Mining for Opals

We went opal mining a few days ago. The description for Rockhound State Park, just outside of Deming, New Mexico, noted quartz, agate and even opals are found in the hills surrounding the campground, and visitors are encouraged to haul away the stones. I like opals. We needed a place to camp in southwest NM. Perfect!

Now, I have no idea how to mine for opals, nor even what a raw opal looks like. A quick Google search suggested opals would sound like glass if we hit them with a shovel, and that they’d appear obviously different from the other rocks. Good enough.

We hiked up a trail promising to lead us to prime rock hunting grounds. Lacking a shovel, we carried instead a hammer and a big flathead screwdriver. The air was crisp and sun warmed our backs as we followed the dirt track up a rocky hill through yucca and cholla cacti.

This trip is a bit like opal mining. We pick a spot on the map that looks promising, do a bit of research and head out, rarely knowing exactly what we’ll find.

Up on the hill, Patrick immediately found a chisel/Serious Rock Hound Tool someone else had left behind. We felt this was a good sign. Beneath an overhang, a bare spot of dirt had recently been excavated, hopefully by someone who knew what he or she were doing. There were bits of crystal and bright red rocks on the ground. For an hour or so we hammered and chipped away at the rocks and dug into the earth. We smashed open rounded grey geodes to reveal their sparkly, secret interiors. We pocketed shards of some kind of pale pink stone. Nodules of shiny jet-black obsidian. A single quartz crystal.  We did not find any opals, but it hardly mattered.

Each morning we drive on with our imperfect tools, seeking the precious and the rare, but willing to make the most of whatever we find. We’re gathering these gems – the free waterfront campsites, friendly farmers at local markets, empty canyons sunlit canyons – into a collection of experiences far more valuable than any tangible treasure.

The next day we stopped at a rock shop to poke at polished stones and run our fingers over the smooth, glassy surface of professionally cut agates. Turns out those pieces of obsidian are called Apache Tears.

“Where are you from?” asked the proprietor.

“We live on the road – we’re travelling in that RV for a year.”

“Groovy” he replied.

I couldn’t agree more.

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