The History of Morrisonite - Updated

If you frequent any Rock & Mineral shows throughout the United States and the signature healed fractures over an array of dark and pale greens of Morrisonite catch your eye, you have most likely found a dealer that knows the stone's miner, personally or by reputation. Ask them if they know Gene Mueller, or his daughter, Veronica Woods, and you're like to get a smile and a story out of your efforts.

Eugene Mueller mined the Morrison Ranch Jasper from 1986 to 1996 and no one has mined it since, so he is now renowned as the latest and most relevant supplier of one of the world's finest jaspers. Mueller was first informed of the Morrisonite claims in the mid 70's by Larry Butler, who had heard of The Gem Shop's newfound interest in American mining claims. The Gem Shop had just recently bought their first two claims in the Oregon/Idaho/Nevada area. These claims offered an opportunity for the business to acquire rock without the financially stifling costs of shipping and handling often encountered when importing rock internationally. Given the recent pursuit towards entrepreneurial independence, Mueller agreed to prospect the claims, having known Butler for some time: an avid stonecutter and owner of Stone Gallery from Minneapolis who often attended Rock & Mineral shows and came to earn Mueller's friendship and trust through frequent conversation.

At the time, there were five claims that covered the known Morrisonite veins with the following names: Big Hole, Big Hole No. 2, Christine Marie, Amy Ellen, and Lacey. Butler had bought his two claims from Gene Anthis, an experienced miner in the area who was well-known for his production of Bruneau Jasper. After viewing these two claims, Christine Marie and Amy Ellen, Mueller was initially unimpressed; there was little rock exposed, the claims were hard to get to, and most of all he was new to conducting his own mining. Afterwards, a trip was made to the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Vale, OR, where Mueller intended to check the records of ownership and activity for the five Morrison Ranch claims and discovered that J. Longwell's Big Hole claim, and Charlie Caress' Big Hole No. 2 and Lacey claims, were invalid. This was most likely due to incorrectly-filed paperwork submitted by their previous owners. Mueller sent a typewritten letter to Larry Butler to inform him of this, as well as offer him the opportunity to be the first to claim over the invalid areas, but the opportunity was given to Mueller. On September 11th, 1984, another trip was made to the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Vale, OR, where Mueller reclaimed the three areas: naming the land once known as Big Hole after his first daughter, Lanora Jane, Big Hole 2 after his second, Veronica Lea, and the Lacey claim became Verla Ruth, after his wife.

The BLM later classified the Lanora Jane claim as unavailable to be reclaimed after amended assessment paperwork was filed in 1985 for the Big Hole claim by Lissa Caldwell, wife and inheritor to Tom Caldwell. However, Mrs. Caldwell remained in a precarious position concerning the validity of the Big Hole claim, and the BLM advised her to reclaim over the same area with a second claim, thus establishing the Meadowlark claim. Doing so allowed the BLM to invalidate the Big Hole claim due to missing assessment paperwork and validate the Meadowlark claim. However, due to the establishment date of the claim, the land no longer held the grandfathered rights of a claim established before the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) on October 21st, 1976. The Big Hole claim that covered the same land as the Meadowlark claim was established on April 11th, 1971. The Big Hole No. 2 and Lacey claims were established on April 28th, 1975 and June 1st, 1975, respectively. The grandfathered rights allowed claim owners to operate on the land with mining equipment and machines. Now, the Meadowlark claim was only capable of being mined upon by hand. The same situation applied to the Veronica Lea and Verla Ruth claims, as their recent reclamation caused them to be reclassified as post-FLPMA.

Two years later, Lissa Caldwell was having difficulty filing assessment paperwork for the Meadowlark claim, threatening action from the BLM to declare the claim abandoned and inoperative. Following much correspondence between Mrs. Caldwell and Mr. Mueller, he filed over the same area of land, claiming it on October 1st, 1987 and again on February 12th, 1988 under the name "Jake's Place," after his mining partner, Darrel "Jake" Jacobitz. There are no laws against overlapping land claims and for some time such was the case with the Meadowlark and Jake's Place claims.

Morrisonite, or Morrison Ranch Jasper, is found in Oregon, near the Idaho border. In its introduction in Agates III by German author Johann Zenz, Morrisonite is described as originating "from the eastern side of the Owyhee River Canyon," but if one were to search for the vein solely off of this clue, it may take a few days before they find any Morrisonite. Even though Morrisonite has been collected since the 1940's, not many have been to or are aware of the location of the Morrisonite claims, and even those who are informed of their location find it difficult to access. The first time Mueller traveled to Oregon to prospect the Morrisonite claims, he and his companions got lost and ended up somewhere near the Carrisite deposits.

