Friday, May 11, 2012

Finding the Nodular Agua Nueva Agate

An agate from the Mi Sueno claim.
Not too long after The Gem Shop, Inc. started selling the Agua Nueva Vein Agate a new nodular banded agate started to become available from several El Paso dealers.  I asked Rodolfo (see previous blog posting) about it and he got some for me.  It was fantastic! It was similar to Laguna, but with a larger size range.  Laguna Agate production in the 1970s was down, and this agate seemed to be as appealing, although it was expensive. I asked Rodolfo for some more, and he told me he could get some more, but he did not control the deposit.  I asked him where it came from and he told me it was just "over the hill" from the vein agate he was digging for me.  He continued to get this new agate for me in small amounts. No one knew what to call this agate, so it was sold under several names.  The Gem Shop sold it as "New Laguna" for a while, but it was also sold under the names "Laguna Agate" and "Coyamito Agate".  Eventually it became known that it was from the Agua Nueva Ranch and as more became available, it's distinctive characteristics became identifiable.  Today, Agua Nueva Agate is well known and can easily be distinguished from Laguna Agate and Coyamito Agate.
An agate from the Agua Nueva claim.
The actual area where the Laguna Agate deposits are located is about 20 miles to the south of Agua Nueva Ranch and the Coyamito Ranch is located about 7 miles to the North of the Agua Nueva Ranch.
20 years later in1998, I was mining the Agua Nueva Agate and still wondered about the wonderful nodules.  On the top of the ridge, above the vein agate I was working on, there were several outcrops of rocks.  I went up to look at these, and sure enough there were agate nodules all through them.  Also, the area had been extensively worked.  The rock here was very hard and the area had been worked in such a way that it was very difficult to see the workings from below.  I thought for a while I had found the area where the nodules had come from, but why had Rodolfo told me the deposit was over the hill and not up the hill?  Also, if the nodules were found so close to the vein agate, why would Rodolfo have trouble getting them or say he had no control over what was produced?
Agua Nueva nodule lodged in place.
I knew a man who was named Ramon Olivas who lived in Juarez, Mexico who mined the Mexican Blue Chalcedony.  He once told me he visited the Agua Nueva Ranch when he was a boy and his father worked there.  I invited him to come to the Mi Sueño Claim to look around and see if he remembered anything.  
After he arrived, we walked all over the claim.  He recognized the nodules in the host rock from years ago but he was not sure if it was the same place his father had worked in the past.  He finally came to the conclusion there must have been another deposit somewhere else.  I asked Ramon if he thought he could find it for me.  Ramon's father was still alive and lived in Denver at the time.  Ramon told me after he talked to his father he would look for it.  
The visible fault lines on the mountain (see arrows).
There is a large mountain north of the Agua Nueva Hacienda that has two very visibly distinct fault lines through it.  This mountain with its fault lines can be seen from hwy 45, 8 miles east of the ranch.  The Mi Sueño Claim is on the south west corner of this mountain and the other nodular agate deposit is on the north side of this mountain.  It was as Rodolfo described it, "On the other side of the hill" which really meant on the other side of the mountain.  The two deposits are less than 2 km apart, as the crow flies, and about 12 km apart on the ranch roads.  When I was walking around the mountain looking for the deposit, I was one little ridge away (about 100 yards) from finding it myself, but I missed it.
Brad Cross at the Agua Nueva monument.
A year or two later I arranged a trip to look at the deposit.  Brad Cross, Daniel (the foreman of the Agua Nueva Ranch), Ramon, and I all went together.  There was no road close to the area, so we walked in.  I remember seeing lots of nodules in very hard rock, but few good ones.  Most of them were just quartz.  The agates were in the gently sloping ledge below the top of a hill located to the North of the fractured mountain.  With the hardness of the host rock and the fact that I would have to build over a mile of new road just to get there, I was somewhat discouraged about mining this deposit.  Ramon said he would look into re-establishing the claim (there was already a claim marker with the name "Agua Nueva") if I would pay all his expenses.  Daniel offered to help with the road using the dozer that belonged to the ranch.  How could I refuse?  So the second claim on the "Agua Nueva Ranch" was established.  The first was named "Mi Sueño" and the second "Agua Nueva".  Both claims have nodules and veins.  The Mi Sueño has mostly vein agate and a few nodules, and the Agua Nueva Claim has mostly nodules with a few veins.  It is amazing how seemingly insignificant information i.e. “over the hill” and “I was there when I was a boy” can be so important in finding something that is lost.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mi Sueño (My dream)

