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Hunting for precious opal

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Hi everyone, so I have been chasing opal out here in New Mexico. I have been trying to find out what the chances are of finding a opal deposit that contains precious opal in New Mexico. I have heard rumors that it can be found here, but it is not documented in any of the geological write ups. The only official mention of precious opal in New Mexico I have found is an old report that says some nice specimens were found in the mountains near Lordsburg. The guys who found them supposedly brought them to the nearby town and sold them a few times but the source was never discovered. It is just like all the lost mine tales,....something like....."some prospectors found some really nice gold, brought it to town and sold it, but the mine or vein was never found again" you know one of those deals. I also found a very brief mention of precious opal here in a very old lapidary journal article, written by a Mildred sanders. I was not able to find the whole article just an excerpt claiming that a likely spot to find precious opal was in a location in Dona Ana county New Mexico. It gave more detailed directions than I posted (don't want to give away location) and it was apparent the area in question was where I had seen all the opal veins and nodules distributed over a very large area of volcanic flows. I posted some pictures in my last "opal" thread thinking some of it may have had play of color. After scrutinizing every piece I have brought home under different lights, I do believe forum member Adam was correct when he identified the color I was seeing as a fracture rainbow and not opal fire. I had never really paid much attention to a fracture rainbow before, and the ones I had seldom seen on Quartz here were small pinpricks as opposed to larger more vibrant colors I saw on the opal. Once I saw that fracture rainbow and the forum guys told me that's what it was, I was able to find a break or fracture near all of the patches of color I had found. The confusing part was when an inside fracture of the stone would cause the flash of color inside the stone. It made it difficult to tell what it was. Anyway, back to the hunt. I have not done much exploring in the area where the opal veins and nodules are but I think it needs some serious prospecting done before it is written of as being something of no value. The other direction my search has been going is systematically searching out the little patches of opalized wood I have been finding in a small mountain range near town. I have only found a few small pieces by themselves. Almost always, if I see one piece of it there are more nearby and sometimes a lot. Each little patch is slightly different, it looks like the same plant/tree but the opalization process is a little different in each I guess because they all have slightly different color tones. Some are a kind of dull, yellowish white, and others are glassy and glossy with purple and black in them. There are lots of different patterns and colors. I am trying to learn more about what causes the common opal to become precious. I understand how it makes the play of color, based on the way the atoms are arranged (random or of uniform size) I believe? But what I want to know is what sort of conditions are favorable for producing an opal deposit that will contain, some small percentage of precious opal. What do you think the odds are of finding a piece of this opalized wood with a tiny patch of fire in it? I'd ask the same question of the area with the veins and nodules of common opal, what are the chances of finding a seam or two with some precious opal?

I stumbled across a neat page while trying to answer some of my questions and it only made me more encouraged that there could be something of note in either of these spots. Here is the link....


I'm really interested in hearing what some of you guys think about this opal project I am delving into. I know this was a long winded post, I appreciate you taking the time to read it. Thanks

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First pic is some of the bigger opal wood I've found. I have filled about two buckets with the stuff. From the first patch I found, it is about a mile to the most recent patch I've found. Seems to be scattered over a large area. The last two pics are the first 9 cabs I've ever made, just made them in the last few days. The cluster of five is all from opal wood, and the cluster of four is from the common opal veins.

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Just wanted to edit my first post a little, I mentioned that lordsburg was the only area in NM where I could find info of opal being found before, I think I may have also read that there was another area in northern NM as well. I forgot to mention it because it is a long way from me and not closer to home, in my "search area", like these other two spots.

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Common opal is pretty common in New Mexico. The west side of the Rio Grande Rift is mostly volcanic.

The east side is mostly formed by the effects on the west side. Caballo is the stress point from the turning east on the Rift due to the stress hinge centered in the Gila.

Finding opalized wood isn't a bad sign but you have to realize most of the material in that area was shed by the recent sharp short uplift of Caballo. Caballo is a famous exposure - it goes all the way from ancient basement to Quaternary on the top along it's western exposed uplifted face. It's textbook stuff, which is why it's so well known and studied.

You will probably have to move away from that system before you will find the right conditions to produce precious opal.

Look north of TorC or east past the Black Range. Look to the Gila forks for the best and most exotic volcanics. Look north for the amorphous silicates.

I hope that helps.

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Chris, great work on those cabs. Very impressive for your first efforts. If you ever find yourself in SoCal during the winter, let me know and I'll take you out to find some nice cabbing material.

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Sweet, thanks Clay, I was hoping you might have some advice about it. The spot where I found the veins, is like you said, on the west of the rio grande. The small mountain range I was finding the wood on is somewhat close to the caballos, but not noticeably connected above ground. Every time I hunt there I always wonder if it wasn't part of the same range, I always kind of thought (just assumed really), caballos, turtle back, and the fra cristobals were part of the same range. On the other little mountains I am hunting, I often find that pinkish granite? Stuff that has mica in it, it is all over the caballos and a lot of the sands in the washes in caballos are kind of pink because of all the eroding granite stuff. Finding that stuff made me wonder if it was formed by part of the same activity that made caballos. Thanks for the tips! I will start expanding my search and look for some more likely areas.

D day, hey thanks man! I'm glad to hear the cabs don't look too rough. I'm using an sanding drum not an expando and it shakes a lot. The stone doesn't really make constant contact on it, it kind of bounces really fast. So they are lots of small flat spots all over some of the cabs. It kind of looks like someone attempted a really weird and crappy facet job on a cab. Heck yea man, that would be awesome to hunt for some Cali specimens to work with. It's been years since I've been that far west but if I am ever in the area I will definitely get in touch, thanks for the invite!

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Diane Finestein is old and she smells. Don't worry about smelly old women. They outlive us but rarely outsmart us.

If you look up Diane Finestein's history you will see her original success was based on helping big property owners in those desert areas put more money in their pockets. Read about her early involvement in Bodie and Caine to get an idea where she's coming from.

Fact of the matter is Diane Finestein is a has been with a limited future and she knows squat about opals. Stay upwind and you'll be fine.

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 5 years later...
8 hours ago, joncortese said:

Hi I'm from New Mexico and I am actually setting here with about half a pound of fire opal with nice play of color. I found a spot that is unbelievable. I see your post is 6 years old or so but if you want pics or info. joncortese@gmail.com 

Happy Hunting

Why don't you post your pictures here?

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