The Quest October's Gemstone in Canada
The Quest October's Gemstone in Canada
-- In Search of the Rainbow's End --
Not one to just run over to the mall and simply buy an opal, I wanted more; much more. My intent: travel to the hinterlands and personally dig my own birthstone out of the Earth with my own hands. It would be ALL Mine from start to finish!
A lovely and admirable dream, until I did my research. It seems that 95% of all opals are from the rugged, inhospitable Outback of Queensland, Australia -- half a world distant from me.
And the stories of hunting and discovering opals reads as daunting as the locations. Coober Pedy, one prime Australian source, is an Aboriginal phrase meaning "white man in a hole". This clearly describes how Opal is actually mined. Many Opal prospectors make their home in deep holes or caves in the ground, from 16 feet deep down to 130 feet below the parched desert floor. Miners actually stay down there much of the time to escape the blistering daytime heat and from the icy night winds. In cramped conditions, they usually only work with hand tools such as picks and shovels. Buckets full of soil, hopefully containing Opal rocks, are arduously pulled up out of the depths by hand.
That paltry, remaining 5% is spread across the rest of the globe. Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, West African Mali and some tiny scattered spots in the States, like Idaho and Nevada, but they are small pickings and also scattered in rather harsh and isolated spots.
As an October born Canadian, I never really expected to dig my own birthstone. Australia and Mexico were too far afield.
Then, one day while reading an old copy of Rock & Gem magazine...There it was: Precious Opals in British Columbia!
Having all but given up, here is the stunning revelation that there actually existed one active opal mine in Canada! Oh Canada!
Not only that, it lay in the wilds of British Columbia. As the Sci-Fi crowd says, "Resistance is Futile." I had to go.
I noted the website, made a reservation; but had to wait until the conditions and access was right. That turned out to be mid-August. Glad I made tracks to British Columbia when I did. The weather sometimes starts to deteriorate as early as the start of September.
Yes, there is a downside. The mining site sits about 20 miles up a miserable dirt road, in a logged out and replanted area outside of Vernon, a lovely lakeside city of 40,000 about 275 miles northeast of Vancouver. My Dream was Obtainable! Well, obtainable between Mid-June and Mid-September, when the weather conditions allow access to the site.
The day in BC started by meeting our tour guide at the pre-arranged location. In total there three groups; two couples and myself each travelling in our own vehicles -- COVID social distancing at its best.
The first 10 kms traveled along a well maintained gravel road. However, the last10 kms bounded up an old, inactive logging road, the kind of trek that leaves you battered and checking your teeth -- total time: one hour.
The tour guide described the journey as the “adventure for the day” – but in my trusty SUV it proved an uneventful, good trip. Few bruises and all teeth intact.
Excitedly grabbing our digging tools and collection containers , we doggedly followed the guide until he halted, announcing arrival at a prime spot for locating opal. Start Here!
Given general instructions, and shown what trace examples of what common opal and agate looked like in the landscape, our guide set us off. We dug and sorted through expansive piles of discarded rock from original test mining; piles of earth first moved in the initial years of mine operations. We learned the material was discarded when intersections of very high-grade opal had mixed with waste material before the miners fully understood the full geology of the deposit. Translation: "There's some really good gems in there, but you have to dig through a lot of crud to get to it. Well, at least it was not still structurally attached to the earth. "
Keep mindful, this task is not a blind rush. Our compassionate guide instructed us to begin looking for accumulation areas of white common opal; the common leads to precious. "Focus" became the key word – searching for “glassy, reflective material, investigate for color, examine "beer glass bottle amber”, he said; “collect everything interesting to start, then ask lots of questions”.
Everyone diligently gathered “stuff”, then peppered endless questions. “No”, the guide repeatedly replied, “that is manganese, or that is chabazite, or agate, or white opal”. Then finally, a woman rushed over with her find. “What is this”, she exclaimed!
“Yes, you’ve found a nice piece of precious boulder opal; and look, there’s more on the other side!”’ smiled the encouraging guide. He took time and showed us all, individually, the piece uncovered. My face went ashen, thinking “I’ve probably thrown away a hundred of those already”.
One by one the others found pieces of with color in addition to some agate and various base color of common opal. Not me! Only white and some agate. Where was my birthday Opal?!
Noting my growing frustration, the guide actively worked with me on techniques in locating pieces with flecks of white opal. Focus on digging in a place of "opal" and diligently go through everything. He notched into the hillside, started widen, and loosened material back and forth. Work the material. Knock the dirt off. Expose what the rock is hiding under the dirt”; he explained about one time when a nice one inch piece of white opal popped out of the dirt. “Keep working along the pile like this and you find more. Watch out for glassy pieces”.
Well, let's cut to the chase. No need to guess the outcome. In the middle of gorgeous British Columbia, scouring the only opal mine in the entire Dominion of Canada, I Found My Canadian October Opal!
In anyone's book, that is called finding the End of the Rainbow.
If you are adventurous, you can also.
Contact Opals Canada today to find out more. I found my rainbow, so can you.