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Nevada Opal: Part II, The Rest of the State

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Nevada has produced some spectacular opal: This is Part II covering the rest of the state excluding the Virgin Valley deposits......

Nevada is famous for its beautiful, colorful Opal.  The state contains a number of rich precious opal beds in a variety of geologic settings. Many of these produce spectacular and extremely valuable specimens, but have not received the publicity of the more famous Virgin Valley opal beds in northwest Humboldt County.  This is part II on Nevada opals, covering the opal deposits of the rest of the state.

Locations for common opal are too numerous to mention, but precious opal - stones displaying a play of color - are less common and can be listed as follows: (the opal deposits from Virgin Valley, by far the best known deposits in the state, are described on a separate webpage: Virgin Valley Opal)

Little Joe / Duffy deposit, Humboldt County:
Located off the Soldier Meadows Road about 40 miles north of Gerlach in western Humboldt County along the eastern front of the Calico Hills is a deposit of precious opal.  Historically, local residents had been picking up precious opal from this area for many years, but it was not until 1960 that Ray Duffield staked the Little Joe claims covering the deposit.  The opal occurs here as nodular masses filling vesicles in basalt.  A portion of the vesicles are filled with clear yellow orange and red opal that commonly has purple blue green red and yellow fire, although red and green predominate. Opal with a milky white background occurs with both precious and common varieties.  Many of the basalt nodules also contain agate and common opal. Unfortunately, like the Virgin Valley Opal, the Calico Hills Opal also has a high tendency to desiccate and crack.  The Duffield claims are now patented, private property and not open to the public. The deposit is well known however, because for many years this deposit was operated as a pay to dig site.  About 6 miles north of the Little Joe claims in the Calico Hills, another deposit of precious opal occurs in basalt at Willow Creek within a similar geologic setting.  This site is still being operated as a pay to dig site with campground.


On the east side of the Monte Cristo range, about 15 miles north of the small town of Gabbs in night County is the star fire opal deposit. The precious opal from this deposit is a beautiful blue-gray base color. The play of colors in the precious opal commonly exhibits reds greens and blues.  The deposit was discovered early in the 1900s, and during the 1970s was worked commercially and operated as a fee dig for rockhounds. Private claims now cover the main work area.  A considerable area has been worked by bulldozer. The opal is found in a soft altered and weathered rhyolite tuff and is less subject to cracking than most Nevada Opal.  Much white common opal and chalcedony are also present in the area which covers many acres. 



Webber Claims, Lincoln County
An interesting new deposit of precious opal has been located recently in a remote part of Lincoln County, in the southeastern part of Nevada. The opal has a blue background with a red, green and blue play of color. The opal is found in gas cavities and fractures in an extremely tough highly siliceous dense brown rhyolitic tuff. The toughness of the enclosing host rock mandates that blasting must be used to extract the opal, which in turn causes some fracturing. After mining, the opal bearing rock must be sawed to remove the gems from the enclosing matrix. Like the Gabbs Opal, it is generally more durable and less prone this occasion and cracking than is most Nevada Opal.




Firestone, Humboldt County
This opal deposit is located in the Santa Rosa Mountains north of Winnemucca. At one time it was operated as a fee dig area and campground.  It has been inactive for a long period of time.  Precious opal from this location occurs filling vesicles in basalt and comes in a wide variety of base colors including white, yellow, orange, red and black. The base is opaque to transparent and shows plays of red, blue, green, and yellow fire. While opal occurs only sparsely in the basalt vesicles at this location, a fairly high percentage of the vesicles filled with opal are of precious opal.


Velvet Pass, Pershing County
There is a little known location for precious opal in Pershing County. It is located on the road from Lovelock to the old Velvet gold mine where that road crosses over the summit of the Trinity range. There is said to be a rhyolitic formation there which contains fire opal.  Because of the hardness of the rock, it is difficult to extract the opals.  As with much other Nevada opal, these gems deteriorate when they dry out on exposure to the air. The most likely location for this deposit is the southern half of section 33, T27N R29E. As with most locations worldwide, common opal is far more prevalent than the precious variety.


Opal is a widespread low temperature and secondary mineral which is confined to near surface deposits.  Common opal generally shapes from white to Brown and is often found with petrified wood and sometimes with at the tops of hydrothermal vein systems. Common opal occurs at a large number of locations in Nevada and is sometimes collected for gem use.  Mercury (cinnabar) laced common opal is mined many of the old pits of the McDermitt Mercury mine in some of the other old Mercury mines in Nevada.


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