A New Discovery In Idaho!
It’s another morning at the Whiskey Creek Jasper mining camp, and it’s my tenth day here digging and scratching the ground for treasures. Sleeping in my Suburban, I’ve found, is the best way of staying warm and cozy, let alone the quietness associated with doing so. 17 years ago, when I first started, I used a large tent. It became evident quickly that being in a tent was not the best in the long term. The windy days, mice, heat/cold, and contestant flapping noises of the tent at night were starting to take their toll. After those early days of trial and error, making the Suburban my home has made mining much more fun. However, the mornings are crisp, and it takes a while for these old bones to warm up, no matter how comfy I might be.
The Whiskey Creek Jasper mining pit is about 1 ¼ away from camp. My digger friend Brian Hendrickson and I have been taking our ATVs back and forth on the rough dirt road leading to the excavator trackway off the main dirt road to the claim areas for about two weeks. So far, the Whiskey Creek jasper has been relatively productive for us, even though digging into the hard rhyolite has been challenging and labor-intensive. This morning Brian is heading home to take care of some business, so I’ll be here alone. Being so far in the field alone is a genuine safety concern; it’s a long way back to the paved road and 35 miles from there to the nearest hospital. It’s very dry here, so rattlesnakes and scorpions are not much of a concern. Food for them is scarce, and they all scatter once I start pounding on the ground. It’s the injury or sudden illness that I need to look out for, so I’m extra careful when operating or doing hand digging. I don’t mind being alone out here. I believe the vastness of the landscape and the quiet desert let me unwind and download.
This morning will be beautiful again, and I look forward to returning to the pit. I have a particular spot in the pit that seems promising for some nice-sized nodules. Brain heads out, and I get on my ATV and head to the mine. Driving to the top of the mountain, I head off the road onto the excavator track. Of course, like any rock guy, I look at the ground around me as I drive. Halfway to the pit, I glance off to the right and see what looks like a druzy agate chip. I slow to a stop and see others lying on the ground. These are pretty common around here, and I usually pass them up. But this time, I think, “hmm, these would be great for the wire wrappers” they are shiny and already clean by nature and not connected to any host rock. Some have pretty cool patterns and designs. All I find are of one color and unbroken. Delicate white tiny druzy quartz and a few just agate Botryoidal type bumps, mostly resembling belly buttons. Cool, I take my bucket from my ATV and start picking up some. Pretty soon, I got about a few pounds. Just something different to offer to customers at Quartzite. Still, there is something familiar about them I can’t really put my finger on. Anyway, I was thinking about getting back to the jasper, so I headed back up the sight hill to my ATV and then back to the pit.
Late the next day, I’m back at camp, and Brain is back. And I show him what I found and tell him how the wrappers will love them. He looks skeptical, “I don’t know…,” he says; I pick one up with a lot of shiny druzy out of the bucket and say, “For a $1, heck ya! check it out, wrap some wire around it, and you have a pendant!” Still looking skeptical, he looks at the rest of them. Then I add, “well, maybe to help them sell, I can say they are all-natural, organic, and made in the USA!” He has a good laugh. “we’ll see,” he says. I point out towards the hill from camp about where I found them. The following day he gets up early and heads to the jasper pit ahead of me. As he leaves, I say, “check out the agate spot on the way!” He says, “The last day to mine is tomorrow, don’t waste your damn time on those things. Come back with your wife and pick them up. Linda would like that.” feeling a little disheartened, I say, “Ok,…MOM,” He smiles and heads off. I get ready to go, throw in some water bottles and a snack, put some empty buckets into the milk crates attached to the ATV, and head up. Just getting on the trackway from the road, I start seeing the agate again on the right side. I’m tempted to stop, but I needed to dig the jasper. I pass them by.
A New Discovery In Idaho!
At the end of the day, we start packing up and heading back to camp. Once again, we had a good day of digging with several buckets of jasper nodules. Brian heads back while I put in full buckets onto my ATV. I drive up the hill, and about the agate spot, I see others on the other side from where I was getting them. Then off on the right side of the track-way about five yards away, I a spot a really nice druzy one sitting on the ground. Ok…one more, I stop, get off and walk over to it, pick it up, put it in my pocket, and scan around the ground for anything else. Then I see a yellow flash about 15 feet away…what the hell…? I walk over to it, and it’s a bright yellow metallic Botryoidal with the type of agate I’ve been finding. “No way,” I say to myself, a Fire Agate! They are littered all over the ground!. Incredible, all this time, going back and forth at least 100 times, passing right by them just 25 feet from the track-way.
I’ve always admired the Fire Agates from Mexico and the others from New Mexico and Arizona. Some of the ones I’m finding are on rhyolite, and some are eroded off of it. They appear more like a scab on the rhyolite than any type of vein or formation. Like…the rhyolite had a wound that formed a scab on top of it. I start picking them up, and soon my pockets overflow, making walking hard. The unique color flashes are yellow, blue, pink, red, and green. Now, I have one like those in my hand, covering the ground before me. This is going to be maybe a game changer for me. From my experience, I know I can’t overthink it, or else I won’t get any sleep tonight. I head back to camp.
Brian is back and standing by his truck when he says, “where the Hell have you been, I was about to come looking for you.” I can barely get off my machine without the rocks in my pockets digging into my leg. Brian looks at my pockets and laughs “you picked some more of those damn agates, didn’t yeah” I smile and say,”sort of…” I walk over to him and say, “I found something else, but you can’t tell anyone.” I pause and look him straight in the eye. He looks back and knows that look. “ahh…, what is it?” Again I say, “I’m serious; you can’t tell anyone yet, it’s too close to the end of our dig, and it’s lying on the ground waiting to be picked up. I need to get a claim on it as soon as we leave” He sighed, “show me what the hell it is, damn it!”.
