Plans were made in early 2009 to mine the Beverly Marie claim near Graveyard Point in June. An excavator was available to rent starting June 1, so all the arrangements were made to work for two weeks. Jake and I met the delivery truck near the Owyhee canal tunnel outlet just off of Succor Creek road. Because there are no bridges over the canal sturdy enough to accommodate a truck carrying an excavator, it is necessary to “walk” (drive) the excavator over the canal outlet, on back roads through Succor Creek and up the valley to the claim. This walk is about 5 miles, and the whole process takes up most of a day.
Getting Started! - It stopped raining! Let's go!
We got the machine to our camp and started making the bypass road around our work area. There is a BLM road that runs through the middle of the claim. The agate cave that I was anxious to get back to, lies about 15 feet under this road (see previous mining reports). The road has to be dug up and replaced each year the claim is worked. Late in the afternoon I received a phone call informing me of a family emergency, and the next day I flew back to Wisconsin. I returned on June 11.
After I returned from Wisconsin I was anxious to get started. Western States, the company I rented the excavator from was very understanding of my personal problem and did not charge me for the time the machine just sat there. The weather report for the next few days was for cool temperatures with rain. A predicted rain shower for these desert mountains is usually not of much concern. While roads can become impassable because of the bentonite clay in the area, they also dry out quickly once the sun comes out. Also, predicted rain usually means it is going to rain somewhere but not everywhere. I did not expect it to rain for 3 days and dump 3 times the average total June rainfall on every square inch of ground in sight. In the 30 years I have visited the Graveyard Point area I have never seen any water in the drainage that runs though the agate deposits. This time the water ran through the drainage three times and one time it was two to three feet deep! The water washed out the entire drainage. New float agate was exposed on the banks for the entire length of the draw (over 1 mile). In many places on the basalt hills the soil was washed off completely showing agate veins in the exposed basalt. Rockhounding will be good in the area for some time to come.
The first order of business when mining is to locate where in the ground I quit the last time. Even though I left some markers to indicate where things are, one is never quite sure how far down or exactly where a vein is because the reclaimed topography is so different. I did manage to dig a big hole in front of the cave before it rained. Not being prepared for the onslaught of water, this work resulted in the formation of a couple of lakes with a small river running into the cave. The water simply went down a hole and was never seen again. Jake and I were able to work periodically between rain showers and we removed a lot of the clay that covers the basalt to the west of the cave. We were somewhat surprised at the agate we were finding in the clay. It was much easier to dig.
The cave was eventually uncovered. However, the supports we left over the opening had collapsed. About the same time we hit some good agate on the north wall above the cave and started to follow it. In order to get the excavator close to this area we had to fill in the opening to the cave with big rocks. So, I did not get the chance to dig deeper in the cave
like I had hoped to do. The good agate that we were following was above one of the side entrances to the cave and continued for some distance. We worked this area for most of the rest of our mining time.
The agate from Graveyard Point is known for its nice straight seams with plumes growing off both sides of the seam. The agate from the Regency Rose area (where we were mining) on the Beverly Marie claim is formed a little differently. Although seams are present, most of the agate forms in triangles. It is as if the agate formed in the spaces between a pile of rectangular boulders and not the nice straight crack associated with most seams. This makes hammer and chisel work more difficult because you never know how the agate lies in the rock ahead of you. Another unusual formational aspect of the agate from the Beverly Marie claim is that some seems to be formed in the clay. The Beverly Marie Claim slopes downhill from west to east. The far eastern edge is mostly bare basalt as is the higher western edge. In between, the basalt is covered with clay. The topography is smooth sloping to the east but underneath it is not. What is under the ground is a series of sharp basalt peaks with deep clay valleys in between. Some of this clay is very colorful – red, orange, yellow and pink. When these colors are present in the clay, agate will be present in the clay and in the basalt below it. In these areas there is also a lot of opal.
This year we also found some beautiful angelwing chalcedony. Some of the vugs contained long strands of chalcedony that would actually make a ringing sound when the rock is hit with hammer. In the mining process most of the better material is removed from the basalt with a chisel and hammer. Occasionally while doing this a faint ringing sound can be heard deep in the rock you are working on. The angelwing chalcedony vibrates as you hit the chisel with the hammer, which causes this sound. It is an interesting experience knowing there is a cavity with angel wing inside the rock you are working on even though you cannot see it. Most of the time these ringing rocks do not survive the mining process but sometimes they do.