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New Bella Vista Plume Agate

One of my new claims located in the Graveyard Point area near Gene Mueller’s Regency Rose plume claim.

I’ve known about this location for a few years, but never got around prospecting and claiming it, until this year. It was a hot day in June, 2020 at Gene’s Regency claim. I came out to his claim to see Gene and Veronica and maybe help a little with the dig. It was a very hot day with no wind, therefore making it close to 100 degrees down in the pit. I decide to take a little break from the jackhammer and dust and hiked up the ridge to the old area and maybe take another look at the ground. Surprisingly, there was a good deal of float agate on the ground just wanting to be picked up. In fact, a good deal more than I remember being there years before…a good sign. There was an old road on the ridge which lead to an old dig site that looked rarely used. Judging by the pit disturbance, it looked as if they had used a backhoe perhaps to prospect around. Rubber tire backhoes are cheaper to rent, but lack any digging power in the hard basalt host rock. They also don’t have the deeper reach that an excavator can achieve. Walking about 100 yards from the tailing pile, I still see the float still looking pretty dang good! Picking one rock up, then hitting off an the edge, I see the plume structure is different than what I’ve seen at Graveyard. The agate was clear…another good sign. Walking back to the old tailing pile, I see it was pretty torn up by rockhounds scratching for agate. Judging what they left behind, it wasn’t that bad!…one more good sign. Walking around some more, I find a few very old claim posts on the ground. The bottom of the posts, were rotted off, being so dry out here in the Owyhee’s, they were probably pretty old. Hiking back down to Gene’s camp, I came upon a few small prospecting holes. A good deal of rockhounds have been up here hunting, so the area was not new, being so close to the traditional Graveyard area, it was not surprising. Back at Gene’s camp, I asked if he knew anything about the old dig on the ridge. Surprisingly, Gene said he wasn’t aware there was even anything up there!

Back home, I researched a little on the BLM site to see if there was an active claim. There were a few different claims made at the site, with different names, back in the 80/90’s. Then, they were abandon. A lot of times, people make mining claims only to realize the expense, risk and/or physical labor is more than they can handle. For example: A two week dig at a new claim site is roughly as follows; $4,000 excavator rental, $550 of diesel fuel, $500 for 5 new teeth for the excavator bucket, $1,500 BLM bonding, $150 food/water, $100 gasoline and $50 Misc. Wear and tear on the body…non-refundable. So, the site was open and now available. Judging by what I saw on the ground, tailings and the very little true digging done, I decided to take a chance. I sent in my claim paperwork.

The Graveyard point area is a very old rockhound area, dating back to its hay day in the 60/70’s. I was told by a few old timers that back then campers were everywhere during the Spring and Fall. People had their buckets and hammers vacuuming up agate float and digging holes everywhere. Then came the numerous claims made through the years, dropped, made again, abandon or held onto by people if only just to have a place to dig of their own.

-March 2020-

With all my paperwork and notice to the BLM sent in and approved, I was ready for my new adventure. Unlike my other plume agate claims, Feather Ridge and Linda Marie, I decided not to let it be known that I had a new site to any of my customers. Mainly, because the site was really un-proven. I didn’t want to get everyone’s hopes up and then find out it was a dud. A few trusted friends I let know, but otherwise it was “top secret”. My plan was to dig in late September and then into early October. It really starts to get hot in the Owyhee’s late May then into late August. Usually middle September, it begins to cool off enough to dig. Middle/Late October out here is a little unpredictable. So, planning on late September through beginning of October will be a safe bet.
-August 2020-

I get a text from Gene wanting to know what my Fall dig plans were since he’s not planning on going to the Denver Show due to the plague the Chinese unleashed on us. I hadn’t told him yet of the new claim, I just wanted to get all my ducks in a row first. Being high risk, I think he’s getting mining fever after being forced to be cooped up at the shop. So, I tell him my news and invite him to come out and help me dig at the new claim. After a few weeks, he texted back: “All up coming shows are canceled, looking better for me to come out!” He’s getting excited like a little kid being told he can now go out and play with his friends.


