Opal Hill Mine
Mule Mountains - California
By Dusty Rhoads
Tucked deep into the Mule Mountains not far from Palo Verde lies Opal Hill Mine. Opal Hill is well known for its beautiful and rare fire agate, opal eggs and quartz crystals. When one thinks of a mine, images of deep shafts or dark tunnels usually come to mind. The Opal Hill Mine can be better described as a claim established on a hillside which overlooks a valley. The mine consists of rock outcroppings and holes where agate has been extracted.
New Video interview with Opal Hill's Nancy Hill
Today, Opal Hill is actively producing fire agate, and rock hounders still frequent the mine for its gem-quality stones. The mine is privately owned but open to the public for a small collecting fee which is well worth it. With some hard work and effort, almost everyone leaves Opal Hill satisfied with the fiery agate they take with them.
I had never been to Opal Hill Mine, but had read about it in many articles and gem trail books. On a recent trip to Wiley Well I stopped by this old and famous mine to discover what treasures I could find.
When Jim and I arrived at Opal Hill, Howard and Nancy Hill greeted us with open friendliness and made us feel right at home. They have lived at the mine for many years and have created a cozy homestead at the entrance to the mine.
Since we only stopped by for a brief visit and not a dig, Howard gave us a short tour of the mine and an overview of what types of gemstones were commonly found there. During the tour we stopped at a site where he was currently working on an agate-bearing vein.
Video on the mine and how to get there.
Removing the fire agate from the surrounding rock takes some work with a sledge hammer, chisel and pick. Howard demonstrated how to find an agate-filled vein and then gave us some helpful lessons on how to remove the agate from its resting place. He explained that agate is a type of quartz called cryptocrystalline, also referred to as chalcedony, which is formed from masses of fibrous or granular aggregates of quartz. Agate is one of many varieties of chalcedony and can range in color from banded patterns to the rare fiery red.
Howard showed us colorful samples of fire agate which were found in the mine. The fire describes the red color of the stone. Once extracted, agate needs to be cut and polished or simply polished in its natural form to bring out the brilliant color. When the agate is polished and then viewed in the light, flashes can be seen. Petrified wood, apatite, barite, calcite, clinoptilolite, flourite, and gypsum are all also found at Opal Hill Mine.
If you visit the mine, plan to stay a full day or longer. It takes some time to find a good spot to dig, and once you find a spot you will need time to extract the agate. If you only want to spend a few hours, Howard said that there is quite a bit of agate to found in the tailing piles and dumps left behind by others. You can find some beautiful treasures without the hard work and labor of digging out a vein.
From Interstate 10, take Wiley Well Exit and head south on the graded dirt road for 17 miles. You will see a sign for Opal Hill Mine on the left side of the road. Go left here and travel east for a few miles on a rough dirt road. A high clearance vehicle is needed to navigate on the last dirt road to the mine.
The cities of Indio and Blythe, CA offer complete accommodations. Blythe is the closest to the area. For more information on the cities, and the accommodations available, click on the city name above.
The Opal Hill Mine is located on BLM land which is an open area for camping. Opal Hill Mine has a couple small trailers which they offer to patrons at no additional charge. There is no charge for camping at the mine.
Coon Hollow Campground - BLM facility
Located 12 miles south of Interstate 10 (3 miles south of Wiley Well Campground) on the Wiley Well Road. The road to the campground is maintained in excellent condition. It serves as a popular winter haven for rockhounds. Twenty-nine primitive sites are provided with picnic tables, grills and vault toilets. Campers should bring their own firewood and drinking water. A fee is required for overnight use.
Wiley Well Campground - BLM facility
This historical well and wash-side campground are situated along Wiley Well Road, 9 miles south of Interstate 10, where the old Bradshaw Trail intersects the well maintained Wiley well Road. Twenty-one primitive campsites are available next to the dry wash where Ironwood and Palo Verde trees provide some shade. Picnic tables, grills, and vault toilets are provided. A sanitary disposal station for trailers is available at the Wiley Well Rest Area on Interstate 10. Campers should bring their own firewood and drinking water. A fee is charged for overnight use
Equipment & Tools
Make sure you pack plenty of food and water since the mine is located on BLM land with no stores nearby. Bring big buckets to haul your precious rocks home and a chisel, wire brush, pick, shovel, sledge hammer and any other tools you need.
For more information write:
Opal Hill Mine
P.O. Box 497
Palo Verde, CA 92266
Also see Gem Trails of Southern California for a good book on rock hunting.
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