CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF VALLEY VALLEY OPALS
opals are first discovered as weathered placer float near Pond 13, though unconfirmed "rumors" exist of their discovery by local cowboys and ranchers over a decade earlier (who were said to have picked up the "pretty stones" and traded them for drinks when they went into local towns). As best can be determined, the first survey across an opal bearing area was made in ____ by ______, with Ed McGhee having knowledge of the area.
the first in-situ (in-place) opals are discovered at a source, now known as the OPAL QUEEN MINE, and reported by ___.
By 1913, most of the important rich deposits were discovered. The five most important at this time were : Bonanza, Opal Queen, Rainbow Ridge, Stonetree, and Royal Peacock. This remains true to 2018, over ___ years later!
A remarkable lady, Flora Lockheed, enters the valley to do a report on the opal fields for a San Francisco newspaper. She becomes heavily involved with the mines and opals and is the largest effort yet made in the valley.
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HISTORY OF SPECIFIC MINES:
4. Opal Queen
RAINBOW RIDGE OPAL MINE.
The Rainbow Ridge Opal mine is a group of six patented placer mining claims known as the Black Opal #1, Black Opal #2, Black Opal #3, Rincon Belle, Royal Opal, and Pandora claims, as well as several unpatented lode mining claims. It was known by other names prior to relocation & placer patent (Monarch Opal Mine, 1913). The mining claims are located in Sections 22-23, T45N R26E, MDBM.
The deposit was originally discovered sometime around 1908 where opal chips were found eroding on the east side of a small hill. The first official location at Rainbow Ridge was made by Mr. MGhee under the name "Opal claim" in 1911 after which the Rincon Belle lode (1912) and Monarch Opal lodes (1913) were located by Deb Roop and others. This in-place deposit was known to be a valuable producer of both gem and specimen opals since 1912-1913 as detailed by the U.S. Geological Survey reports at the time as well as numerous articles in various publications. A number of claims were relocated and acquired by various parties in the early years between 1912-1916. A tunnel was driven from the south east side of the Ridge and later in 1917 a tunnel was driven from the west side to meet the eastern underground drive. In 1916, Flora Loughead (phonetically pronounced "Lockheed"), mother of the famed Lockheed (engineering/Aircraft) boys, came to Virgin Valley and became enamored with the opals and area. She subsequently purchased and/or relocated the Rainbow Ridge claims as placers (among other claims in the valley) and in 1917-1918 formed the Rainbow Ridge Mining Company with the Hammond-Fiske family, of which Ward's Natural Science Establishment (New York) was a shareholder.
In November 1917 the deposit produced the famous fist-size precious Roebling Black Opal weighing 2,585 carats (17 ounces), which in 1920 was held to be worth US$250,000.- and called the most expensive opal ever found (at the time) which was subsequently acquired by mineral collector Washington Roebling, and donated in 1926 to the U.S. National Museum where it still resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Another large exceptional opal known as the "Grubstake" was discovered in the tunnel about 1918 (now in the American Museum of Natural History in New York). Many large valuable opals were found from the period 1917-1920 in the underground workings and far more likely exists. In 1925 a mineral survey was performed on the Rainbow Ridge Group of claims which at this time consisted of six placer claims. The survey proved that the opal-bearing formation underlies each and every one of the six placer claims in the survey and that a valuable deposit exists. Subsequently, the Rainbow Ridge Mining Company applied for patent to the Rainbow Ridge placer claims (placer claims cost less to patent), and patent for the six placer claims was issued in 1929-1930. The Mineral Patent to the Rainbow Ridge Mining Claims contained a reservation excluding any lodes previously known to exist by virtue of federal statute. Mark Foster came to Virgin Valley about 1937 and began working for Lockheed at her mines as she became older. Lockheed still made trips to the mine even in her elderly years up to the late 1930's/early 1940's, with Mark Foster managing the claims for her. Flora Lockheed passed away in 1943 and the Rainbow Ridge Mine was subsequently acquired by Harry Foulkes, who sold it to the Hodson family in 1949. In 1952, the mine produced the now famous 6.3 pound "Fathers Day" (Hodson) Opal discovered by Keith Hodson in the main underground drive. The Hodson's formed Rainbow Ridge Opal Mines Inc. (1987), which currently (2019) still operates the mine, managed by Glen Hodson. In 2004 Chris Wentzell attempted to claim the known lodes excluded from the placer patent but withdrew his claims after death threats to Wentzell by Hodson and documents were stolen from his possession proving the known lodes. Several other claims have since been made on the locality and deposit in late 2019 after newly discovered evidence was uncovered proving the known lodes. Legalities are currently (2020) proceeding regarding the Rainbow Ridge Mine.