Digging Day

September 2020. Gene makes it out and we setup at his claim site since, it’s nice and flat and only 400 yards or so to my claim. We can easily ride my ATV back and forth to my site. The excavator is delivered the next day and I walk it in. It takes 2 hours to get to the site driving the excavator. We begin by digging test holes at previous hand dug holes. Immediately, the sound of crunching agate comes from the excavator bucket…pay dirt. The agate veins are long, big, and lot’s of color (which is a good sign), but the plume is not that great. We toss back into the pit about 300 pounds of agate and keep prospecting.

At Gene’s Regency Rose claim and the Graveyard point area in general, there’s an occasional small vug or pockets where Angel Wing or Botryoidal can form. The term “Angel Wing Chalcedony” refers to a delicate chalcedony formation characterized by groups of chalcedony filaments often intricately woven or connected together. They occur most often in the center of a vein or vug of agate. Having plumes form right up into the Angel Wing or Botryoidal, is somewhat rare at Graveyard, but not at my Feather Ridge claim in the Strode Basin, 6 miles south of Graveyard. At Feather Ridge, it’s very common to see plumes of pink, white, yellow and orange having formed all the way up into these structures. However, they are far and few in between, but they do make magnificent high dollar displays pieces. Botryoidal, on the other hand, is a globular external form resembling a bunch of grapes or spires on or inside the agate seam or vein. Spheres can fuse together to form the Botryoidal cluster.