The route to the Christine Marie claim is a treacherous one, so for those who are hungry for adventure: go in two vehicles, pack plenty of water, and expect a significantly time-consuming trip. The road to get there, Jordan Craters Rd., begins as an offshoot of Highway 95 at mile marker 12 ½. This junction is 12 ½ miles south of where Hwy. 95 crosses the Idaho-Oregon border and 6 miles north of Jordan Valley. 10 miles up, the Jordan Craters Rd leads to a fork in the road where a sign post reads: "Jordan Craters 14 miles." When Gene Mueller first conducted his mining trips in this area, this is where the improved gravel road ended and only mud holes, large cobbles, and other hazards greeted Mueller and his companions and vehicles, resulting in a 3-hour, 29-mile trip. Today, the road is improved all the way to Jordan Craters and beyond to the Owyhee River, and the trip to the mines is just as distant but considerably faster. Continuing to the right past the fork, almost 5 miles later, is the first cattle guard after the split, and lava beds can now be seen far off to the left. The second cattle guard is a little more than 2 miles past the first, after which keep left, Tea Pot Dome can now be seen ahead. After slowly driving up a rock hill, over a third cattle guard, and past Blowout Reservoir to the right (as well as some of the only trees around!), a fourth cattle guard will be met. Before passing through, notice the road branching off of Jordan Craters Rd to the north that travels along the fence. This is not much of a road, but in about 5 miles it will lead to the canyon rim. Nearly 2 miles up this path is a corral with a gate. Pass through this gate, leaving it as it was found. This road is very rugged and unimproved; "you can actually walk the four miles faster than you can drive it," as Gene likes to say. A lonesome tree can be seen on the horizon to the north after about 2 miles up this path. Not too long after that there is another fork in the road: stay left. One mile beyond this is the old campsite used by miners who exploited the deposits even before Eugene Mueller and Jake Jacobitz conducted their mining. At the 17th mile beyond the Jordan Craters signpost, a traveler is greeted with a breathtaking view. When first traversing this route, Gene was met with this view after three hours of flat, barren desert, in response to which he mused about old worldviews of renown voyagers of the past, ones who believed that the world was flat and that, beyond the borders of a map, flatness would fall away from beneath them, giving way to unknown depths and what could only be a space designed after the pure nature of existence. Mr. Mueller alludes to this thought when he refers the view as "the End of Flatness."

Driving into the canyon is possible under the right circumstances but not for the faint of heart, many reach the rim and refuse to go further. Do not attempt to drive down to the mines without inspecting the road first, conducting any minor repairs necessary, and having a functioning four-wheel-drive vehicle. A safer way to reach the mines is to hike the road by foot. The fourth switchback road levels off to Jake's Place claim, and the Christine Marie claim is another four switchbacks beyond that, resulting in a minimum two-hour hike. Before Mueller built his own cabin in the Christine Marie claim, there were two cabins just beyond the canyon rim, one built by Tom Caldwell in the 1970's where Mueller would often stay, and the other built and inhabited by his friend Jake Jacobitz while mining. In order to reach the claims below, it was necessary for Mueller to drive the frightening switchbacks down the canyon side every day. Since his dually truck couldn't make the sharp turns down the slope, Mueller needed to acquire a vehicle with a tighter turn radius. He came across an old 4-wheel-drive International Scout the was not without its problems but it had a good V-8 engine and had been used for snow plowing in its prime. Mueller towed "the Scout" to the canyon rim before parking the two vehicles near the two cabins. Since the first four switchbacks were passable by "the dually," it was a breeze in the Scout. It is however worthwhile to note that the approach to the third switchback is very steep and rocky and the turn itself is tight but achievable. During his mining trips in the late 80's, Mueller would have both vehicles parked here, but the mornings brought another adventure: driving the Scout to Christine Marie. The fifth switchback serves as an exit from Jake's Place, beginning on nice, level ground. The road between the fifth and sixth switchback, however, is the steepest the road gets. On the lower end of this section, the sixth switchback is not wide enough to make the turn in one go, thankfully the road levels out by then, making backing up to adjust the Scout's direction a viable and easy solution. The seventh switchback is not so forgiving, the steepness makes stopping not an option, whether you were going down or up the canyon, but it is possible to make the turn if Mueller drove the Scout along the outer edge of the road. Beware, for turning around here brings a jarring revelation as to just how sheer the tumble over the roadside can be. The eighth switchback is similar to the sixth, tight but level, requiring a three-point turn to continue. After this last switchback the road continues around the cliff and across a rockslide between this canyon and the next, near where the Christine Marie mine is located on the southern portion of the claim. Driving back up the switchbacks at the end of the day proved to be another beast altogether. Mueller needed to find the proper speed to drive the Scout up the switchbacks: fast enough to provide the best traction and not so fast as to encourage spin-outs, which is especially difficult on the road between the sixth and fifth switchbacks. Before that however, in order to make the nasty seventh switchback, the Scout needed to not only be moving nonstop, but also needed to be on the left edge of the road nearest the drop, which is slightly uphill from the right side of the road, but is necessary in order to make the turn in one go. Mueller describes the speed required for returning up the seventh turn as "fast enough to slide the back wheels around the corner."

