History of The Gem Shop Mining Graveyard Point & Regency Rose Plume Agates at the Beverly Marie Claim
In a high desert valley in the Pacific Northwest, at a terminus of the Oregon Trail, there was once a wagon train graveyard, near where there is now an old Civil War graveyard. These dismal locations are the namesake of Graveyard Point, a landmark two miles northeast of a deposit of Graveyard Point Plume Agate on what is called "the East Ridge." Graveyard Point has been a rock collecting area since the 1950's and is considered one of the most prolific "in place" agate areas in the country. It is estimated that agate veins exist in the ground approximately every 10 feet over a 200-300 acre area. The Graveyard Point area is seven miles from Homedale, Idaho, just two miles across the Idaho-Oregon border.
There have been numerous different claims and mining operations in this area, including the Linda Marie and Beverly Marie claims. The Linda Marie agate deposit produces what had originally been called "Christmas Tree Plume Agate" by its discoverer, Jake Jacobitz, after its abundance of dense, green plumes. This area also stands out with its solid-colored backing agates that offer outstanding contrast to the plume formations. Eugene Mueller had first met Jake Jacobitz while attending a rock and gem show in Nyssa, Oregon, hearing Jacobitz was known for his prolific mining activities in the area, often being described as "quite an unusual guy," Mueller says endearingly with a laugh. Mueller recalls having "seen streaking white plumes that are colored green on the tips on solid red backgrounds." This claim is named after the wife of Philip Stephenson, who filed the claim in the Autumn of 2012. Another claim, Beverly Marie TGS, was owned by Veronica Woods and Gene Mueller, named after Jacobitz's wife, Beverly Hardin. The land claimed under this name covers two older and abandoned claims previously worked by Tom Caldwell and Bill Tallman in the '70's and '80's.
The rock found in Beverly Marie TGS is most commonly known for its yellow mineral inclusion plumes and blue agate. The rock that comes in these colors is most commonly found in large, flat veins that run vertically through the ground. This can result in finding entire sheets of agate that can be peeled away from a mining pit's walls with an excavator. The plumes can also be found independent from their host agate, where the fragile plumes grow from the base rock with an appearance similar to stalactites, resulting in a roughly textured exterior and an accentuation on the feather-like structure of the plumes, leading this kind of Graveyard Point Plume Agate to be referred to as "Angelwing Chalcedony Plume Agate." Angelwing chalcedony is an umbrella term for all chalcedony formations of filaments often intricately woven or connected together, whether the underlying structure is from plumes, tubes, or moss. In 2001, Mueller and Jacobitz once found two particularly fragile specimens of angelwing chalcedony while mining and attempted to preserve them by wrapping them in paper towels and cloth, later setting them down on a rock after a long day's work. That night, a great gust of wind threw them off of the rock, breaking off their fragile angelwing formations. Agate from one particular claim was called "Regency Rose," a term coined by deceased and prolific miner, Bill Tallman. Tallman used this name to refer to the variety of colors possible in the agate, similar to the colorful variation in roses. These colors could include white, pink, red, yellow, gold, green, brown, or black, but when Tallman went mining to produce the Regency Rose, he found an unusually large pocket of pink plume agate. To the market, this suggestive label paired with the coloration of the plumes led many to believe that all Graveyard Point Regency Rose Plume Agate had pink plumes, though "pink plumes are maybe one percent of all the good agate found at Graveyard Point," says Mueller. This is solely an estimate because pink plumes tend to pop up when least expected. The deceptive exterior of a Regency Rose Plume Agate and its beautiful interior with pink plumes that were unable to be detected when the stone was in the rough. If there are any formational clues as to where in the deposit pink plumes may be concentrated, it is in what miners call "the pinches." This is where a vein gets narrow and ends or changes direction, and in these angles or pockets is where a pink plume might appear near the apex of the corner.
The host rock in this area is basalt, which is cracked extensively for several square miles. These cracks are where the agate veins form, varying from 1-18 inches in thickness and extending up to 30 feet in length. The deposits of blue agate with yellow plume inclusions often form linearly, capable of running in any direction but most often they are vertical. The Regency Rose Plume Agate is formed a little differently, as there are still seams present but the rock itself develops in triangular formations or combinations of them, such as trapezoids or various other shapes. The seams that are present form with parallel sides but generally do not travel very far into the basalt. Mueller describes the formation, saying "it is as if a pile of rectangular basalt boulders of different sizes were dumped here and agate filled the space between them." During the formation of all kinds Graveyard Point Plume Agate, many of the cracks in the basalt do not completely fill in, resulting in what are called "vugs" filled with angelwing chalcedony. The Graveyard Point area is known for these feathery stalactite growths that cover the inside of the agate seams. Many specimens have delicately curved tips and look as if they were blown in the wind. Many plumes grow from the sides of the seam towards the center. Mineral inclusions can be found in these formations, including black dendrites and marcasite inclusions that appear to "dust" the surface of one side of a plume like wind-driven snow on a pine tree.
