, and he e-mailed a reporter images of rock with tantalizing streaks of iridescence.

"Well, I won't pooh-pooh this," Gustin said.

In the gem and mineral game, he said, there are always optimists willing to spend the few hundred dollars it takes to survey and stake a claim.

Because the deposit is mostly on federal land, owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service, successful applicants will essentially lease the right to mine, said Pam Stiles, a BLM land-law examiner in Cheyenne.

The laws regarding claim staking have changed little since 1872, she said.

"It's first come, first served," she said. "If people think it's something major, they'll be out there knocking each other over."

It has been decades since such a scramble for mining claims happened in Colorado - in the 1950s, it was for uranium, Cappa said. In Wyoming, Stiles recalled a bentonite rush in the early 1990s, when miners stood at the edge of the site with picks and shovels, waiting for the opening.

The possibility of a rush motivated Hausel to make the opal-location announcement at a scheduled time, to put everyone on the same playing field, he said.


Will 34-pound gem trigger opal rush in Wyoming hills? 

The discovery of a 34-pound opal in central Wyoming could trigger an old-fashioned mineral rush this week.
On Friday the Wyoming State Geological Survey will publicly release the location of an enormous opal deposit found near Riverton, in central Wyoming, probably one of the biggest opal formations in the country, said Dan Hausel, a state geologist.
The giant opal is a common type, not particularly valuable itself, experts said. But its discovery raises the possibility that the deposit hosts substantial amounts of fiery orange opal and the precious iridescent variety. Geologists already have seen traces of these more valuable types.
Gem mining is notoriously unpredictable: Valuable veins of precious opal may or may not twist unseen through the more common variety of opal found at the new site.
So it's possible no one will express much interest, Hausel said.
But the claimants may line up Friday, high-tailing it from the state geology office to the opal site, throwing down corner stakes and racing to file paperwork with Fremont County.
"The thing that amazes me is that people haven't already staked claims out there," Hausel said. "There's hundreds of thousands or millions of tons of opal in there fire opal, traces of precious opal."
Opal is thought to form over hundreds to millions of years, after water percolates through silica-rich rock, drawing out minerals. In certain circumstances, the minerals drop back out of the water, forming opal's watery mixture of silica dioxide streaked with minerals.
"Volcanic rocks, that's where the best opal comes from," said Jim Cappa, a geologist with the state of Colorado.
In Colorado rockhounds have plucked fairly nice opal from Specimen Mountain in Larimer County and elsewhere, he said.
"It's widespread. But when you think of gem-quality opals, those come from Mexico and Australia," Cappa said.
One Wyoming rockhound was skeptical that the new area about 14 square miles of sagebrush scrub hills will turn into a productive one for opal miners.
There are three grades of opals, said Melvin Gustin, who lives outside of Riverton and runs a small rock shop and jewelry business with his wife.
Common opal is a fairly unimpressive milky-white rock, he said; fire opal glows orange or red; and precious opal, the most valuable, glimmers with iridescence.
"I've never seen any fire opal here," Gustin said. "Now, that's what the world's seeking. I don't think it's worth claiming myself."
But Hausel has found the fiery variety, and he e-mailed a reporter images of rock with tantalizing streaks of iridescence.
"Well, I won't pooh-pooh this," Gustin said.
In the gem and mineral game, he said, there are always optimists willing to spend the few hundred dollars it takes to survey and stake a claim.
Because the deposit is mostly on federal land, owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service, successful applicants will essentially lease the right to mine, said Pam Stiles, a BLM land-law examiner in Cheyenne.
The laws regarding claim staking have changed little since 1872, she said.
"It's first come, first served," she said. "If people think it's something major, they'll be out there knocking each other over."
The possibility of a rush motivated Hausel to make the opal-location announcement at a scheduled time, to put everyone on the same playing field, he said.



Geologists find opal deposit in Wyoming

March 1, 2005
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - William Ainslie has been collecting rocks and gemstones in Wyoming for a half-century, and news that state geologists have found a deposit of opal in central Wyoming has the 81-year-old rock-shop owner ready to head for the hills.
"I would like to know where it's at," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I'm getting too old to climb steep hills ... but I'd sure try."

On Friday, the Wyoming State Geological Survey will release a report detailing the exact location of a "large opal deposit" found in Fremont County in hopes that it might lead to a successful and lucrative mining operation.

Quality opal can be refined into expensive, colorful, delicate gems that the American Gem Society describes as a "enchanting gem" through which some believe "the mysteries of love can be exchanged."

The opal found in Wyoming is mostly of the "common opal" variety, but there were also traces of the highly valued "precious opal," according to state geologist Wayne Sutherland, who assisted in writing the report.

"The traces of precious opal indicates to us that there is the likelihood of finding more of that," Sutherland said. "...We think there's some real economic possibilities for the deposits."

Because of interest already shown in the find, W. Dan Hausel, state senior economic geologist in charge of metals and precious stones who has led the research into the Wyoming site, decided to schedule a release time for the report so that no one prospective mining company or rock enthusiast gets an advantage, Sutherland said.

Sutherland said the site in a desolate, mountain area southeast of Riverton contains many outcrops of opal within a three-square-mile area. A 34-pound chunk of opal from the site was brought back to the state Geological Survey office in Laramie, where it is on display.

Melissa Connely, a geology instructor at Casper Community College, said opal deposits are found in many areas but are usually small and of poor quality.

The best known deposit of precious opal for gems is in Australia, she said. The best quality opal deposits in the United States are found in Nevada, Idaho and Oregon.

The more color the opal shows - what geologists call "play of color," or rainbow effect - the more valuable it is, she said.

Sutherland said the Wyoming deposit contains a broad array of colors - yellow-orange, transparent blue, semiclear with black spots.

Connely said she would withhold judgment on the Wyoming opal for now, but "I would be interested in taking a look."

Whatever the value of the Wyoming opal, Ainslie, a retired underground uranium miner, said he would gladly make room in his collection case at his home-based Bill's Rock Shop for a piece.

"It's part of being a rock hound," he said. 

 

 Opal find draws claims stakers 

RIVERTON Wyoming April 14, 2005 - The opening of an opal deposit southeast of Riverton to the public has drawn hundreds of prospectors, according to W. Dan Hausel, Wyoming state geologist in charge of precious metals and stones. 

"This is like an old time claim-staking rush," Hausel said. 

"There are hundreds of people and most of them have no idea what they are doing. They're just hoping to strike it rich, like the old days. They might make a profit, but only a few people will really make it big." 


Interest in the discovery has increased since the March 4 release of the WSGS report detailing the exact location of the opal deposit. 

"Since then the phone has been ringing off the hook with questions about the location, how to stake a claim and report orders," said Nancy Elliot of the WSGS. 

Another person busy answering the telephone is Scott Luers, of Riverton, the local rock hound who made the initial opal discovery three years ago. 

"Everybody is really excited about it," Luers said. "I have been pulling that rock off of the rim for a while now and anyone who knew about it was calling to see if it was the same opal deposit." 

Hausel said the find, if marketed correctly, can be a valuable asset for the surrounding community. 

"The Australians, who mine a majority of the world's opals, have been very good at that," Hausel said. 

"If you can get the right creative people in there you can make a valuable stone out of just about anything."



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