As of 1991, there was an estimated 850 to 1,000 feet of underground tunnel in the main workings. A large opencut now exists where the original east side tunnel was located (fee dig site of the 1980's). Another large cut has been made on the Rincon Belle (fee dig site 2000's to present). The mine has been operated as a fee dig site during the summer months for decades. Many fine opals have been recovered by both fee diggers and the mine owners alike. The southern end of the Ridge has been known to produce the best opal. Projections of the strike and dip of the deposit suggest more opal bearing ground.
View of the original south side diggings on the Monarch Opal lode mine (later reclaimed as the Black Opal placers) (later became a tunnel in 1917 and in the 1980s-1990s was the (then) fee dig (the fee dig is now on the Rincon Belle to the N-NW).
original (known) LODE location for the Rincon Belle LODE at RAINBOW RIDGE predating the placer patents
An old photo of theTunnel of the underground workings at the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, Virgin Valley, Nevada.
Keith Hodson mining underground at Rainbow Ridge in the 1950s.
6.25 lb Hodson Opal discovered in 1952 at the underground workings of the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine in Virgin Valley, Nevada. Originally known as the "Fathers Day" Opal.
From the Rainbow Ridge Mine, photo ca. 1960's
overlay of the Rainbow Ridge Mine survey onto aerial photograph.
BONANZA (VIRGIN OPAL, DEFIANCE, DOW) OPAL MINE
The Bonanza Opal workings are a precious opal deposit and mine group, located primarily in the SW¼ section 6, T45N, R26E, MDM, at an elevation around 5,200 feet. The patented portion of the mine is 103 acres. The early history of the Virgin Opal-Bonanza deposit is vague, but was one of the earliest claims in Virgin Valley. The original discovery of opals in the area is reported to have occurred about 1905-1906 at what is now the nearby Opal Queen Mine just S-SE of the Bonanza Mine. The Bonanza deposit was discovered, staked and became the second major location in Virgin Valley. Ivan Dow, George Mathewson, Alfred Thompson and others were the original owners (1908). The deposit was first officially reported by J.C. Merriam in 1907.
The early workings at the Bonanza were shallow surface cuts, and the tendency of the opals to craze upon exposure to atmospheric conditions after mining caused disappointment and abandonment in their early commercial mining. Some years later, after 1916, Flora Loughead (pronounced "Lockheed") acquired the Bonanza group claims, which was one of the ten major groups she owned during her mining efforts in Virgin Valley.
In January, 1943 Flora Lockheed died and the Bonanza deposit was relocated on April 3, 1943, as the Virgin Opal Placer by Mark M. Foster, Frank L. Garaventa, and others, being 2,640 feet by 2,640 feet, or 160 acres. Mark Foster located a 40 acre addition measuring 2640 feet by 660 feet on July 1, 1953, known as the Virgin Opal #2 Placer, on the southerly side of the existing Virgin Opal, bringing the amount of ground claimed to 200 acres. The work consisted of a cut to begin tunnel near the north side center line of the new claim. On December 11, 1954, Mark Foster sold the Virgin Opal group placer claims (Virgin Opal & Virgin Opal #2) to the Hodson family. The Virgin Opal claims were downplayed in their importance by their new owners to discourage highgrading due to the remoteness of the location and the valuable nature of the gems in the exposed deposits, and in literature was purported to "be only a localized enrichment" (Eyles, 1964, p.122), which was not the actual case.
In 1973, while working on the Virgin Opal claim, Keith Hodson accidentally discovered the 7.25 pound "Bonanza" Opal, which was broken into 5 large pieces and numerous smaller chunks by the bulldoer blade. During 1974-1975, the United States Geological Survey examined the Virgin Opal-Bonanza deposit (among other mines in the area) as part of their study of the mineral potential of Virgin Valley and the Sheldon Range (U.S.G.S., 1984, p.1,131-134). On June 15, 1979, Keith Hodson located the Bon #1-5 Lode mining claims over his existing Virgin Opal Group placers and filed a patent application. A mineral survey was conducted on the Bon #1-5 lode claims between June 25-28, 1979. On September 7, 1982, Keith Hodson received a mineral patent to the Bon #1-5 lode claims, patent # 27-82-0024, covering 103.305 acres. The mine was worked for many years by owner Keith Hodson, and in the early 1980's produced a 3,853 carat limb replacement precious opal discovered by Hodson's wife, Agnes, known as the "Crowning Glory" which was valued at $50,000.00 (USA) as a wet specimen. On July 15, 1988, Keith Hodson (dba Rainbow Ridge Opal Mines Inc) sold the patented Bon #1-5 lode mining claims ("Bonanza Opal Mine") to Richard Leger and Lloyd Olds, who in turn formed a limited partnership selling 1% digging right shares in the mine. Initially the shares sold for $6,000.00 each, and averaged $9,000.00 or so in later years. On September 15, 1989, Richard Leger and Lloyd Olds filed the Virgin Opal #1 and #1A placer claims, claiming ground on either side of and buffering the patented Bonanza Opal mine. On October 22, 1991, the Bonanza shareholder partnership formed Bonanza Opal Mines, Inc., a Nevada corporation. On July 9, 1992, Lloyd Olds and Richard Leger quitclaimeed their interests in the Virgin Opal #1 and #1A placers to the Bonanza corporation, as well as the patented mine. The Virgin Opal placer claims on either side of the patented Bonanza Opal mine were apparently so valuable that Lloyd Olds stipulated in the deed that the claims were to remain with Bonanza Opal Mines Inc forever or be returned to him upon dissolution of the corporation. The corporation subsequently filed buffer lode claims on both sides of the patented mine.
