Opals, especially Fire Opals, are the hottest new gemstones, but their fame and desirability goes back through the centuries. They are intense, colorful and astounding when incorporated into jewelry designs. There is intensity and in some cases, movement of color inside of the gemstone, as opposed to the surface effects of other gems.
Opals are formed in rhyolite, basalt, sandstone, marl and rhyolite. Rhyolite geodes are a common source of opals. They are classified as mineraloids, meaning that they do not have the characteristics of crystals. It is a crystal like product of silicon dioxide which is deposited under somewhat low temperature and forms in fissures and cracks of rocks.
Opals are also a gel, which is high in a liquid content that is between 3 to 30 percent water, but the opal gel operates as a solid. In essence, they are a silica gel! They can be quite friable and brittle, making them difficult to maintain after mounting for jewelry.
Types of opals include: common and precious opals. Oregon opals include the types, rainbow, ryalite, contra luz, hydrophane, crystal, fire, blue, and dendritic.
Opals are found in almost every place in the world, but how do we get to Oregon and finding those intense wonders? The Juniper Ridge Opal mineis the site of a huge opal discovery and workings that went on for 30 years before abandonment. A Father and son team, Ken and Chuck Oldham, formed a group of lapidaries and miners after spending two years to find and take over the abandoned claim in 1998. After mining the claim for years, they opened it for a type of mining called "fee dig" mining.
Fee Dig mining is simple! Pay a small fee, get a little training and a spot to mine, and take away whatever you find!
Opal Butte is a mountain summit that is near the town of Hepner in Morrow County, Oregon. There has a working mine that has been in operation since 1988, but known about since the 1800's, when opals were not considered to be that valuable. West Coast Mining Company has a mine there, and sells opals through it's outlets.
Warning: It is always wise to contact the local treasure hunting clubs, to inquire at clubs in your own area and to make serious plans to deal with some remote and possibly hazardous territory. It is never wise to get mixed up with the mountains of the Wild, Wild West without good planning, organization and reliable guides. Then, there will be happy hunting!