What's even more dangerous than traversing this dug-out, cliffside road, is digging it in the first place: and that's precisely what Mueller did in 1984. He remembers being astonished at the difficulty of the terrain and then understood why so little of such a marvelous rock had made its way out of quite a remote location. Before Mueller's work, there was no road to easily traverse the cliffside, so any miner who sought out Morrison Ranch Jasper walked down nearly 1,000 feet and 2 hours to the deposits, doubling the time for the trip back up if they found any rock. When first prospecting the mines with Larry Butler, he remembers Butler exclaiming, "it's impossible to get to, how are we gonna do that?!" The first wild ideas included a hypothetical cable car system from the rim to the mine, or flying in equipment with a helicopter, but Mueller concluded bulldozing a road would be more reasonable. Originally, the plan was to hire someone Mueller came across by happenstance who had a sign in their yard reading, "D-6 Dozer for hire." After taking them out to the claim for assessment however, this plan was quickly turned on its head when they proclaimed, "Not me. Not with my machine. It's too dangerous." Mueller later met a man from Murphy, Idaho, who sold used equipment and had a reputation for trustworthiness and good prices. At the time of visiting this man, Mueller could not find a machine suitable for the job, so he handed the seller $200 and asked him to keep an eye out for a dozer worthy of a mining operation. He then returned home to Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a little disappointed.

The following December, Mueller received a call from the man from Murphy, notifying Mueller that he had found a D-4 dozer suitable for the job. It had belonged to the Forest Service and was old but in good shape, the running price was $4,000. Without any proof of quality, Mueller, being a rookie miner with little to no experience operating heavy machinery, bought and paid for the machine, sight unseen. Now more experienced, he recommends not doing this today, however in this particular situation it worked out fine. The dozer was exactly as described, and completely functional. This included a hydraulic control to lift and lower the blade, a manual angle adjustment system, a diesel engine, a pairing pony motor used to start the main engine, and five long levers protruding from the floor around the driver's seat, each with a 25-pound pull weight. Three such levers were positioned in front of the seat, one to operate the clutch and the other two engaged the break to the respective left and right track. The transmission shift lever came up from the floor, aligned towards the center of the driver's seat. The last lever was on the right, operating the hydraulics for the blade. Mueller explains that the positional locality of each of the levers, paired with the complex controls required to complete simple movements with the machine, led to the operation of a D-4 dozer to be described as watching someone "having an imaginary boxing match with the dashboard of the dozer." As a last-minute attempt to hire someone experienced with operating such a machine, Mueller consulted his brother, Tim Mueller, who had a friend who could operate the D-4 dozer. However, after bringing this friend to the canyon rim, he said some very familiar words: "Not me. Not with that machine. It's too dangerous." Mueller then had to learn how to drive this machine through much trial and error, committed to digging the road himself.

"It was a good thing I was ignorant and did not know what I was doing or I never would have done it," is what Mueller proclaims when asked about his experience taking on such a daunting task. After many hardships and tribulations, including instances of |crushed oil pans and tumbling over the edge, two years of hard work brought Mueller to the mines at the bottom of the cliff, even if some days only 10 yards of road were completed due to the steepness of the terrain, limitations of the dozer, and roughness of the road. "I can't tell you how excited I was to come back three years after I decided to build the road myself with the possibility of swinging my hammer into some rock containing jasper."

