Driving south out of Montana we crossed into Idaho heading for a town called Spencer.
The signs indicated we were in "The Opal Capital Of North America".
We turned left off the highway and stopped at the little shop operated by one of the mines. I am always thrilled to see opal, and I wasn't disappointed. They had quite a selection of rough and cut stones to ogle over.
I noticed out behind the shop they had a fenced area with a mound of rubble and dirt, and a sign that read "mini-mine".
I inquired about it, and found it was loaded in from the mine about ten days before and was available for fee digging. Curious,
I signed up and went straight out to the area. It was about 3:00 or so and they closed at 5:00. It was overcast and sprinkled off and on as I searched.
The precious opal at Spencer is found in seams running through the host opal and rock. There are variations of thickness, but most seams tend to be thinner rather than fatter.
The opal at Spencer is more suitable for jewelry than other opal found in North America as it is very stable. It is often made into doublets or triplets to best utilize the opal.
I looked for the signature white opal pieces and examined all I found looking for the colored bands running through them. I found a piece stuck to the side of a rock with some color showing. I also found a loose piece of color in the dirt that I was digging through. I found a couple more pieces with color, and before I knew it, it was 5:30 and past the time to call it quits. I put away my hammer and went to weigh the gems I had found. I turned out to have less than a pound, so my five dollar fee covered everything.
The idea of finding stable opal that can be worked and made into jewelry is exciting, and I would very much like to return to Spencer for the opportunity to dig at their actual mine, which can also be done for a fee. I'll put that on my "To Do" list!