I’m enjoying this…so I stretch it out a little longer before showing him, so I ramble on. “You know, this could be a game changer for me. It’s not a plume or a jasper. It’s an agate with some great colors and….” He points his finger at me, “shut the hell up and show me, or I swear, I’m gonna kick you in the nuts!”. I pull one rock out and show him…he doesn’t quite see it, so I say, “it’s a Fire Agate!. There are pounds of it lying on the ground. Tipping the rock on its side, I point out the flashing yellow and red fire under the white/clear agate cap scab. To his credit, he keeps his composer, and I don’t see it coming as he looks closer at it and says, “No way, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about; that’s not a fire gate!”. I’m stunned! “what?! look at the fire! it’s just like rough ones they dig out in Mexico and Arizona,” I exclaim. Quizzically, he looks at it again a little closer, “where? I don’t see any fire?” I rip it from his hand, take off my glove, and point right to the shimmering fire layer the sun. “Right there! Damn it!” he looks at it again carefully; I look at him…and see a slight smile. I smile and say, “You asshole…”. He lets out a big laugh and chuckles. “Ahh, man, I had you go’n!”
That night we talked about the possibilities and ways to mine it. First, I need to put claims on it (I posted and registered it with the county and BLM the day after we left). Second, I’ll need to prove it. Since I have never carved anything before, I need to show it to people I can trust who have. Third, I need to learn to carve it myself; this way, I can get a better idea while mining what rough to keep and what to toss. Lastly, I’ll need to vacuum the ground of every last one, write a mining notice, and come up with the bond money for a Fall 2022 dig.
It’s getting hot earlier in June, 100+ degrees, and it’s not letting up for weeks, so going out there is very risky. A few weeks pass, and I see a weather window of low 80s for three days. I’ll be taking my wife Linda to collect more this time. Linda likes looking for treasure. Like diving for golf balls near an oceanfront golf course in Hawaii. Snorkeling for lures at Warm Lake, kayaking under Swan Falls during low water flow, collecting coins people have thrown in making wishes. Or even driving out to my Oregon claims during the Fall harvest season, she’d look for onion road kill the harvest truck spill off the side of the road near curves and bumps.
Collecting with Linda, we found that a good deal of fire agate is in nodular/geode form. Very cool, fire agate geodes lined with fire. I now have the time also to explore/prospect around to see if there are any other exposers. After spending two days walking and searching about five square miles without even a trace, it seems the Whiskey Creek area is a unique place on our planet.
A New Discovery In Idaho!
After learning how to carve from Jason Smith and Mark Ruiz (youtube.com/c/MarkRuizFireAgate), making a natural whole fire geode display specimen would be a long, tedious task. But, the time to do it would probably be worth it since none exists in the world…yet. Since then, I’ve been out there by myself three times while staying a few days overnight, my wife and Earl, my brother-in-law, collecting float. Since then, we have picked the ground clean. Now I want to be 100% positive that it’s quality material and I can get more. Keeping it under wrap will be hard but necessary until I’m mining it out there.
I have been back home for 4 months and have been very busy cutting rock for my upcoming shows in Tampa and Quartzite. In the interim, I have been talking to my customer and friend Jason Smith; he’s a local silversmith and cutter/carver. Jason has been a great help in sharing his knowledge on carving Fire Agates. I have invested in a Foredom Flexible Shaft Tool, various diamond pastes, and dentil diamond bits to get me started. Also, I have been watching Mark Ruiz’s Fire Agate videos on YouTube. Fire Agate Mark’s videos are inspirational; his detailed step-by-step craving makes it look easy. However, once you start craving it yourself, you quickly find it time-consuming. So, after finding that out firsthand, choosing the right rough is extremely important. It’s not like cutting a plume/jasper rough and letting your saw do all the work, and if the first slab of the rough doesn’t work, you just cut it again. No, this type, you get the right ones the first time, or you may have wasted hours working it. That is a good lesson when I begin mining and sorting the rough.
I‘ve called and texted Jason on some of my finished Fire Agate cabs and specimens, back and forth asking questions and asking for opinions for a while now. On one call, I happen to mention Mark Ruiz’s Youtube videos. Only to learn Jason knows him quite well, and he lives in Kuna, Idaho! I was taken aback; 20 miles from my house!. I asked Jason to set up an introduction and have Mark over to my house and evaluate my finished Fire Agate specimens and rough. Mark came over a week before heading out to mine the Fire and Jasper. Jason only told him, “there’s this guy in Boise that wants you to look at his fire agate.” He was probably thinking the same as I would, ” (sigh)…rockhound wants me to come over and look at his rocks…(sigh)”. But after meeting Mark, he probably wasn’t thinking that. Anyway, I really wanted a genuine opinion, so I didn’t tell him right off where it was from, just showed him my finished ones. Mexico?, Arizona? He tried to identify it, but the rhyolite matrix he said was throwing him off. Come to find out, the rhyolite is not indicative of known Fire Agate. This is great because Whiskey Creek Fire will have a unique identification signature. Finally, I told him the Fire Agate was 50 miles from his house. Confused, he looks at Jason; Jason nods his head “yep, right out of the Owyhee’s” Mark is excited, as am I, a new discovery right in our backyards.
Digging Time 9/20/2022
I’m heading out for the Whiskey Creek Jasper/Fire Agate claims. Can’t wait to see what treasure the excavator pulls out of the ground.