in the isolated northwest corner of Nevada, lies Virgin Valley. Despite
it's arid and desolate location, rockhounds and
miners from all over the world travel here to search for the beautiful
black opal for which this area is famous. These spectacular opals are
prized by collectors, lapidary enthusiasts and jewelers worldwide.
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Planning Your Trip.
Virgin valley is a high desert region (an
5,000 to 6,000 ft.), located about 30 miles southwest of Denio in
Humboldt County. The area is teeming with wildlife, from wild
burros and horses to antelope and jackrabbits. There are numerous hot
springs dotting the land with their attendant lush vegetation, creating
a series of oasis in the desert.
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area is famous for the rare and fabulous black opal,
known to occur in only two places on Earth: Virgin Valley, Nevada and
New South Wales, Australia. These wonderful specimens flash and
gleam with a
rainbow of brilliant reds, blues, greens and purples in a
matrix. Prime examples can be worth more per carat than
Also found in the area is opal
in a variety of colors and types from the famous black opal to the
amber colored honey opal, the clear jelly or crystal opal, and the pure
white matrix of the lechosos or milk opal, all of which can contain the
stunning play of color which signifies the 'precious opal.'
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Most of the opal is in the form of replaced wood and limb
casts. Sometimes retaining the characteristics of the ancient wood in
incredible detail. It is theorized that this area was once the
location of a large lake surrounded by lush forests of sequoia, spruce,
hemlock, birch, cedar, larch and chestnut. This prehistoric
forest was devastated by a series of volcanic eruptions which buried
the forests, lakes and accumulated driftwood with layer upon layer of
millions of years, the
silica-rich water of the areas hot springs seeped through the layers of
ash and slowly replaced the buried wood with hydrated silica molecules.
Under the right conditions, precious opal may form.
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Legend has it that a range rider, perhaps a Pony Express
rider, found the first glistening piece when passing through the area
in the early 1900's. The discovery was widely reported by the press and
within a few years several claims were staked in the area and
commercial mining of Virgin Valley Opal began. Some of these early
mines still exist today. The Bonanza has been producing opal since 1905
and the Rainbow mine since 1911.
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Over time, Virgin Valley opal
developed a reputation of being unstable and prone to cracking due to
it's high water content. (Virgin Valley opal can be up to 14% water,
where Australian opal may be as little as 5% water). Although many
rockhounds keep their specimens in water to prevent this cracking, much
Virgin Valley opal retains its brilliance and integrity for decades
with no special care.