Agua Nueva Vein Agate from the Mi Sueño claim.
Once upon a time there was a Mexican cattle rancher named Rodolfo Quevedo who loved agates. He traveled to El Paso often and knew an agate dealer in El Paso named Richard Vaughn. Vaughn’s Lapidary was one of the dozen or so rock shops in El Paso in the 60’s and 70’s that brought rocks and minerals to the U.S. market. Mr. Quevedo hired some workers to mine a new agate he liked and brought it to Richard Vaughn’s rock shop in El Paso. Richard called me and said I should come and look at it. A meeting was arranged and I went to El Paso to see the new agate and meet Mr. Quevedo.

Hole in the ground where the Agua Nueva was mined.
The agate was fantastic. It was a vein agate with the purple, yellow, rose, and white banded tube formations over a gold toned moss. I made a deal with Rodolfo to buy all the production and arranged with Richard Vaughn to accept the agate from Rodolfo and send it to Wisconsin. Rodolfo told me the agate came from the Agua Nueva ranch.

The Gem Shop, Inc. introduced this agate in the 1974 Tucson Show and sold it for many years until it became unavailable. All that Rodolfo would tell me was that something happened on the ranch and there would be no more agate for at least 10 years.

Agua Nueva to be mined from the right side of the valley.
In the early 1990s I had the opportunity to visit the Coconut geode mine east of the town of Esperanza. The road from highway 45 to Esperanza goes right through the Agua Nueva Ranch. I asked my guide, if there was time, could we look at the place where the Agua Nueva agate came from years ago. We stopped at the ranch, got permission and directions after talking for over an hour and drove as close as we could to the deposit. The workers, years ago, had set up a camp along the river bed about half a mile away from the working. We walked up a side canyon to where the agate came from and looked around. All the diggings were on one side near the head of the canyon. Only hand digging had been done and there was no claim monument to be seen. The digging was not very extensive and I was certain there was a lot more agate in the ground. Again, I wondered why the production had stopped so abruptly years ago.

The erected monument.
After my unsuccessful attempt to mine Apache, I considered the possibility of mining the Agua Nueva agate. I checked and there was no claim on the area. I cannot own a claim in Mexico, myself, without a Mexican company. The approximate cost for forming a Mexican company at the time was about $6,000, and I looked for ways to do this with less financial risk. My friend, Don Burrow had moved to Aldama, Mexico some years earlier and formed a company called Agata Aldama. I asked him if his company would file and hold the claim for me if I paid all the expenses. He said sure, but it would be necessary for me to come to Aldama, Chihuahua and show them where it was. I flew to Chihuahua City and Javier, Don’s partner, and I bought the cement blocks and mortar, drove to the deposit, erected the monument, and established the claim, Mi Sueño, or My Dream. Now all I had to do was figure out how I was going to mine it!

