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Feather Ridge Plume Agate
Page 2

Digging Day [9/10/2012]

The day is here…finally! The excavator is delivered by CAT, Jake and I drive in the 315 CAT Excavator six miles up and down the rough dirt back roads, on the Idaho side, and cross the border in to Oregon. Man! It’s dusty. Fine dust coats the roads and billows up in to your teeth, ears, hair and nose. It takes 2 ½ hours to drive in the excavator, but we make it with no mishaps.

First Dig

We set up camp just below the digging site. What a beautiful view from the camp looking out towards the Owyhee desert! The camp is facing due east with our backs to the west. We should see magnificent sunrises and sunsets and in the weeks to come we did just that.

The next morning, Jake mentions that we need to clean the air filter out before we get started. We open the air cleaner compartment and find dust caked around the filter. We remove the filter and start shaking and beating it. Dust pours out of it, like you opened a bag of fine flour and threw it in the air. We put the filter back in, start her up and she purrs like a kitten…well…maybe a tiger. We break ground with my wife, Linda, recording the event. The first scoop hits pay dirt…as the bucket’s teeth dig into the basalt, we hear that familiar high pitch squeal of steel scraping against agate. Looking down into the hole, as the bucket pulls out, I see fine flakes of pink and white…It’s going to be a good first day.

The next few days of the dig progresses to the point where we are running out of buckets. Just in three days, we haul out 10 buckets of beautiful pink plume. Many chunks weighing up to 40 pounds. Percentage wise, I believe we have around 95% pink plume, 3% yellow and 2% white. I thought, if this keeps up (which it did), I’ll need to call some friends to bring me some more buckets. We end up putting it all in a big pile, until more buckets arrive.

We were blessed. The basalt was fractured, so all we needed to do was to rip it down. The veins were very easy (relatively) to get out. At times, we did come across a super nice vein or seam. Not to chance damaging the agate, we’d then used muscle to pry it out. Once we saw the uncovered agate, it was then a judgment call, use the excavator bucket teeth/tooth or… hammer and chisel. Most of the time (thank God) the bucket was all we needed.

Jake gets out of his air conditioned "throne" in the excavator and digs out a nice one.

Digging with the CAT
Breaking gound and ...PAY DIRT!
Searching the tailings for nuggets
Search the tailings for nuggets
Digging-missed one
Missed One

Camp Life

The mornings and end of day become a ritual. We wake up with the sunrise just coming over the lava plateaus. Getting up slowly is not on purpose, but a necessity. Joints and muscles which are sore from hammering and lifting need to warm up to the requested impulses from the brain. Then, grabbing from the pile of dirty clothes, I put on the same dirty pants I had on the day before. Then I reach for a clean shirt, clean underwear, sun screen, and Advil. I then put on my dusty, salt-incrusted hat. Then the hacking begins, as the settled dust in my nose and lungs get blown out. Then, the emptying of the bladder and the passing of built up gas during the night. Once this is all completed, it’s time for a small breakfast and coffee (in my case tea). Then, strapping on the shin guards, like putting on amour, we are ready to do battle.

You know it’s getting near quitting time, when the flies come out and start to buzz in your face, and land on your nose, mouth and eyes. The flies are different out there. I call them, “cow flies”, because they are so used to landing on cows’ eyes and noses, without getting slapped. The machine is shut down. Then it’s the slow walk down to the camp. Being tired from the work and heat, not much is said. Working down in the pit it feels about ten degrees hotter, since there is no wind flowing down in to the hole. The dust, dirt and grime is then washed off and the shirts are replaced with clean ones. Dinner gets heated up. Bottles of water and Gatoraid are consumed. In Jake’s case, it’s about the same ritual, except instead of dinner being heated up, the Cheetos bag (Crunchy) comes out. He sits in his chair, looking out over the Owyhee’s, munching on his bag of Cheetos. We each cook our own food and have our own “kitchens” (propane stove and can opener). Dinner for me would vary, T-Bone steak, large can of soup, sandwich etc.. Jake’s, on the other hand, would be a can of chili, or a can of chili with raw peppers, or a can of chili with fruit, or a can of chili with bread. I’ll never forget one of Jake’s astute proverbs, “It’s a great day, when a man can fart in his own kitchen and not get Hell for it”.