Mueller's first year of mining Morrisonite was on the Amy Ellen claim on a lease from Larry Butler. This claim has never been mined with mechanized equipment, as it is in a very rugged part of the canyon and is difficult to reach by any means. Some hand digging was done here in the early 1960's by brothers Emmet Norris, Walter Norris, and Web Norris. This claim is sometimes referred to as the pinnacle claim, due to a towering rock formation on it called "the pinnacle." Finding Morrisonite was thrilling after waiting two years for the road to be finished, but financially the operation was a disaster. The lease required Mueller to produce 100 pounds of high quality Morrisonite for Butler, in addition to a heavy percentage of the rest of the rock he mined. Although this was some of the best jasper in the world, The Gem Shop struggled to break even after this mining trip. Gene Mueller later conducted most of his mining on the Christine Marie claim, first filed legally in 1971 by Ed Brandt along with the Amy Ellen claim, but Mueller had bought his half of Christine Marie from Gene Anthis, sharing the rest of the claim with Larry Butler. Mining on his half of the Christine Marie claim was more financially stable for Mueller, as the initial cost of $1,000 was worth the absence of any loss of jasper due to lease agreements. Now, Mueller could keep all of the rock that he extracted, making mining at the Morrison Ranch to be much more appealing from a business perspective.

Around this time, Jake Jacobitz was mining on the Meadowlark claim on lease from Lissa Caldwell after her husband passed away in 1978. This was before he and Mueller became good friends, but due to overlapping mining trips, Jacobitz witnessed Mueller build the road over the years with an ancient D-4 dozer. Jacobitz eventually told him that he needed a better machine, and knew where he could get one. He introduced Mueller to Glenn Pegrem, who after one year and $8,000 later, sold a CASE 850 frontend loader to Mueller, his second machine, which served loyally for 8 years afterwards. Pegrem originally acquired this machine through Jacobitz, who had used it while mining with Tom Caldwell, who bought the Christine Marie, Amy Ellen, and Lacey claims from Ed Brandt in 1975. Caldwell had originally asked Jacobitz in 1976 to help him open up the deposit to increase its mining efficiency, for most of the mining conducted before this had been done by hand. Between the CASE 850, Caldwell's CAT 955 track frontend loader, and various blasting tools such as a compressor, an eighty-pound hand-held sinker drill, and explosives, the two cleared overburden for three weeks before any quality jasper was struck. This mine came to be known as "The South Pit," and has since produced very fine jasper, some so much as to accompany their owners to their grave at their request (see October in our [[2008 Calendar of Fine Agates & Jaspers]]). During one operation on this area, Caldwell was working with a CAT 980 frontend loader when a rock slide buried his machine with him in it. He dug himself and his machine out by hand, eventually returning his machine up 600 feet back to basecamp. Tom Caldwell did not mine much Morrisonite after that. His drill, however, was found years later by Gene Mueller, rusted and frozen but later set in oil for a year to salvage it and afterwards sent to Mexico where it has become responsible for most of the Coyamito Agate in the market.

Before Tom Caldwell's operation, before the claims were even filed with the BLM, the land was first collected by a farmer named James Morison. Julian Field, a writer for a local paper in Payette, Idaho called The Sundial Clippings, wrote the first known text about Morrisonite when it was found. In 1948, Field reports, "one of the most outstanding ornamental gem stones found in Malheur county, eastern Oregon is known as 'Morrisonite,' named for James Morison, who for a half century has made his home in a canyon of the Owyhee River ... During those years Mr. Morrison has explored much of that rugged area known locally as the Owyhee Breaks. Deeply interested in [Native American] lore, Mr. Morison has accumulated a large collection of [Native American] artifacts most of which he found at old campsites and in caves along the river." Johann Zenz, author of the Agates trilogy, a photographical commemoration of many agates and even some jaspers, recounts as "Philip Stephenson, a well-known rock shop owner from Boise, Idaho, with the help of his friend Gene Stewart and Gene's mother (Alberta Stewart), tells the story of Morrisonite as follows:

