There's a little spot I've wanted to punch a big hole into. It's in Custer County, Idaho. I think it'll be lots of fun and, I think I'll find a ton of treasure! Still, other than a bit of surface scratching and pecking, it's been a long time since anyone really dug the area, so who knows, who knows what may or may not be found...
This is the chronicle of our working open this special place.
Each year while visiting Custer County to mine the claims I own there, I look forward to the off-times when I can get away, to go off searching for crystalline this and treasure that. I'm searching an area where the Eocene Challis Volcanics (Click Here) are exposed and it's here, I hope to make my discoveries. All about me are low rolling hills, sparsely vegetated and typical for the high desert of central Idaho. There isn't much rock exposed hereabouts and if it is, it's more likely to be sedimentary as compared to igneous in origin. These sedimentary rocks both under and overlie the specimen rich rock I'm searching for, and other than the rare chunk of petrified wood ( often sequoia ), I've not yet discovered anything within them worthy of the effort of finding.
Several years ago, fellow northwest mineral enthusiast and author, Lanny Ream ( the discoverer of both the Rat's Nest and Summer Storm claims ) had mentioned an area he'd searched where he'd found evidence of prior diggings and a ton of miscellaneous "quartzy" ( not a technical term ) stuff. There was agate, chalcedony and euhedral crystals, there was opal, calcite, mordenite and at least one other zeolite, heulandite. Nothing spectacular, "stuff" mainly, but it was there. Lanny shared this information and curious, I began my search... and there later found, the new spot!
When I came across it, having walked endless miles without any clues of anything, I knew immediately I'd found the spot Lanny had described. It was an old trench-like pit and all about was a monstrous accumulation of cast-away goodies. Lots and lots of little treasures, and many colored a bright reddish-orange from an outer layer of heulandite; pretty. There were nodules up to 20 pounds of chalcedony and opal in layered gray-blue and white banding. There was lots of tiny quartz fingers, some chalcedony and others a' burr with drusy quartz points, common overgrowths apparently coating calcite and mordenite. There was calcite of several generations present, including two very nice specimens recovered from the dirt with a wonderful, rich deep root-beer coloring. And to top it off, I found one big geode section half-buried in the sage, about the size of a soccer ball, lined with light-colored amethyst and studded with calcite crystals! And all this from the ancient dump, I thrilled when I thought of the things they actually kept... amazing!
After the initial thrill had worn off, and while back in Washington, I began to think about all that may lie there yet undiscovered. And it haunted me...
This year, 2008, everything would change! And all with a little help from my friends! These being Fred and Amy from northern Idaho, Keith from southern Nevada, and Gloria. Together, we were going to see what was or wasn't there and I must admit, I was more than a little excited about the possibilities!
Everything happened the last two weeks of September and during the first week of October. During this time, I was mining again, throwing everything into a wish and a prayer and a hole in the ground. Thank goodness I was mining Rat's Nest! During the week we mined, we managed several satisfyingly incredible discoveries. This activity was all encompassing for me as you can likely imagine and demanded 100% of my attention and time. When the equipment is running, I'm running too! Everyone had come to Custer County to share in the adventure of this year's dig. It'd be a ton of fun, but after a while, things turn tough and dirty and the fun becomes blurred in a muddy sweat trail that becomes less and less exciting as the sting and mess of it gets more intense. Yup, everyone needs a break sometime and thus arose the perfect opportunity to open the new spot.
I gave the gang directions to get there. They could drive part way or walk all the way in, but either way, it was going to take some effort to get there. Unphased and packed, over a several day period, everyone made the journey several times and there dug in and found treasures galore. Their recovery was even better than I'd imagined... but, I'm getting ahead of myself!
Fred and Amy were the first to make the trek and more than anyone else, Fred is responsible for starting us out right, as he was the one that first punched into the hillside, digging in for treasure. And, it didn't take long for him to find it either! On that first day, back in camp, Fred and Amy amazed us all with the goodies they'd found. Just like the dump treasures, they found lots of quartzy goodies, some calcites and some mordenites too. I was ecstatic! If this was the return from one days digging, what would we find as we really worked our way in?! Lots and lots more goodies, that's what!
Everyday, no matter who went over to dig, they all came back with bursting backpacks, describing all the other "stuff" they'd left behind back at the hole. Every swing of the pick seemed to yield something and the smiles just grew and grew. Now, truth to tell, the majority of the material they were finding was good for kids only. Just agates and quartz plates. But every once in awhile, they'd open a new pocket and from its depths treasure would be found. This is where the attractive quartz fingers were coming from as well as the great calcites I'm so fond of. Every swing of the pick produced something. This was fun digging in every sense. Not too hard and rich, rich, rich!!
Fred, Amy and Gloria continued digging for several days. After their stint, Keith showed up and jumped right in and really opened the hole. From its depths, treasure continued to pour and every day was special and wonderful.
The gang dug about 5 to 7 days overall. They hauled home easily several hundred pounds of goodies and left many more hundreds of pounds worth of treasure for me to retrieve to take back home for the kids. Everyone wins!
Back at home, I emptied the boxes of their contents and proceeded to wash everything of any clinging sediments. This really got me excited as with each pass of the hose, something new showed up and was revealed. This was especially true for those specimens covered in coarsely crystallized mordenite. This dense white mat of bristly crystals seemed to be always dirty and wasted. Being so close to the surface, ground water had penetrated the fractures in the pockets and while of no real consequence to the quartz, the much more fragile mordenites and calcites often suffered. When this covering was removed, from beneath it magically, something spectacular always appeared.
While I understand that for many, these may not be the most exotic specimens in the World, still, they are certainly among the funest to collect! Man, woman, child, anyone/everyone can find specimens in this little hot spot. The digging was that good and easy too. As I write, my pulse quickens as I think of all the goodies we've yet to find. I can't wait for my next trip back. I'll invite a bunch of friends and once again the hills will ring with excited exclamations as that newest sparkling treasure is revealed. I can't wait!
Below is a selection of freshly cleaned specimens. I hope you enjoy both them and coming along and sharing in the fun. It was a grand time collecting in Challis this year. Good times, good friends and lots and lots of treasure. I wish you could have been there too!