Friday, April 6, 2012

My First Mining Venture in Mexico

The dozer on the ridge. Notice the claim monument on the right.
With the possibility of mining the Apache Agate in mind, I asked my friend, Brad Cross, to visit the deposit with me to get his ideas of where to work. Like Benny Fenn, Brad suggested working in the back to the west into the ridge from the main pit. Now all I needed was a machine.
                I thought about bringing my Case 850 front end loader down from Oregon but that would cost about $3,000- just to move it to the border. That money could just as well be put towards a machine that was closer.
                Much to my surprise, I found an old HD-9 front end loader in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and with Benny Fenn’s help, made arrangements to move it to Mexico. I moved my travel trailer to the ranch over the 27 miles of dirt roads and drove back to Casas Grandes to travel with the truck carrying the HD-9. The direct roads to the mine are impossible or a large truck carrying a heavy machine, so we went further south to Galleana and then back around on less hilly and straighter roads to the back side of the ranch. We unloaded the machine about 4 miles from the deposit. From here it was necessary to drive the loader cross country to where I had my trailer parked at the edge of the mine. The route was not particularly difficult except for a sandy arroyo I had to get through. While backing up a steep sand hill on the far side of the arroyo the motor stalled and the loader would not restart.
The dozer and ridge before beginning mining.
So, there I was, broken down in an arroyo one mile from the nearest dirt road, 30 miles from the nearest paved road, in a foreign country where I only knew a few words of Spanish. In the United States to get a mechanic to come to you is not easy and to have a mechanic drive 30 miles on a dirt road then cross county on no road to fix your vehicle is next to impossible; but not in Mexico. Mechanics in Mexico have the reputation of being able to fix anything and soon bolts were flying off the machine like rain. Still the young mechanic could not determine why the engine would not turn. He told me he was going back to town to get his father. The next day the old man got out of an old pick up truck, sat down in the sand 10 yards from the machine and asked his son, who lay under the machine with his hands up inside the guts of the engine, several questions. In 5 minutes he figured out what was wrong, never touching a wrench. A sleeve bearing on the side of the crankshaft has slipped and jammed, not allowing the engine to turn. Another day and it was fixed and put back together. Two mechanics, 3 days, a few parts, driving 40 miles (about 2.5 hours) each way, and the bill was??? The mechanic wanted $150 for the whole job. I gave him $400 and we were both very happy.
                I worked into the back wall of the deposit, as suggested, but found nothing. I had to be very careful of not getting to close to the original pit because it was filled with wet mud under a relatively dry surface. It was difficult to tell where it was soft and where it was not. I did get stuck once and had to dig the machine out by hand and put rocks under the tracks to get it out.
                I worked for three weeks with Rojellio, the ranch owner, helping me. I ran the loader about 6 hours a day, six days a week, and only came up with a small amount of agate. Unless the agate was concealed deeper, it did not continue into the ridge like Benny and Brad thought.
A beautiful specimen from the collection of Mike Ignatowski.
                With only one week left to work I decided to experiment and moved the loader to the far front of the old pit and started to dig several trenches to see what was there. After a day or so I hit some agate. Much to my surprise they were all very close together as if they were buried together in a pit. They had a very thin, bright red band of agate around a clcite interior. None of them were worth keeping. The pod, or group, of agates was about 700 pounds in size with individual agates from 1- 25 pounds each. I started another trench not too far away and hir another pod of agate. This pod held about 500 pounds of acceptable agate, although it did not have the same pattern that the agate from the original pit had. At least I had something to bring back.
                My first mining operation in Mexico was a complete disaster. The expense and effort far exceeded the value of the production, but I was still optimistic about future operations in Mexico after actually doing it once.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Digress: How I Got Started Mining in Mexico

At the end of July 2012, in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Mineral Club in conjunction with the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies, and the Midwest Federation of Mineralogical and Geological Societies are sponsoring a show dedicated to agates. Because of the show, the next ten blogs will shift from stories about mining Morrisonite to mining agate in Mexico. Check out the link to find out more information on this spectacular show:

How I Got Started Mining in Mexico

The ranch in Apache.
                I have been an insulin dependent diabetic since I was 13 years old. In the early 90s I started having trouble with my eyes. I was developing Diabetic Retinopathy, an ailment common in long term diabetics.  Diabetic Retinopathy causes new blood vessels to grow in the retina of the eye, which then burst, causing bleeding into the interior of the eye and blindness. Doctors discovered a way to stop the body from producing these new blood vessels; simply kill part of your eye and whatever signals your body to grow new blood vessels stops. It is a little like cutting off the foot to save the leg.