'The Morrisonite story begins in early spring 1947. A Boise rock shop owner, Dudley Stewart, was prospecting in the Owyhee Breaks in the southeast corner of Oregon. While scouting, he came upon a small thin older gentleman living like a hermit in a stone, one room house along the Owyhee River. This was James Morison (... That's the way he spelled his last name, unlike how it's spelled today). Morison lived alone, never married and had no family. ... In the months that followed their meeting, Dudley would often visit James while in the area and would take him back and and fourth to the store for supplies. They soon became good friends. ... One late fall day in 1947, Dudley was working one of the cliffs and James came by and said: 'Look at this rock! Make something out of it.' Dudley looked at the amazing colours and patterns and exclaimed: 'Where did you get this?' James showed Dudley where he discovered the jasper and Dudley soon after coined the name, 'Morrisonite' in honor of his friend James Morison. ... As word got out, people began showing up as early as spring 1948 looking for this amazing jasper. Morison became irritated at all these unknown people starting to show up at his ranch and was thinking about closing the area off completely. So in 1950, Dudley remedied the situation by getting the word out that organized group rock hunting field trips would be made by the Boise Rock Club. Dudley was one of the founders and President. But, as the interest in this jasper increased, so did the tide of people, trespassers and profiteers. ... I asked Alberta Stewart and other old timers if they know what happened to Jim Morison, but no one really knows.'"

With his newly-acquired CASE 850, operating on the mine was more efficient than ever. Nothing could change the nature of the sparsity and thinness of the Morrisonite veins, but driving "the CASE" could be done with only a left hand! The CASE's control console, resting between the driver's legs with only three sliders, all of which can be moved with one finger, is much easier to operate than the various resistant levers of the old D-4 dozer Mueller first learned to operate on. The center slider can be pushed forward to move the machine forwards and pulled back to move the machine backwards. The left and right sliders control the respective tracks on either side, pulling them back sends the track into low gear and high gear if pushed forward. While the dozer used a braking system to conduct turns, the CASE uses the difference in forward power in the tracks to make its turns, resulting in less wear on the machine. With the left hand busy driving the CASE, the right hand is left free to independently operating the bucket. Jacobitz's suggestion to upgrade Mueller's equipment ended up greatly improving his success in mining at Christine Marie. The two miners worked the deposits in tandem with each other over the next 6 years. Mueller recounts that "working out there, we became more intimate friends. We helped each other with our various mining problems."

Mining Morrisonite proved difficult due to the geological state of the environment. The float rock in this area can either be small, loose stones that can be cleared away using a dozer or frontend loader, to large boulders that have broken away from the host rock during previous seismic activity. This makes finding veins difficult because a vein can be discovered in a large protruding rock only to be revealed to be a float-level boulder that embedded itself into the slope until dug out, leaving no clue as to the locational origin of the vein discovered. It is possible however to follow a jasper vein from one boulder to another, even though the rocks have moved apart from each other. This goes to show that the abundant cracking and separation of the surface-level rock has no correlations to the cracks that the jasper forms in, leading Mueller to believe that the jasper must have formed at an earlier time when the welded tuff was not as shattered as it is today. Welded tuff is the name labelling the host rock in this area, and it is very abrasive. Thus, rocks in this area do not fall easily, but cling to each other. This quality contributes to the steepness of the area, allowing rocks to adhere to the cliffside, slowing the downhill erosion rate more common to areas without this mineral property. Pieces of this welded tuff can be set upon each other and rotated by almost 80 degrees before the top rock will fall off, as opposed to the general angle of just over 45 degrees. The abrasiveness also means that the mining gear used in this area is worn down more quickly than other areas, making duct tape an essential resource for patching worn gloves at the end of the mining day. Mueller recalls the wear on his boots while mining Morrisonite here: "I learned to buy a new pair of boots before I came out to the mine because a pair of boots lasts about a month working in this rock. I always use steel-toed boots to protect my feet. After a month of mining Morrisonite, the leather would be worn off the toes of the boots, revealing the scratched, shiny metal underneath." A large benefit to this particular property is the natural rockslide warning sounds emitted by the rocks themselves. When rocks are reaching the terminal rotation angle at which they will fall, they begin to make small creaks and soft "ticking" sounds every once in a while, increasing to a more frequent rate when closer to the time of descent. Through experience, Mueller was able to learn and interpret these noises to know when the rock will cave in on his dig site, or create a rock slide from above, allowing him to escape before danger arrived.

[info]- [Pattern in Fine Jaspers] by Eugene Mueller

Consider the following nearly identical responses to some jasper slabs for sale at two different gem and mineral shows. A customer, looking through a tray of Morrison Ranch Jasper slabs at a show in Arizona exclaimed, "Oh. Bruneau!" Another customer looking through the same tray of Morrison Ranch Jasper slabs at another show in another part of the country asked, "Are these Bruneau?" Both customers were familiar with Bruneau Jasper and they also suspected that the slabs they were perusing were not slabs of Bruneau Jasper. They were not familiar with Morrison Ranch Jasper from Oregon.