Hard To Witness

The excavator bucket gives out another crunching sound, I peer down beside it and see an opening in the wall. Kneeing and stooping down, I look at the side of the wall….I turn my head towards Gene sitting in the excavator. I have a big smile on my face. I shout…”There’s a hole!”…knowing Gene gets all excited like a giggly girl about finding these and the possibility of seeing some beautiful angel wing. The small opening is about six inches wide and about as tall. It goes back about a foot deep lined with fine delicate three inch long Angel Wings. Finding the Angel wing is exciting. However, the amount of time extracting them intact is not very cost effective. Hand digging with small chisel and screwdrivers is the only way to remove specimens intact. I make a judgment call. Since this is the first one we’ve seen here and it’s our first day, I hand signal to Gene, by imitating having a hammer hitting a chisel,…”hand dig”. Knowing Gene loves to hand dig, I give him the honors of trying to get them out. Two hours pass and three very nice specimens, of three inch long spires, with tips tapering to human hair thickness, emerge. The others are too deep in the pocket and surrounded with hard basalt. Getting them out would take most of the day. We don’t have any agate in the buckets yet and there’s rain in the forecast. It’s a very hard thing decide and witness, delicate formations with crystalline type structures surviving intact for 15 Million years. I have Gene dig though them with the bucket.
Next morning, it’s lightly raining and windy, but not bad enough to stop digging. We load up on the ATV and head up to the claim. Out here in the Owyhee’s, there’s a fine Bentonite clay in certain areas on the roads. When exposed to the weather, it breaks down into a flour type constancy. This particular area at Graveyard is from the weathering of volcanic ash and hydrothermal vents that were laid down when the Yellowstone caldera passed through this area 15.5 million years ago (Miocene) . There were two smaller circler calderas formed in, what is now the Owyhee basin. These calderas uplift, stretch and fracture the older 35 Million year old basalts (Oligocene) on the outside edges of the circle. And then the whole thing collapses. The aquifers in those areas start rushing down into ruptured basalts. The extremely hot water bubbles back up though the cracks, bringing with it rich minerals and silica which start flowing into the cracks of the older basalts. Sometimes, when the fracture is big enough and close to the surface, it forms volcanic hot water vents. Depending on the amount of stable ground water, these vents can stay around for just months or hundreds of years. (A good helpful hint to rockhounds…look for the ash, more than likely, you’ll find agate or jasper near by) Anyway, the clay gets sticky when just a little wet. As we drive through, the clay covers the tires of the ATV and mud starts flying over us. Just so happens, I have my mouth open and a small clump flies in. “Damn it!” I slow down to a stop, spitting out the mud. Gene thinks it’s funny, until I point out the clumps on his old nasty mining hat. He begins to hit them off and I say, “Wait! It only adds to the value of your hat when you auction off that damn thing next time”. He auctioned off his old previous hat for charity for $600 bucks at the 2016 Agate Symposium.! Ho! We drive up to the pit and it’s still lightly raining. Gene starts up the machine and I walk down into the pit to begin spotting. The bucket was just about to pull back and dig into the basalt, when my eye catches a blue color in the diggings. I say out loud, “Ho!!” That’s our signal to stop because something is seen or exposed. The bucket remains still while I check it out. Sure enough…blue opal. I pick up the 1×1 chunk and it has a beautiful blue color and it’s solid! “Hey! Some blue opal down here”. Intrigued, Gene says, “What?! Blue opal?” “Yeah…take a look”. I walk out of the hole and show it to him. He looks at one side and says… “Nice”. As he is ready to hand it back to me, I say with a smile,… “Look at the other side”. He turns it over “Wait…what!?” Blue opal with pink plumes. “I don’t believe it. I’ve never seen blue opal with plumes before”. “Me either” I say. I don’t know where it came from since it was in the pile, so I have Gene “rake” the pile with the bucket teeth to see if I can find some more. All we find is small flakes and little pieces. We talk about it and figure maybe it was a small pocket or vein. Hard to tell, probably just an odd ball. Also, we dig fairly hard looking for agate. And any opal near by would probably be all fractured up due to the pounding that we do on the Basalt host rock. Anyway, I try not to get too excited, but kinda hard not to. We start digging again and expose a nice sized agate vein with bright white plumes, “Ho!” I uncover the agate vein, dig a piece out, knock off an edge to prove it and give it a little lick… “It’s good!” I say out loud. Finally, something we can put in the buckets. It was a nice long good sized vein with bright white plumes in clear agate. Normally, I don’t really go after white plume, but these have a clear agate background, with 2 to3 inch long skeletal type plume patterns that are very cool and bright white. We end up filling 7 buckets.
The claim is set on the top of the south edge of a long high ridge system that overlooks the Graveyard point area. On the very north edge of the ridge, about 2 miles away, is Steve Shultz’s North Ridge Claim.  The view from my claim is spectacular, almost a 360 degree panoramic. It’s getting later and the rain has stopped a few hours ago. We are digging out some more white plume down in the pit. I need to visit mother nature. I walk out and look west at the vast horizon. “Ahh crap…we need to get the hell out of here”! A beautiful and impressive vast dark wall curtain of water is coming our way. I say to Gene, “Button up! We need to get out of here”! Gene walks out and his hat instantly blows off and tumbles along the ground. Gene frantically casing after it. The wind in front of this massive curtain of water wall is picking up quickly. We hop on the ATV, drive to camp, batten down the hatches, and wait it out until morning.
Angel Wing White Tip is white, cream, and brown
The Angle wing is white and brown
A few days later, after the storm, everything is bone dry again. Everything dries out pretty fast here, especially, if there’s a little wind. We are digging beside a long vein we exposed that some potential, but still nothing yet. Then, the bucket tooth starts crunching as it is dragged across the basalt, catching on something solid. Gene gives a little more pull and pops out an agate vein covered in reddish powder. This type of reddish coating is always a great sign at Feather Ridge for some type of plume color. Sliding down the pit, I pick it up and knock off chip. “There’s some pink!” Good timing, I was starting to get worried. The vein opens up and reveals pink plume, red plume and some interesting red lace. Unfortunately, I only fill one bucket. But, at least, I know it’s here. Tapping on the vein we just exposed, I begin to hear something. I signal to Gene to cut the engine. I start tapping on the basalt surrounding the agate. I heard it again. The basalt is pretty hard here, so I ask Gene for a little bump near the agate. A “Bump” is when your put a single bucket tooth on something you want to carefully pry, tap or push out. In this case, I point exactly behind a basalt block. Carefully, he begins to pull it back. The bucket gives way and rips it out. Looking at the result, I shout back, “There’s a hole!” It’s a nice size one this time. On my knees looking down into it, I can’t believe my eyes. I see large Botryoidal-like stalactites. Gene yells down, “Anything?” I say back, “Ohhh Baby!” He shuts down the machine and slowly scrambles down into the pit. He looks down into the hole and says, “I can’t believe this place! There are Angel Wing and Botryoidals everywhere. I sometimes get some, but nothing like this type”. Again, I say to Gene, “Decision time”. Do we hand dig them out and spend the whole day, and maybe the next, surgically getting them out or get a few out and then plow through it to try to find more agate plume? Looking down into the hole again…I stand up. We both look at each other quietly for a few seconds. He’s smiling slightly, but doesn’t add any input. I know what he’s thinking. Looking back down, then back at him again, I say, “Yeah, there’s no way I’m making these into crushed 15 million year old powder”. Getting too late in the day to start pealing them out, we headed back to camp…I’m not going to get any sleep tonight.