For some time afterwards, the Bonanza corporation and shareholders were involved in lawsuits over management, ownership and share disputes, among other issues. However, after initiating a shareholder plan for the patented mine, considerable amounts of precious opal was recovered, of which 1/2 went to the corporation and 1/2 to the discovering shareholder; exceptional specimens remained property of the corporation. After legalities were settled, the tailings portion of the mine was open for public fee digging.
The Virgin Opal-Bonanza deposit is underlain by in-place, nearly horizontal to 45 degree dipping ash, tuff, and tuffaceous sandstone beds. The opal bearing horizon can generally be traced and averages more than 4 feet (1.2 m) thick and consists primarily of light colored bentonite containing varying amounts of petrified wood, rhyolite pebbles, ash, and opal. Precious opals are usually found in the upper half of the horizon. The Bonanza mine is quite developed and active, with many large trenches, open cuts, pits and workings. The original float (placer) deposits are exhausted; the lode deposit is being actively mined. The mine has produced large precious opals, the most noteworthy weighing 7.25 pounds ("The Bonanza Opal"); 8 pounds ("Irene's Delight"); and other smaller pieces too numerous to mention. Bonanza Opal Mines Inc., sales for 1995 totaled $47,566 (11/30/1995) and the patented mine yielded a total of 79 gallons of opal from the 1995 season (the corporation's 50% share was 49 gallons of opal, or approximately ten 5-gallon buckets, which was considered to be a "bad" season). Heylmun (1987, p.44) notes that "In places, precious opal has been involved with slumping and landsliding; undoubtedbly, some valuable opal deposits lie buried beneath the landslides." The Virgin Opal-Bonanza deposit was noted as being one of several mines in Virgin Valley having opal reserves worth millions of dollars (USGS, 1984, p.7). The patented mine, along with the other adjoining claims, transferred by Lloyd Olds and Richard Leger to the Bonanza Corporation, were estimated to be worth not less than $5,000,000.00 (five million dollars USA) in 1987 and 1994 (Defendants, 1996). The Bonanza dposit has also been noted as being one of the two most important mines in the area (Zeitner, 1986 p.44).
The Bonanza Opal Mine in 2004. Copyright Christopher N. Wentzell; unauthorized use prohibited.
ROYAL PEACOCK OPAL MINE.
The Royal Peacock Opal mine is a group of six patented and several unpatented LODE mining claims known as the Little Pebble, Phantom, Royal Peacock 1-2, Northern Lights, Peacock 2-3, Skajm, and Kelly Opal claims, as well as the April Fool Millsites, and also the April Fool (non-precious Fluorescent Opal mine.) The deposit was originally discovered sometime around 19__. The original location was made by Mr. Rhinehart under the name "_____________. The Wilson family acquired the mines in _____ and until this description is updated (a work in progress) you can read more about these mines on their website. The mine has been operated as a fee dig site during the summer months for decades. Many fine opals have been recovered by both fee diggers and the mine owners alike. CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO ROYAL PEACOCK OPAL MINES WEBSITE.
OPAL QUEEN MINE.
The Opal Queen Mine is a group of six unpatented LODE mining claims located/adjoining just S/SW of the Bonanza Opal Mine. The Opal Queen Mine is a group of 6 unpatented precious opal LODE mining claims and prospects. The Opal Queen is generally regarded as the first reported discovery of, and first mining location for, precious opal, in the Virgin Valley District. It is reported that Precious Opal was first discovered here about 1905 or 1906 and the first mining location was 1908. The Opal Queen was originally a group of placer locations; The current mine group consists of six (6) unpatented lode mining claims that were located for the in-place deposit after the placer deposits were exhausted; the upper two claims (Opal Queen #1 and Opal Queen #2-M belonging to Chris Wentzell (2019-present) while the lower four claims are owned by other parties.
EDDY, MEYER, SWORDFISH, GREENFIRE, KOKOPELLI, OPAL NEGRA, and other mines.
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