Their responses were triggered by the recognition of the pattern that is so well known in the jasper from Bruneau Canyon, Idaho. This rare and unique pattern is associated with a number of jaspers from different locations including the Royal Imperial Jasper from Mexico. Jaspers that contain this pattern form a group a jaspers that are considered in the U.S. to be the best material available in terms of quality. The pattern is characterized by a series of overlapping oval shapes arranged in a circular format. An edge or line curves back on itself until it intersects with another line. This gives the appearance of an oval shape behind the curved line that it intersects. The overlapping oval shapes are an illusion resulting from the repetition of the curved edges. Each edge stops when it meets another curved edge. In each resulting shape, the jasper changes gradually in hue and value, which creates the visual sense of surface. This illusion of visual depth contributes greatly to the beauty of the generally opaque material. It is important to point out that these shapes are not concentric like the bands in a nodular banded agate, but are part of one continuous formation through the rock. Unlike the concentric "shells," one inside the other that characterize the bands in a banded nodular agate, the edges that form the receding oval shapes in the jaspers are part of one continuous edge through the rock. If you can imagine moving three-dimensionally through a piece of jasper with this pattern, it is possible to go from the center of the rock to the outside and never cross one of the visual lines or edges. If the form can be visualized in the three dimensions, it would look something like a soft pillow folded over on itself many times. This form can be observed in other natural events. If you pour a very viscous fluid like honey or oil onto a surface, it folds over itself as it lands, creating the same form observed in these jaspers.

The surface tension of the liquid holds the form for only a short time before the liquid becomes homogeneous again. Another example is melted candle wax. If a pool of wax in a burning candle suddenly runs down the side of a candle and starts solidifying, the same shape can be observed in the hardened wax. As the wax cools and solidifies in an oval drip shape, melted wax flows over it and solidifies on the top of the first and so on. This process of the wax hardening as it flows over itself, results in the same type of forms. If you cut through the solidified wax, you will see the same curved edges that form the overlapping shapes. These edges are the continuous boundary between the liquid and solid wax as it solidified. The pattern resulting from this form does not have a generally accepted name. Various names are used among those who are familiar with these jaspers including "Bruneau pattern," "eggs," "egg pattern," "rolls," "orbs," and "pillows." More recently, "orbs," the short form of orbicular, has gained popularity. The process of the formation of the "orb" pattern present in these jaspers is independent of the type of geological formation in which the jasper forms. Bruneau and Willow Creek Jaspers are both thunderegg formations. That is, the jasper fills the interior cavity of the thunderegg. Morrisonite and Blue Mountain Jasper, in contrast, are formed in the brecciated cracking of a welded tuff. Short veins leading to small pockets connected to other veins are the general rule. [[Imperial Jasper Article|Royal Imperial Jasper]] forms in a massive fine-grained ash deposit. The outside shape of the Royal Imperial nodule is the same shape as the mass of "orbs" inside.

Current theories on the formation of chalcedony (agate and jasper) propose that the collection of silica goes through a gel or amorphous stage. An increase in silica concentration, or other event, triggers the change to a more solid state. I think that the edge or line observed in these jaspers is a visual record of the transformation that takes place when silica changes from its gel stage to its more solid form. The "orb" pattern is the only pattern that Bruneau Jasper exhibits. Those nodules that do not have the "orbed" pattern are plain tan in color, of little visual interest, and are usually discarded at the mine. It is for this reason that Bruneau Jasper is strongly associated with the "orb" pattern and the reason the two customers referenced Bruneau Jasper while looking at Morrisonite. Other jaspers have different patterns caused by other events that result in a more complex visual experience. The most common of these patterns also has several names. "Straws," "streamers," and "reseals" are all used.

These appear visually as different colored lines, or when in mass, as a webbing pattern. Occasionally, a brecciated pattern can result if the phenomenon that causes the streamers is predominant and occurs in opposite directions. Each streamer usually extends from the outside surface of the jasper where it is thicker across, continues inward toward the center of the jasper, thins as it approaches the center, and finally ends in a point. "Streamers" or reseals" are formed in the jasper from fractures or separations in the original jasper, which are then filled in with more jasper. The spaces created for the new jasper may be the result of host rock movement causing fractures or shrinkage separations of the jasper itself as it forms. The jasper that fills these cracks may be similar in character to the original jasper or be completely different. Striking color contrasts can occur or very subtle ghostlike patterns sometimes occur.