Angel Wing or Botryoidals make a resonating ring sound when tapped. This is the sound I heard yesterday while digging out the surrounding basalt. The Botryoidal resonating in the vug pocket was a deeper sound than what I’m use to at Feather Ridge. Now, I can see why. The Botryoidal stalactites are very large. We begin the surgical removal by looking for fractures in, or around the agate, where the structures were created. This will give an indication how stable the possible plates will be when pressure is applied by chisel or screwdriver. There are not very many fractures, that I can see, and it looks like most of the stalactites are intact. Gene starts on one side. I do the other. I carefully tap on the screwdriver to wedge the tip into a fracture. As I do, the ringing get louder now that the hole is open. You would think that by hitting it, damaging would occur. But, like at Feather Ridge, the Angel Wing and Botryoidal is very resilient.  Pulling out a few plates was difficult at first. However, once you have taken one out, the rest are kinda unlocked and the procedure gets a little easier. The structures turn out to be fantastic, pointing in gnarly directions on some and others a systematic symmetry.

"What the heck?"

We had successfully dug out all the Angel Wing plates the day before. Today, instead digging out scratch holes rockhounds had left behind, I decide it’s time to do some prospecting. This is done by lightly raking back undisturbed surfaces, looking for signs of veins. Finding several great veins this way, we start to fill up buckets of mainly bright white plume and a few yellow and pink/reds. A few days pass with lot’s of beautiful white plume in the buckets. We’ve been here for seven days now and the agate we’ve dug out is good sized and excellent for cabbing or display. While taking a lunch break at the pit, I stroll over to the old tailings pile that the excavator track has disturbed and poke around. I see a glint of a glass bottle. I go over dig it out. Much to my surprise and horror, it’s filled with black beetle parts! What the heck? The bottle is plugged at the opening and filled with all of parts of black beetles. I show it to Gene. He, also, is amazed. Did some spider, scorpion or animal use it to store them? Fascinating! I bring the bottle back to camp to show anyone that comes by to visit.

"Good Decision"

It is the last week of the dig. Moving a little more north to where we were digging is virgin ground. So far, we’ve been digging around the old previously disturbed areas. Not knowing what we might get is more exciting. Even if we were to get nothing, it’s still a lot of fun. We truly are prospecting now. Walking over some bare ground, I see some flakes of opal and agate and direct Gene to start here. The first couple of pulls of the bucket only brings up top soil. The top soil is a little deeper here. It’s mainly Bentonite, together with the opal chips! This is a great sign, suggestive of being pretty close to a vent. The bucket starts hitting the host rock of basalt, but no agate yet. Suddenly, a sound of fine grinding and then the bucket pulls back a line of dark blue opal. “Ho!, Got some blue opal!” Gene stops the pull and I walk down into the track the bucket has exposed. Sure enough, beautiful blue opal has popped out. I start brushing away the dirt and bentonite finding a vein of blue opal with pink plume! This time it’s fairly intact, probably because the bentonite has softened the buckets vibrations while digging into it. I clean off the exposed vein and reveal a two foot long agate/opal vein. Knowing my wife, Linda, is coming out today, I thought I’d give her the excitement of digging it out. I tell Gene my plan and he smiles. He then chuckles and says, “Good decision”. He knows, as good as I do, “ya-gotta keep the boss happy”. We leave it exposed. We decide to follow the veins trending path, which is in between the tracks of the excavator.
preplume is white and brown
I wait while he does his job. First, he looks at the plate that popped out. He shouts, Its’ got Angel Wing on it, and it’s undamaged!” He walks down and shows me by sticking his arm all the way back into the opening. He then shouts back, “Big opening with walls covered with Angel Wing!” Now, it’s time for me to get out. I’m down near the hole and look at the 40+ pound plate on the ground that has popped out. Fine delicate Angel Wing…intact. Gene looks at me and says again, “I can’t believe this place. Look at those walls!” I am amazed also, but sigh knowing I only have 5 days left and still want to dig on my Spiderwoman claim. I know I have to get these out. Just then, I get a call on my phone. It’s Linda down at camp. Gene and I hop on the ATV to go and meet her. I fill her in on our progress and what we have been finding, leaving out the blue opal. “I left something for you to dig out”, I say with a smile. She knows me, of course, incredulously she says, “Ahh right..Ok, what did you find?” I say, “I’m not tellin! Gotta see it yourself”. She squints her eyes at Gene…He puts up his hands laughing, “Don’t look at me!”. We have lunch that she has made and brought up to camp. Then, I remember to show her the beetle bottle. “What the heck!”, she says, moving the bottle around watching the tumbling beetle bodies. We head back to the pit and she looks at the blue opal plume. “Wow! that’s very cool. I get to dig it out?” Handing her the screw driver, I say, ‘She’s all yours”. She starts to fumble with the screwdriver in her leather gloved hands. I advise, “It’s better to dig without gloves on with delicate stuff “. It will take her awhile. Probably twice as long if I were to take it out. But, that’s OK. She’s having a good time. I just happen to add in jest, “You know this type of opal with plume is probably the only kind on the planet”. But, of course, her being quick witted and the fact she knows me too well, says, “Well, it’s good thing I’m digging it instead of you”. Ahh, man! Busted again.


