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Morrisonite Mine Rendezvous

By Philip Stephenson

A few weeks ago, I went out to see Gene Mueller at his Graveyard Point (Regency Rose) claim. It was a fine day and not like last year with the torrential rain and slick mud. He and Jake Jackobitz were there digging at the mine with the big Cat and pulling out some nice plume. While I was sitting down in the pit talking with Gene and Jake, Gene happen to mention he’d like to go over to the Morrisonite Mine and see the old pit. A bit surprised, I said “Sure that sounds fun”. A group of us going on a personal guided tour of the Morrisonite sites by Gene…what a great opportunity! The group included: Thom Lane and his girl friend/side kick Fabiola, Kathy Fink who wrote Morrisonite Article in Rock and Gem, May 08 who was out here on a visit, my intrepid wife, Linda, and Brent Stewart, son of Gene Stewart.

Our tour group set out in the morning to the mine sites. It’s been a few years since my last mine visit with Gene Stewart and the article I wrote about that trip. So, it’s going to be very interesting to see how much has changed. I do know one thing that has changed…I’m getting older so it’s going to be nice to know how the ole’ body is holding up since then.

We make it to the edge of the Rim Overlook. What a beautiful site. Gene and I walk down the steep switchback a little ways that leads to the cabins. Gene is trying to decide if he wants to take his Truck down it, on the way down there’s a huge boulder in the road. I’m not too keen on driving down the steep road so I say, “Ah man, that’s a big boulder Gene. Looks like we’ll need to walk down”. Gene says “Ahh , we’ll just move it over to the side”, Without a second thought, he bends down and starts pushing this 500+ pound boulder. Well, not to be out done by this seasoned citizen, I help out. Of course , the boulder is not round and it makes it all that more difficult to move it up the side slope of the road. I’m thinking to myself…” Boy, this guy is pretty strong for his age”. Anyway, we get it done and Gene starts taking his truck down slowly.

We get to the cabins and Thom Lane tells us that the Cabins were built by Jake and Tom Caldwell (one of the miners of Morrisonite) and tells us some funny stories about when he stayed out here and was mining Morrisonite with Gene. One story is that Gene let him sleep on the floor of the cabin, but the rats kept him up all night sniffing his face, so he slept outside in the front seat of Gene’s Scout every night with his feet hanging out the passenger side window. We then began to look over the next set of switchbacks that end up at Jake’s Place claim. Here the roads are really bad and steep and have deteriorated greatly since the last time I was here a few years ago. Gene decides to only drive down a 100 yards. The rest is very dangerous, even to walk down. Most of us decided to make the hike down anyways, except Thom , who has a very bad shoulder. The shoulder is so bad , it needs to be replaced. For him to slip and fall would not be a good thing way out here. So Thom stays at the top with Kathy.
My fearless wife, Linda, myself, Gene, Brent and Fabiola make it to the pit which is filled with large boulders of the white welded tuff Matrix, which contain very small webs of Morrisonite jasper veins. The site is BLM land so basically , mine and yours, but the site itself is still under claim, so digging or taking any jasper is not permissible. There’s nothing there but the matrix anyway. Gene starts pointing out the very small seams of jasper in the host rock and gives us a geological overview how it was formed.

My wife, Linda, Brent and Fabiola started back up the switch backs about a half hour before Gene and me. Gene and I stayed back a while longer sitting down on a large boulder, legs hanging over edge of the pit’s cliff eating lunch, looking out over the beautiful vast Owyhee’s and talking about mining. It was one of those memorable small spaces in the time of your life when everything is…balanced. No computer, phone, “honey do list”, grass to cut or dog crap to pick up. Just sitting there in the raw open vastness, talking with one of the people you admire and respect.

Gene and I start the steep walk back up. I look far up the road and see my wife looking down at me waiting. After being married 26 years, I know what’s she thinking…smiling to herself , ” He’s gonna to die”. After trudging about 30 yards up , the breathing gets a little faster, the shirt gets a little wetter. I take a quick glace over at Gene . He has not even broke a sweat. “Ahh man…I can’t stop and let him take the lead. It would not look good.” So, I do the next smart thing… I ask a question. Gene stops, looks around , takes a deep breath and starts to answer my question. He begins to walk again while talking! Don’t get me wrong . I’m in good shape, but having Gene paced with me is impressive. Especially, at his age and being a diabetic. We get close to where everyone is waiting by the truck and I see my wife and of she’s of course smiling. “How did it go” ,she says to me. Being a male, I slow my breathing down like it’s no big deal . “Oh”… Clearing my throat..”Not so bad”. I look over at Gene. “I had to stop for Gene a few times… but not so bad”. My wife looks at me and says.. “Yeah, rrrright…” Gene gives a big smile and a chuckle.

We all get in Gene’s truck and slowly go back up the road to the cabins. We meet Thom and Kathy at the top and share a few stories. We begin our way back to the top of the Rim where I have my truck parked. We all unload and walk over to the Rim to take a last look. The road back to the main “road” is very tough going. It’s takes and hour to go three miles.
Gene gives it one last look

What a fantastic experience it was with Gene and sharing it with friends and family. One memory I’ll talk about for a long time. Thanks Gene and Thom.

Here’s something I emailed to Kathy when she was writing the article for Rock and Gem about Morrisonite back in 2008. I think it fits here.

When I’m out in the Owyhee desert there is a strange…feeling.

It’s quiet…

…hearing your life pulsing in your ears…

…no birds singing…

…no wind in the trees…

…no bug sounds…



At the Morrisonite mine you can sit at the edge of the cliff and look out over the Grand Canyon- like features of the Owyhee Breaks. Layers… eons of time revealed in different shades of color, representing countless cycles and life and death. A look back over your shoulder you see… the cutting down into the flesh of the Earth blasting, ripped open like a wild animal tearing at a fresh kill…exposing vein’s…Mother Natures capillaries…flowing with wonderful masterpieces of color and design… vein’s that give life to the surface…feeding, ever sustaining.

Philip Stephenson