Virgin Valley Opals-Black Rock Desert, NV


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Our Trip to Virgin Valley

free, public campgroundOur first trip to Virgin Valley was just supposed to be a side-trip off of an organized field trip to Lassen Creek to gather obsidian with our local Gem & Mineral Club.  After spending several days collecting rainbow, sheen, and mahogany obsidian available in the northeast corner of California, we decided to check out the opal fields of Virgin Valley, Nevada.  This was a location that none of our group had been to before.

We had read numerous articles and carefully gathered information about the pristine, unspoiled beauty and bounty of this desert oasis.  According to the articles  from a variety of magazines, the opal found here would rival any other in the world.  Some of the more precious of the opal was purported to be worth more per carat than diamonds!  We carefully checked the map and determined that it shouldn't take long to get from Goose Lake to Virgin Valley, as it was only about 2 inches away on the map. 

The map that we followed wound up taking us across 7 1/2 hours of grueling dirt and obsidian roads which had no road signs (especially nerve-wracking at forks in the road), no lights, no people, and no way of knowing for sure if we were headed the right way, or what to expect once we got there.  Somehow, we made it to the (free) campground, even though some of us had to pitch our tents at midnight.  We couldn't see much of our surroundings on the late drive in, except sand and some signs warning of no hunting.   We were sung to sleep by the deep refrain of noisy bullfrogs.  We knew (from previous research) that the mine we wanted to check out opened at 8:30AM, so we set our alarms to wake us early.

We could have forgone our alarms, since it got so cold during the night that we had a hard time sleeping.  The sun was up, bright and early, and we woke at the crack of dawn. We were unprepared for the sight waiting for us when we first crawled out of our tents.   The sky was incredibly blue and seemed so clear. The outhouse was near enough to be convenient, but far away enough to not be a problem.  There were a few trees, enough to provide shade in an otherwise stark desert.  But the favorite unexpected pleasure was an absolutely beautiful (and free) large hot spring/pool with warm showers, fresh water, and a bath house.  Tadpoles in the hot spring were the size of small trout!  The campground we were in was in the middle of an oasis and a wilderness preserve.  Our destination, one of the local mines, was only a few miles away, but we were a long way from much of anything else.  Denio Junction, the nearest store/gas station is about 30 miles away, and has been closed down on many trips.  The next closest gas/groceries is about 25 miles from Denio Junction.

Fee digging costs vary among individual mines. Usually, the pay dirt has been turned and spread out by the owners of the mine.  They will also show you where and how to look, as well as what you're searching for.

A hat to shade your head, a squirt bottle full of water, a sack lunch, some sun-screen, plenty of fresh drinking water, a container to hold your "finds", an adventurous attitude, and a little luck are all you need to find the nicest opals you've ever seen.  Oh, yeah, and maybe a good map...

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