The "streamers" can form as single stark lines in the jasper or in such profusion that the visual pattern exhibits the complexity of a Jackson Pollock painting. "Streamers" and "reseals" are especially common in Imperial, Morrison Ranch and Willow Creek Jaspers. An interesting and beautiful variation that sometimes occurs in Morrisonite Jasper is a thick streamer with its own independent "egg" pattern! One difference in the process of formation of these jaspers, compared to agates, is that the silica is collecting in another substance or medium (previously deposited material) and not in an open cavity (gas pocket in igneous rock) or open crack in the host rock. In the case of Bruneau Jasper, this medium is homogeneous and without form. In the case of Willow Creek Jasper and especially [[Imperial Jasper Article|Imperial Jasper]], the medium is layered. This layering can be seen as soft horizontal banding in the jasper after it is formed. The layering causes subtle color variations in the bands and affects the visual imprint of the other formational events. If the "egg" pattern is present, the edge or line can be visually altered as it moves from one layer to another. Streamers can change color as they cross the layering of the media. An interesting and beautiful case is when the "egg" pattern forms in only one of these layers. A long thin series of oval shapes appears in otherwise plain lightly banded jasper. Much has been written about the formation of agate without any complete hypothesis to explain the hundreds of variations that occur. Many features and patterns in agate are explained by one theory or another and it is apparent that there are many changes that occur in the genesis of an agate. The jaspers, for the most part, have not been examined in the development of these theories.

Each agate studied for a particular aspect of its formation shows only the final result of the many formational changes in its genesis. Because the jaspers that contain the "egg" pattern are formed in a medium, each event or process is visually represented in the final result. This not only provides a rich and beautiful visual experience but also offers a unique opportunity for study. Only conclusions are shown in agate while jaspers record the whole story.

Morrison Ranch Jasper is classified as one of the few Fine Jaspers, along with Bruneau Jasper, Royal Imperial Jasper, and Willow Creek Jasper. "To most serious collectors and such it's very well-known," says Jake Jacobitz, long-time miner of the material, "I've heard it called the Rolls Royce of jaspers. Of the fine jaspers it's one of the best ones, the standard by which the others are measured by." The jasper from the Christine Marie mine are considered to be some of the best quality found in Morrisonite, due to their lack of distortion found in other areas caused by ancient fractures. These fractures are commonly found healed but prominent in the material throughout the Morrisonite claims but the Christine Marie Morrisonite only contains faint hints of these fractures. These hints lie over colorful egg patterns in the center of the green and brown base jasper. The Amy Ellen claim has been worked upon the least compared to the other claims, due to both its little-known location and its difficult terrain. However, this area produces fine egg patterns similar to that from Christine Marie, but there is a chance of reddish orbs whereas cream and green are more common elsewhere. The rock produced from this area come from thinner veins than other locations. Johann Zenz's Agates III book explains the development of Morrisonite, beginning with the "early formative phase, when this jasper had already taken on the beautiful elliptic patterns and vivid colours, it was fractured in all directions by tectonic movement and recemented. According to GAMMA (2005), this process must have been repeated up to four times: 'This is how the stone came to have the high number of polygonal shapes, which are so characteristic. The transitions from one design to another are sharp as razor blades like those from one colour to the next.'"

Partway through the decade of mining the Morrisonite area, Mueller found the drive between the mine and the cabins to be wearing on his nerves. Each trip must be executed with precision, but after a hard day of mining, this was difficult to accomplish. Some days, the engine would begin to cut out on the steepest slopes of the switchbacks, and Mueller learned to install a second fuel tank to account for the incline, switching to the proper gas tank on either end of the vehicle depending on if the Scout was going up or down the switchbacks. Another day, he almost careened off the edge of the seventh switchback, and surely this was the deciding point as to when Mueller resolved to build a new cabin. The rocky and sloped area of the Morrisonite claims only provided a single reasonable spot to do this; there was a large boulder lying on a flat area just a few yards off the road. This boulder had a 7-feet-high flat side that would act as the back wall of the cabin. Mueller didn't have the budget to be purchasing all new materials for the cabin, so he gathered what he could; he lugged flat stones to be used as basing for the walls with the loader, brought scratched glass panes for windows from old glass case countertops at The Gem Shop, old linoleum flooring from the Cedarburg shop for roofing, and precariously transported old corral poles for roof support beams down the switchbacks with the Scout: "an adventure worthy of 'America's Funniest Home Videos,'" Mueller says. A scavenged coal water heater was installed with ventilation out of the cabin, fueled by any construction scraps left over from the various pieces of wood gathered of all shapes and sizes without any concern for how they would be used. The work on the cabin occurred over several years, beginning with the construction of a heavy frame for the cabin that was hung upon the top of the boulder. The roof poles were pegged into place on the rock, the linoleum flooring nailed atop them. The various scrap wood was used to build the walls up the roof, leaving enough space on the sides and front for an overhang to protect the structure from the elements. Very little was spent on this cabin, the only materials bought for it included nails, framing wood, and a nice large metal framed window with hinges that opened, which Mueller set into the wall next to his bedframe. Thom Lane, a friend of Mueller's, refers to this cabin on his website, saying "the materials for the cabin cost a total of $37.00, but any Zen poet would be at home here," and at heart, Mueller identifies as just that.