A picture of the monument marking the claim.
                Stuart Porteous, from Seattle, had been interested in Morrisonite most of his life and started buying interests in some of the Morrisonite claims. First he bought Larry Butler’s portions of the five claims consisting of the Amy Ellen claim and half of the Christine Marie claim. Some years later he purchased the Big Hole claim from the late Tom Caldwell’s wife. Eventually, he and I were the only owners, and he approached me about buying my portions. Because of the problem with my eyes I agreed to sell the rest of the Morrisonite claim to Stuart over a period of time. I believed that my mining days were almost over. September 1996 was the last time I mined Morrisonite.

All the orange specks are agate sticking out of the ground.
                After extensive laser surgery on both eyes, and a vitrectomy on one eye, my eyes stabilized. There was no more interior bleeding. I still had 20/20 vision on my right eye and 20/30 vision in the left. Most of my peripheral vision was seriously altered, as this was the part of the retina they used the laser to kill. Anyway, I felt that as long as I was careful, I could probably continue to do some mining.

A beautiful specimen from the collection of Mike Ignatowski.
                Benny Fenn, a rather famous Mexican Mineral dealer, mined agates in the early 70s and lived in Casas Grandes, Mexico. He invited me to visit his place in Mexico to look at a pile of agates he had at his house. It was mostly low grade or small pieces of Apache Agate. Benny Fenn mined the Apache Agate with a D-4 Dozer many years earlier and offered to take me to the deposit to see it. At the end of a 27 mile long dirt road through rivers and the tiny town of Apache, in the middle of nowhere, is a small ranch. Beyond the ranch is a ridge with a major water drainage on one side and a small drainage on the other. The Apache Agate is found on the point of this ridge between the two drainages; an impossible place to find without a guide.

                 I was amazed to see small pieces of bright red-orange agate everywhere in the dirt and could hardly believe I was actually at the place where all the famous Apache Agate came from. Benny Fenn told me if I wanted to try and mine it he could make it possible. I had never considered such a thought possible. As a result, I began my pursuit to produce some of the best agates in the world, including Agua Nueva, Coyamito, Laguna, and, of course, Apache Agate.

Click here to read more on the Apache Agate Operation:

Click here to see more pictures of Apache Agate:

Monday, March 12, 2012

New & Upcoming at The Gem Shop

Sarape Jasper
The Gem Shop is beginning 2012 with a bang! There is lots of new and exciting things to come this year. Listed below are a few thing to expect from the Gem Shop this year! 
New Rock!
After another exciting year at the Tucson Gem & Rock Show, The Gem Shop is happy to provide a variety of new arrivals. We, at The Gem Shop, are especially excited for the Sarape Jasper. Sarape Jasper is named for the traditional Sarape blanket of Mexico. Found near Chihuahua, Mexico, this jasper is a fairly new find. Sarape Jasper offers a variety of colors, which lends itself to cabbing nicely.
Purple Lepidolite
The Gem Shop is also excited about the Purple Lepidolite we received this year. Purple Lepidolite is from Australia is an opaque stone that contains bits of mica and calcite. It is a beautiful deep purple that can only be found in Australia and is a byproduct of a nickel mine.
Sonora Dendritic
The Gem Shop also received a new shipment of Sonora Dendritic. The Sonora Dendritic is a unique blend of aspects on the infamous Owyhee Picture jasper and the dendritic Apache Sage. It features maroon dendrites that can create a scenic pattern against a background of blue, pink, orange and yellow swirl, or a combination of the colors. This newest batch is considered a higher quality with less waste, and also has a deeper color blue. 
Mooka Jasper Pendant
          New this year  The Gem Shop’s Escape line added Mooka Jasper. We also have new stock of Rocky Butte Picture Jasper, Imperial Jasper, Plume Agate, Birdseye Rhyolite, and Porcelain Jasper. Each pendant is carefully crafted and set with a sterling silver bail to bring out the natural beauty of each stone.
      Next Show!
          It is time again for the G&LW show in the Minneapolis area. The show dates are March 25-26 at the Ramada Thunderbird in Bloomington. Hours for the show are Sunday 11am to 6pm, and Monday 10am to 3pm. We will be in the Ballroom, Pace #17. This is a wholesale show. Please check out for more information. Hope to see you there!