During the 2007 TGS Graveyard Point mining operation, Jacobitz and Mueller were following a significantly long vug discovered in their operation three years prior. While mining this vug, Jacobitz let out a holler, then called out, "you gotta see this!" When Mueller scrambled over he peered into the bottom of their pit and saw a dark hole at Jacobitz's feet: another vug, completely lined with agate. This one turned out to be much larger than any others they have seen before, turning out to be about 5 feet wide at the top, narrowing as it descended another 10 feet, and went as far as they could see to the back, around another 10 feet in length. The following day, they opened up an additional opening to the vug on the other side of their excavation. Both of the openings were enlarged enough to fit a person through and exploration of "the Cave of Wonders" began. There is only so much time to mine the agate deposits when Mueller takes trips to this area, so exploration of the cave was spread out throughout the years. The next updates came on Wednesday, July 2nd, 2010, when Gene had relocated and uncovered the cave once more and reported "So far, the agate doesn't look very good, but we hope it opens up into a deep cavern of agate." Unfortunately, the agate on the cavern walls were covered with a soft yellowish foam-like opal, not as appealing as other vugs filled with angelwing chalcedony. Mueller's wishes for the continuation of the cave were answered when they discovered that, at one end, the cave took a 90-degree turn and extended another 10 feet in a different direction, however the turn was not wide enough for a human to traverse. In 2011, an entrance to this side cave was opened up enough for Mueller to fit inside, where he found places in the floor where the walls grew into each other, but digging past that revealed that the floor opened up again underneath and continued down much deeper. He also managed to find where the side cave connected to the main cave, where he found a smooth sloping surface of white opal. Mueller claims "it was just as if somebody had poured molten white opal into the side opening, and it had flowed down into the main cave." It was as flat as a sidewalk and tapping on its surface with a hammer produced a hollow sound. Mueller once broke through the white opal and found a yellow powdery substance underneath. "I still don't know how far down the cave goes," Mueller admits, "but I would one day very much like to find out." To this day, no one has found the bottom of a Graveyard Point Plume Agate vein, let alone the massive one containing the caves. Mueller will have to live on without this curiosity sated, but he was able to experience the unnerving thrills brought from working in hard rock with a hammer and chisel in the bottom of a pit, surrounded by solid rock, only to have the rock he was working on fall away from him.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) insists that small mineral miners leave their claim exactly as they found it, except for the rock they mined out of the claim. This makes small mining operations such as this difficult to manage considering the limited amount of time allowed to the miners due to the budget of the trip. This means the miners need to "reclaim" the area, a term used by the BLM to refer to the restoration of the original landscape contour. The agate deposit in the Beverly Marie claim runs underneath a BLM-established road, and the cave was discovered directly beneath this road. Mueller was required to allocate time towards redirecting the road around the desired working area before any digging and returning it to its proper place at the end of the operation. A common practice in the mining community is to mark any deposits or formations such as the cave by setting a larger boulder over their location below the ground. The Gem Shop also takes care to avoid open-pipe mining claim markers in accordance with the BLM, as they pose a threat to birds and other wildlife protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act such as the Mountain Bluebird, the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker, the Western Flycatcher, the Western Meadowlark, and the Cactus Wren. Markers like these such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes are appealing to small animals as shelter, but once they enter the pipe they are unlikely to find a way out, as the enclosed space is constricting for bird's flight and too smooth to be scaled in any other way.
The miners in this area often use excavators to extract the agate from its deposit. Bringing such equipment to the claims however is a difficult process, as Succor Creek lies between the last point accessible by finished road and the claims. None of the bridges that cross over the river are strong enough to support a 45,000-pound machine such as the 320 Caterpillar used by Mueller in 2010, so the machine must be "walked" along back roads, through Succor Creek, and up the valley to the claim. It is necessary to walk, or long-distance drive, the machine when the landscape is too rough to be pulling it on a trailer. The walk to the Beverly Marie mine is about 5 miles, but the whole process takes up most of the day because the excavator was not designed to cover long distances efficiently. Mueller eventually made a deal with Philip Stephenson in to share a rented Doosan Excavator in following operations, as it is much easier to walk the excavator between the Linda Marie and Beverly Marie claims than it is to walk two separate machines to the claims from the gravel pit that marks the end of Succor Creek Road to the mine. Even after bringing the excavator the the mines, it can still be difficult to reach the agate deposits. The basalt in this area can form solid walls, preventing any digging into the soft clay beyond them from certain angles. In 2011, Mueller was forced to devise a "muck bucket" system, where he fastened a 55-gallon drum to the excavator's bucket with a hook and chain. He would then lower the drum into the mining pit, fill it with clay dug out by shovel, and lift it out using the machine's arm and dump it. The geology of the location consists of a series of sharp basalt peaks underneath the ground which constitute the "walls" often met by miners here. In between these peaks are deep clay valleys, which is commonly an earthy brown but when colors such as red, orange, yellow and pink are unearthed, then agate is bound to be present in the clay and basalt below it. Most of the high quality material is found in the basalt but must be extracted by hand with a hammer and chisel. In some areas, chiseling at the hard basalt will be answered by a faint ringing sound, heard from deep within the rock. Angelwing chalcedony vibrates when a nearby embedded chisel is struck, which causes a fascinating subterranean alarm announcing the presence of an angelwing chalcedony cavity in the vicinity, even though it is unable to be seen from the outside.
