November 22, 2016

Ramshorn Plume Agate Pt. 2

First of all I would like to say that my friend Jake is the best agate tracker, prospector, and miner I know. He is responsible for producing major portions of the Bruneau, Morrisonite, and Rocky Butte Jasper in the market. Many of the Jaspers in Hans Gamma’s book “Picture Jaspers from the Northwest” were named by him.
Ramshorn Mountain curves around a large basin draining to the South. There are 20 or so small canyons that drain into this basin. There are 8 or so canyons on the east side of the mountain and another 20 or so canyons on the west side. The north part of the mountain is basically inaccessible except by horse, and takes more than one day's time.
When Jake and I started looking for the deposit we considered all these things and decided to systematically inspect the canyons in the basin first. It was unlikely that the deposit was on the north or northwest side of the mountain considering that an eight-year-old boy was there. Not impossible just improbable. The only access we knew of at the time was from a road that crosses the creek draining from the basin located about 5 miles north of Horse Creek Campground. It was a good 2 mile hike from the road to the bottom edge of the basin. We inspected two canyons each day we were in the area together. Jake would go up one canyon, I would go up the next, and we would meet on the ridge in the middle and compare notes. We found agate casts and other things but not the plume agate. Jake had more time to look for the agate than I did so he inspected many of the canyons by himself.
After 4 years we gave up on the basin and started considering the south and southwest side of the mountain. We discovered another very bad four wheel drive road going up the slope on the southwest corner of the mountain. This road could be driven only when the weather was dry and was a challenge for any four wheel drive vehicle. The road ended much higher on the mountain next to a beautiful mountain lake. Jake spent considerable time up here driving his four-wheeler from Horse Creek Campground to the lake and then hiking from there. He found some wonderful casts, some with plumes, in the second and third Canyons on the West Side of the Mountain.
Six years after we started looking for the plume agate Jake decided to stay in the area a little longer (the Wiggins Fork area is only accessible in July and August). In early September he was up high on the west side of the mountain when a sudden snowstorm hit. It is dangerous to be on the mountain at ten to eleven thousand feet elevation in either rain or snow. He decided to get down off the mountain as fast as possible and took several shortcuts coming off the cliffs and much to his surprise walked right over the deposit. The deposit was less that 50 yards from the trail on the way out. In fact both of us had walked by the deposit several times in the previous several years.
One year later Jake and I looked over the deposit and made plans on how to dig the agate. The vein extends straight down into the slope of the steep hillside. As far as we can tell the van might be twenty yards long. Float agate extends down the ravine for a long ways. The following was considered: 1. Because of the difficulty in getting to the deposit only 3 to 4 hours of work is possible in a one day trip to the area; 2. The deposit is small and digging straight down into the hill will only produce a small amount of rock; 3. The agate is good enough that every effort should be made to get all the agate possible and not miss any in the process.
We decided to carefully dig the float from the drainage below all the way up the hill to the vein. Jake and I started digging a 10 foot wide section from the ravine directly below the center of the vein. We started finding agates right away. For years we have been working our way up the hill in the same 10-foot span on the hillside finding all the agate that has been eroded from the vein above for centuries. This process took great discipline especially on Jake's part. Spending so much time tracking down a deposit, finding it, and then not working the vein was very hard. Any work on the vein itself will bury agate deeper that has eroded out earlier and is buried below.
We have approached the production of this material in a very disciplined way. In the years Jake and I dug here, I estimate that we have produced a total of about 500 pounds of agate. I am confident that the float in the hillside 10 feet to the left and 10 feet to the right of where we dug will also produce a lot of agate. I am hesitant to define in more detail the exact location of the deposit although with the above information it should not be that hard to find. If by chance the reader of this article finds the deposit I would only ask that you follow our lead in the digging of the rock.