Agua Nueva Agate Mining Operation - 2023
In spring 2023, The Gem Shop, Inc and Gem Center embarked on their second joint mining operation mining Agua Nueva Agate on the Mi Sueño claim. It was decided that this operation would focus on the nodular portion of the deposit over the vein material. The Gem Shop had mined the nodular material in the past, but it had never yielded enough to bring to market. This joint venture is advantageous because of the expertise of Gem Shop founder, Eugene “Gene” Mueller, having mined the area for decades, and the local equipment owned by Gem Center. Having equipment located only 30 miles away from the claim allowed for a large cost saving measure, instead of having to try and rent equipment and have delivered from Caterpillar in Chihuahua City over 100 miles away.
The equipment included an excavator with a hydraulic ram and a front-end loader. This combination of equipment proved essential when working the hard rock surrounding the agate nodules. Hector and Memo from Gem Center had participated in the previous joint mining operation, and along with Gene, they had an understanding of the claim, its terrain, and general familiarity of how the different deposits sat in the ground.
It is important to point out that the nodular Agua Nueva Agate material comes from further up the hill on the deposit and is situated in very hard rock. There was much prep work to do before it was possible to begin mining for agate. A flat space to put the agate needed to be created along with an access road to actually get up the hill to the deposit.
Once the prep work was complete, the machines were moved up the hill and the work began. It’s already been said, but it cannot be overstated how hard the host rock is surrounding the agate nodules in comparison to the material surrounding the vein agate material. In order to extract each agate nodule, first, the hydraulic ram had to hammer around it and them a miner had to get in and manually hammer out and separate the nodule. This means that a person can work all day, and only end up with a single 5-gallon bucket of agate nodules. The average yield for good agate is about 3 out of every 10 nodules. Going after the smaller nodules tend to have better results as there was a lesser chance for a quartz ball. This combined with multiple equipment programs really slowed the progress.
Gene primarily manned the excavator with the Gem Center crew in the pit. However, after about a week, Gene suffered a medical emergency, resulting in permanent loss of vision in his left eye. He had to be extracted and rushed back to his doctor in Wisconsin. Despite this set back, Gem Center was able to go on and continue mining for an additional month and a half.
One key descriptor of Agua Nueva Agate is the inclusion of moss. Moss is found in both the nodules and the vein material. When the crew needed a break from the backbreaking nodular mining, they would move the equipment down the hill and work on mining the mossy vein material, which was much easier.
All material was graded on site at the mine and transported to Gem Center’s property in El Paso Texas. Here the material was split equally and transported to Tucson, in preparation for the 2024 Tucson Gem & Mineral Show.