When handling Graveyard Point Plume Agate in the lapidary, it is most important to discern the direction of its plumes before it is cut. This provides the lapidary artist two options: to present the plumes as broad or "bushy" as possible, or to make a cut that showcases the direction and delicacy of the plumes' stems. Since the plumes are often folded or tipped in one direction, a slab cut perpendicularly through the seam will contain the bottom part of one plume and the top part of another. If opposite plumes happen to have different colors, then a striking and desirable contrast can be achieved in a slab, worthy to be taken on to the cabbing process. Through more intricate play with the cutting direction of Graveyard Point Plume Agate, what is called the "shadow effect" can be achieved, particularly when marcasite-dusted plumes are present in the stone. Cutting through a plume in a parallel direction can reveal the true lighter coloration of its plumage, and the presence of any other marcasite-dusted plumes nested in the depth of a slab can result in the appearance of a ghostly plume beneath the plumes on the surface.
The Gem Shop has mined the Beverly Marie from 2000-2017 on nine separate operations. The six operations between 2000 and 2010 went smoothly, but Mueller remembers meeting some problems preceding the 2011 operation. He had rented an excavator from a Caterpillar dealership, but it arrived without the second bucket that he had requested. Additionally, when trying to purchase off-road diesel from a digitized pump, the system came across an error and could not process his card. Both of these problems were able to be fixed relatively easily; Caterpillar sent a separate truck with the second bucket for the excavator and the pump station was able to resolve the computer glitch. The results of this trip surely made up for any setbacks early on, for the miners were able to produce a ton of agate from a 30 x 40 feet area in less than two days. The next operation, in 2014 had a lower cost per pound of agate produced due to Mueller's ability to rent the excavator out for a lesser cost for a shorter amount of time. This year the miners were able to keep 1,800 pounds of agate in two days, and switched to the southern part of the claim, where they produced about 300 pounds of acceptable rock per day for a few days after that. The per-pound cost of the rock was lowered further in The Gem Shop's last operation in 2017, when Mueller was able to make a deal with Philip Stephenson to share a single excavator for their separate operations.
The Gem Shop allows for civilians to visit its claims during operation times as long as the visitation does not interfere with the efficiency of the operation. This gives a wonderful opportunity for those interested to come looking for rock in the miner's dump piles and witness what it's like to mine the deposit. Several rock clubs have visited the Beverly Marie claim in the past, as well as other, more familiar visitors looking to spend some time with Mr. Mueller. In 2011, Mueller was mining at Graveyard Point with Gary McFarlane, Jake Jacobitz, and Philip Stephenson when throughout the entire operation, eight other acquaintances visited. Cindy and Don Kelman from Marshfield and Judy and Dave Marshall from Wisconsin Rapids were there to dig rock on the claim on a fee basis, having a grand time. Tom Roberts stopped by early in the mining operation, Ben Cook visited periodically, Jim Landon spent a couple of days to gather research for a Rock & Gem magazine article, and Larry Ridley, owner of the Willow Creek Jasper mine, stopped by to compare mining notes. In 2015, Mueller brought Veronica Woods, both President of The Gem Shop and daughter of Mueller, and her two children to the Beverly Marie claim in late June. Unlike the Morrison Ranch area, the Graveyard Point area is quite accessible and many more people are aware of its location.
When Mueller was prospecting the area in the Oregon/Idaho/Nevada area in search of possible claims for The Gem Shop to mine upon, he had brought two friends, Herb and Todd. This trip would ultimately result in The Gem Shop's discover of the Beverly Marie claim near Graveyard Point. During this trip, the three of them visited a museum in Baker City, Oregon called the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. This historical center possesses a collection of outstanding rocks, minerals, gemstones, and cabochons. All of these stones were from material collected in areas in Oregon years past, areas that Mueller and his colleagues were on the hunt for. On the opposite wall, a collection of beaded jewelry was on display. These pieces were all created by Betty Underwood, who Mueller knew as the mother of a close colleague, Doug Underwood. The credit titles in this collection identified each of the stones, and noted that all were cut and donated by Eugene Mueller himself. "This came as a surprise to Herb and Todd; I hadn't told them," says Mueller, "I had certainly never expected that any of my stones would end up in a museum." Though the mining at the Beverly Marie TGS claim ended after the last operation in 2017, Mueller can still hope to do extraordinary things with the agate he did bring back from nearly a decade's worth of material, perhaps even to be showcased in a museum once more.
If you enjoy stories like Gene Mueller's discovery of the Cave of Wonders, come visit his blog where he posted a collection of several of his experiences while mining the treasured Graveyard Point Plume Agate!