Sunrise over the Owyhee's...time get up
Sunrise over the Owyhee's...time get up
The Guys
Walking to camp
End of the day

Tourist Day [9/15/2012]

One of the things that almost always happens, once everyone knows you are digging, is visitors (tourists). I don’t mind tourists. Hell, I used to be one myself. Most of the “Tourists” were my friends or people from the rock club, coming out to see what we had dug up. Typically, this is a good thing. They come all the way out, just to see you and share in the excitement.

My wife and son Dylan came out to visit and so did some of my friends. Gene Stewart, Brent Stewart, Brian Hendrickson, Brain Goffin, his son Spencer and girl friend Vicky, Frank Masley, his friend Debra Welker and Jon Barnett. All of them asked us if they could help out. So, I had them scour the tailings for runaways. Everyone got a least a bucket full of some great roughs, which I gave to them for coming out.

While in the pit, Brent Stewart eyed the huge orange common opal vein we uncovered the day before. Brent is one hell of a digger, I could tell he was itching to tear into it. So, we let the leash off and let him have at it. The vain we could see was about 8 feet long and 7 inches wide in places. He must of pulled 6-7 buckets from that vain, he plans to tumble it. Brian Hendrickson came out to visit several few times. He wanted two of the giant white opal/agate veins we pulled out to use as yard rock. So, we took the excavator and dropped them in his pickup. He’s now a happy camper. Thanks guy’s, I enjoyed having you come out, give support and lending a helping hand with the digging.

Coming to End

It’s been a long two weeks of hard work, heat and dust. But, we are ready to close the pit. Now that I have seen the trends in the ground, I am already planning for a future dig.

Jake and I both agree that the best rock to go after next time is right under the huge pile of muck (waste rock/tailings) that we’ve been dumping off to the side. We mark off the boundaries of the pit on the surface and start moving the muck back into the hole. It’s amazing the amount of material that goes unseen when scrapped up by the bucket. So, before we get started, we each take a bucket and go through the tailings pile. Before long, the buckets get filled up. Then we move some more muck, stop and do the process over again. After the hole is filled, I believe we had at least 5 buckets of missed tailings.

The last day, we do the “Scarification”, break camp and then drive the Excavator the 2.5 hours back down the rough, dusty, dirt road.

Days and nights with Jake were priceless. Jake is very quick witted, he seems always full of humorous quips and life anecdotes. We often sat at night, not only discussing rocks, but other things too. Jake showed me the other side of himself. I found his views of life quite refreshing and also thought provoking. Sitting there every night, both of us sharing our funny stories and experiences, was something I’ll talk about and share with others for the rest of my life.

I dedicate this article to my friend Jake and his wife Beverly. I want to thank them for fulfilling one of my dreams of owning my own claim. Now, Feather Ridge Plume has the potential of being a great classic, but only time will tell. Jake and Beverly’s names will forever be attached to Feather Ridge. I felt it an honor to be associated with them and Feather Ridge Plume.

Reflections and Review of Feather Ridge Plume

  The rock buckets are back home, covering the back drive way.  Now, it’s time to wash, clean, sort and evaluate the rough. This will take time, since I have a good deal of rock to process.  The whole endeavor was not cheap. Jake says mining is quite different from the old days, where you borrowed a backhoe and started digging. Rental of the excavator, for two weeks, came close to $5,000.00 add to that, the cost of diesel fuel (which during the time we were there was the highest cost per gallon all year), food, gas, insurance, BLM Bonding, etc.  The cost of doing business is high. As Jake says, “The days of going down to Quartzite and selling/buying good rough at a dollar a pound is long gone”.

      I have spent the first week, back home, nursing sore muscles and cleaning rock.  I have cut some rough and the results have been excellent. I’m noticing some trends in the patterns and colors.  The quality is excellent, with very little single fracturing, if any.  Any you might encounter would be due to the mining process and not necessarily the rough itself.  I have not seen any spider fractures in the rough I have cut so far. Looking at the rough, I would not expect any at all.