The plates of Angel Wing that Gene and I wench out are stunning. Some have a neat orange mineral coating attached to their tips. All are fine and delicate, some have a flowing seaweed like movement to them. Then, it dawns on me. I stop digging and sit back, I say to Gene, “Crap! how in the hell can I ship these to buying customers? There’s no way on most of these”. Gene has some knowledge as to how I could do it without damaging the fragile tips and wings. Still I’m apprehensive. I will have to see for myself how this can be done once I get them back home. Sitting there digging, Gene says, “You know, the opal, you probably don’t want to sell the rough to customers”. I say, “Yeah…I know. The way we dig for agate is really tough on it. I’ll just need to sell the proven slabs”. Gene nods and says, “You haven’t dug very much area, so the chances of finding more is good. And this place…who knows what else you’ll find here. This is crazy”. An hour or so later my friend, Brian Hendrickson, drives up. He gets out of his truck and walks over to where Linda is finishing up. He is surprised at what she’s digging out. He says, “Is that opal you’re digging?” Linda stands up and says, “I think I got it out. Tell Phil to come over and look.” Brian walks over to where we are, down in the other hole. He asks “Nice plates!, Angel Wing all of it?” Standing slowly up, with a aching stiff back, I reply, “Yeah, and it keeps going”. Immediately, he says, “How in the Hell are you going to ship it!” Gene and I both look at each other turning our heads from side to side, moaning. Looking back at Brian, I say, “Yeah…well, that’s still being worked out”.  We head over to the blue vein where Linda is working . Sure enough she got it all out, about a half bucket. I look through the rough and am amazed that she got most of it out intact. “Good job honey!” Some of the opal plume has interesting vertical healed fractures in red.  Others, no fractures. It’s going to be fun cutting and taking pictures of it, when I get it back home.  Gene and Brian help get all the plates out. Gene gets back on the excavator, slowly. It was a hard hand dig. He starts it up and begins again digging along side the wall of the now exposed agate. Gene is pulling through the basalt again. And after about 5 minutes standing at the edge with Brian, I turn away from Gene and whisper something to Brian. Brian shouts out to Gene and points down into the trench, “There’s a hole!” I shout out loud, wave my arms and hands back and forth in the air, “There’s no hole! There’s no hole! Keep digging! Keep digging!” We both laugh at our joke, as Gene puts his head down on top of his hands resting on the bucket levelers, shaking his head. Linda heads back home and another day done. I’m really happy Linda and Brian made it out to share the fun of digging out treasures.
View at the claim... Bella!
View at the claim... Bella!

We close up the hole!

It takes most the day to make everything pretty with the excavator. I let Gene do all the reclaim, knowing he’s thinking about heading back to Wisconsin and back to the grind. I might as well let him enjoy it while he can. We did have some visitors come by and see us. Gene and Brent Stewart, my daughter Reagan, Terry Maple along with Tom Orem, Mark Sweet the mine owner next to Gene’s claim and Jake Jacobitz along with Beverly Harden. We all had a great time catching up and tuning the black beetle bottle over and over again in fascination and wonder of the hundreds of dead beetles tumbling inside.

Additional Video's!

This is pink, white, cream, black, and brown