In 1991, Mueller began to have sight problems relating to his chronic diagnosis of Type I Diabetes he received when he was 13 years old. The Diabetic Retinopathy caused loss of vision due to the aberrant growth of blood vessels in the retina of the eye, which then burst and causes blindness. In order to prevent these veins from bursting, doctors developed a laser surgery that kills off part of the eye in order to preserve vision, mostly. The need for this operation thus guaranteed partial loss of his vision, leading Mueller to believe that these few years will be the last of his mining career. At the time he had been aware for some time of a Seattle-born rock collector named Stewart Porteous who was interested in his Morrisonite claims. Porteous had previously bought Larry Butler's half of the Christine Marie claim, as well as Lissa Caldwell's Meadowlark claim. Mueller claims that "it was [Porteous]'s goal to own everything. He wanted it all." So the collector and the rockhound struck a deal, and a fairly complicated one at that. Steward wanted ownership of the remaining half of Christine Marie, as well as the Veronica Lea and Verla Ruth claims. After negotiating a down payment price for these claims with Porteous, Mueller was allowed to work on the Christine Marie claim through 1996 without any worries of shared cuts. He was also allowed to work on the Meadowlark claim for four years, but after two years, Porteous gained ownership over the Veronica Lea and Verla Ruth claims, and if any rock was mined from Meadowlark, Porteous received 25% of the rock. Once the four years were up, all ownership went to Porteous, including the rights to the Jake's Place claim. Mueller made the most he could out of the two years he had with the Meadowlark claim, which covered the same land as the claim whose namesake is that of his close friend, Jake Jacobitz. After the two years passed, Mueller and Jacobitz resorted to working on the Christine Marie claim. During this first year, Porteous sent David Penny, a miner for hire, to mine Meadowlark, however his operation was not as successful as the operations Mueller and Jacobitz were capable of. This was because Penny was accustomed to mining in bulk for minerals like obsidian, therefore he was unfamiliar with the techniques necessary to properly exploit the delicate Morrisonite veins. The next year, the two rockhounds returned to mine Christine Marie and witnessed Bill Tallman from the Teepee Gem Store Supply in Idaho mine for Porteous, however he was smart and didn't do it without a guarantee of a cut for himself from the rock extracted. September of 1996 was the second time Mueller mined Morrisonite that year, and was also the last he would ever do it again. In the mid 2000's, Stewart Porteous neglected to file his assessment work for his claims, thus losing them to the BLM after they were declared invalid. At the time of the deal struck between Porteous and Mueller, the Christine Marie and Amy Ellen claims were the only claims remaining to have grandfathered rights from their classification as pre-FLPMA. When Porteous lost all five Morrisonite claims, he lost the pre-FLPMA classification for those claims too. He called Mueller for legal help in an attempt to repeal the BLM's ruling, but Mueller, having fought this battle before, admitted that there was nothing that could be done. Porteous proceeded to hastily file over the Morrisonite area with two enormous claims with new names. Mueller's acquaintance, Brian Henderson, witnessed the claim posts and markings for these two claims and reported that they were preposterously large, and though Porteous went to such an effort to reclaim what he once owned, he could no longer have the claims worked with machinery anymore, only by hand. To a great extent, this is why no Morrisonite has been produced since, and why Gene Mueller remains immortalized as the chief producer of fine Morrison Ranch Jasper.

Mining Stories

Gene Mueller spent a long time mining Morrisonite, gathering many stories about his adventures in the process (he even published a book about it: Mining Morrisonite. If you would like to read about these tales of mining the most remote fine jasper that the U.S. has to offer, they are listed from Gene's perspective on his blog: Mining Morrisonite.