     Colors are bright and lasting.  Sometimes, as rough begins to dry out, after the mining process, it can change color or density or both. Not so here. Everything is staying consistent.

    The rough does contain small pockets of fine druzy crystals, along with some Botryoidal pockets. Cabs made with druzy look fantastic.  The pockets of both are small enough to work around, if druzy or botryoidal is not your bag.

 Color, Patterns and Types

      Some of the patterns are different and some similar at Feather Ridge as compared to other well known plume agates. Here are some definitions I will use when selling the rough, and the Feather Ridge examples of each. Some may call them something different, but this is what I’m using going forward. 

Plumes- Tree or feather like structures in singles or in groups. Main colors are: Pinks, salmon, yellow, white and orang

Blooms-  Blooms are plumes also, but with a different structure. Resembling a single blooming flower head or in small groupings. Main colors are: Pinks, salmon, yellow, white and orange.

Bouquets- Bouquets are a mass of single blooms. Usually smaller blooms grouped together. Main colors are: Pinks, salmon, purple, yellow, white and orange.
Color mass-  A mass of color is plumes and blooms not quite definable. Still very beautiful with mixes of color combinations. Main colors are: Pinks, salmon, yellow, white and orange.
Common Opal-  Opal was very… common at Feather Ridge. Most of the time we’d uncover very large and thick veins of it. In general it does have very nice plumes. Typically, the plumes are located on the edge of the huge veins. These huge veins are commonly 5-6 inches wide, several feet long and few feet deep into the basalt. The agate “plume line” within the veins is about 1 to 3 inches wide with the rest of the vein being solid gem opal. Like most opal it can be brittle. The pictures below shows a large cut vein and examples of what I knocked off the main mass. Leaving just the desirable “plume line” as very usable material. Main colors are: Yellow, white, pink, red salmon and orange.
Druzy-   Druzy is a coating of fine crystals in pockets within the agate. Lately, it has been very desirable within current market of cab making. The slab below is an example. Same slab, but the picture is close up, DRY and without the black basenite backing.
Botryodial-   A globular external form resembling a bunch of grapes or spires on or inside the agate seam or vein. Spheres are then fused together to form the botryoidal cluster. Having plumes form right up into the spheres or spires is somewhat rare, but not 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. They make magnificent high dollar displays pieces.
Angel Wing-  The term “Angelwing 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 is somewhat rare, but not 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. They make magnificent high dollar displays pieces.


Jake Jacobitz and his wife Beverly
Friendship most of all. The passing down the vast knowledge rocks and mining.

My wife Linda
For their unflagging support and keeping me centered. Great photographs documenting the whole adventure.

Gene Mueller
Not only a thank you for supplying me a guide for the BLM mining plan. But, also constant advice and consultation about the business side of rough.

Gene Stewart
In 2005, Gene got me started just by showing and selling me some Morrisonite. The years that followed produced a great friendship and camaraderie. I would have not gotten into this business if it weren’t for him. I’d be still punching a clock, babysitting adults and hating my job.

Frank Masley
A very good friend and supporter from the beginning. Going out of his way to bring out extra water, buckets, food and much needed cold beer.

Brian and Anna Goffin
Bring out the all those buckets and driving everyone out to the mine. I love your hot pepper jelly and all the other stuff you guys make. Dorothy’s Jelly

Brian Hendrickson
Always willing to help out and very supportive friend.

Joe Aman
For access through his private land which made the trip with the CAT a great deal shorter.

My mother Joann Stephenson and late father Gene Stephenson
For raising me up right. Wearing the stuff I make her (my aunt’s are very jealous) and bragging about her son out in Idaho.

Kathy Fink
Keeping me out of trouble by giving great editing advice. She’s also a very helpful sounding board.

Larry McGuire
Coming all the way up from Louisiana to do some rock hunting with me, and getting the word out about Feather Ridge.

All my customers and those on my Email List
You have been excited I think as much as me. I appreciate your business, support and faith