Opal is one of the most famous gemstones, and it’s easy to see why. With the play of color that emanates from just under the surface, it’s one of the few classical gemstones with a distinctive optical effect. While soft, the beauty of opal has made it a favorite for many, and those who are rockhounds often want to hunt their own. Fortunately, there are a few great places in the United States where you can find it.
So, let’s take a look at the best places to find opal in the US, so that you can plan your own rockhounding mission and possibly pull a great one from the earth.
Read More: Ultimate Guide To Collecting Opal
Where To Find Opal In The US
1. Royal Peacock Mine, Nevada
Like most of the precious opal localities in the US, the Royal Peacock Mine in Nevada is privately owned. It’s also one of the few mines that offer paid digs for opal, offering a unique opportunity for those who want to head out. It’s not a cheap trip, but it’s one that can be well worth it if you make a great find.
There are two places that they allow you to dig. For $190 per person, you can actually mine directly in the banks. This is virgin territory, space cleared underneath the overburden covering most of the precious opal. For $75 per person, you can also go through the tailings of the mine. The tailings aren’t quite as rich but you can still score well here.
The Royal Peacock Mine produces world-class opal specimens, including black opal and opalized fossils. It’s possibly the best opal mine to visit in the United States, as long as you can afford the entry. For more details, you can visit their site and see if it’s the right place for you to go seeking opal.
2. Juniper Ridge Opal Mine, Oregon
The Juniper Ridge Opal Mine is one of the few places in the United States that regularly turns out high-quality fire opal. These opals are glass-like and range from yellow to a deep red depending on the individual gemstone. This is another private claim, and it’s not always clear if they’re allowing paid digs at the moment. That said when they do offer them it is a unique opportunity.
Juniper Ridge Opals are a bit different from the usual precious opal found. These rarely display the fire that makes opal so special, instead, it’s the deep saturation of color in the gemstones that are on display. They are generally cut into faceted gemstones, instead of the cabochons seen with the majority of opal.
If you’re interested your best bet is to contact the mine owners. While they don’t have a traditional website for the mine, they appear to do business mainly through their Facebook page. Contacting them is the best way to see if they’re currently open for a paid dig. The fees others have mentioned are a bit steep, but a couple of good opals and the trip will pay for itself.
3. Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine, Nevada
Another famous opal mine in Nevada, Rainbow Ridge is an expensive paid dig site but it may be well worth it for those who can afford it. Rainbow Ridge produces some of the prettiest precious opals in the United States, at least as far as specimens go. These opals are found in a thick, wet clay that effectively seals in the moisture and makes them prone to crazing (a term for the cracks that emerge in opal as it dries) when removed from the Earth.
While not generally suitable for jewelry, these opals make incredible specimens. The specimens are generally kept wet by placing them in water, keeping them from crazing while keeping the original beauty of the stone. Those who dig in the tailings may find dried opals, and if these haven’t cracked too much they are suitable for jewelry.
You’ll pay well for the privilege of digging these. The virgin earth digging is $700 per day, while the tailings can be searched for a comparatively cheap $100 per day. If you can afford it, however, there’s nothing quite like digging your own opals and you may even strike it rich. Take a look at their website and see if you think it’s worth the trip for yourself!
4. Spencer Opal Mine, Idaho
The Spencer Opal Mine is another productive source of precious opal. It’s a unique formation, with the opal being found in thin slices in gaps in the rhyolite bedrock. Quite often you’ll find that the common opal here actually ends up containing precious opal on the interior. While the material is mainly used for specimens and composite opals like doublets and triplets some of it is large enough to be cut into gemstones.
These come from a rhyolite and obsidian field, where gas bubbles had left empty places during the cooling process. The opals themselves are a secondary formation, created from silica rich water that seeped into the area over time, solidifying as opal in these tiny spaces.
They also allow for paid digs, like most of the mines listed. There’s no price listed for this one, so you’ll have to use the contact details from their web page. It’s definitely worth the trip if you can make it out, however. There’s a lot of opal to be had and expert cutters who live nearby and can get the most out of the generally thin material you’ll dig up.
5. Vernon Parish, Lousiana
In Vernon Parish of Louisiana, the Earth hides a bit of a secret. While incredibly hard to find in modern times, this locality is the only known place where Louisiana Sand Opal has been found. This strange sandstone and opal conglomerate captured the imagination before it was determined that mining it really wasn’t all that commercially viable. Rare then, and it’s even rarer now but those who are in the area may want to try their luck.
These opals are truly an oddity. Somehow the sandstone in the area became impregnated with a silica-rich fluid. This fluid pressed through the grains of the sandstone before finally solidifying as precious opal. The end effect is an actual sandstone with precious opal visual effects.
While the majority of it appears to be gone, the occasional piece still shows up in the area. It may not be the hottest ticket on the block when it comes to opal, but it’s the one place where you can find a variety that’s distinctly American.