Opal Hill Mine
Mule Mountains - California
By Jim Bremner
Tucked deep into the Mule Mountains not far from Palo Verde is the 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.
Opal Hill Mine has been producing fire agate for many years. The mine claim is privately owned and was open to collecting for a fee. The mine claim is currently closed to the public until the claim owner can get his plan of operation appoved for the site. The BLM has banned all digging at the site until an approved operation plan is obtained. In the current regulation environment this is proving very difficult, even though the mine has been a well known collecting site for over 60 years. Updated 12/2018
Opal Hill Mine History
The mine was managed by Helen Madden as a pay to collect site beginning in 1965, and continued that way for 18 years. The BLM had wanted the area managed and Helen was ideal for the job. She was an ex-merchant marine who was about 4 foot 7 inches tall, and she ran the collection area with an iron hand.
Madden sold the claim in return for five gold claims and $10,000 in the early 1980s to Louis Meserole, who asked his partner Nancy Hill to run it for $500.00 a month plus collection fees. Nancy fell in love with rock-hounding and continued to work the mine for another 27 years with husband Howard. In 2011 Nancy left the claim.
Over the years desert heat, vandalism, and even a tornado have taken their toll on the camp area, completely destroying it. The new claim owners are working on a plan for reopening the area to recreational rockhounds.
When we visited the Opal Hill claim back in 2010, Howard Fisher and Nancy Hill greeted us with open friendliness and made us feel right at home. They lived at the mine for many years and had created a cozy homestead at the entrance to the mine. That area has now been destroyed -- see the picture below.
Since we had only stopped by for a brief visit and not a dig, Howard gave us a short tour of the mine and an overview of the types of gemstones commonly found there. During the tour we stopped at a site where he was currently working on an agate-bearing vein.
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.
Below is picture of a piece of fire agate found at the site.
The picture below is some agate that Nancy Hill found.
Howard and Nancy showed us colorful samples of fire agate which were found in the mine. "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 have also been found there.
You should have a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you visit the claim, the road is rocky and difficult in some places.
Visiting the Site
The new claim owner is in negotiation with the BLM on its future, with the goal of keeping the area open for recreational rockhounds with a digging fee. The new claim owner is Chris Rose; here is his email contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: DesertUSA.com has no financial interest in this mine and the information presented here is not an endorsement for anything. The information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk. Updated 12/01/18.
From Interstate 10, take Wiley Well Exit and head south on the graded dirt road for 11.86 miles. A dirt road leads to the claim; it's no longer marked. (If you pass the entrance to the Coon Hollow Campground going south you've missed the road.) Go east on the cut off road and travel for a about 2.3 miles on the rough dirt and rocky road. A high clearance 4x4 vehicle is needed to navigate the last mile of rocky road to the mine. GPS 33°27'08.0"N 114°51'53.5"W
Blythe, CA offers complete accommodations. Blythe is the closest city to the area.
The mine is located on BLM land which is an open area for camping.
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.
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.
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.
Also see Gem Trails of Southern California for a good book on rock hunting.
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