During a search for Idaho’s hard to find gems, something happened that cut it short.

Living the Wild Life

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All photos courtesy Bill Schiess | EastIdahoNews.com

Mike Bruton and I were planning on one more day hunting rocks near Carey to find the elusive Carey Moss Agate before snow covered the hills around Little Wood Reservoir, but we were a week late. The Thanksgiving snows in Central Idaho even covered the south facing slopes forcing us to go ice fishing instead of harvesting more agates and jasper.

Last March, I started searching the mountains west of Dubois one day a week or more. I also began searching the desert mountains and foothills north of Howe in the Pahsimeroi Valley or the Big Lost River Valley from Arco to Challis. I had been a member of the Idaho Falls Gem and Mineral Society for two years and had attended eight field trips sponsored by it. Several members, including Steve Davis, Jim Bosley and Gerry Gibeault, had also taken me with them on day trips educating me on what was a “leaverite” and what was a keeper.

With what little knowledge I had gained, agate and jasper were usually found in areas known as the Eocene Challis Volcanic Group listed on the geologic map of the Digital Atlas of Idaho. I searched the libraries and internet for journals of any mention collecting semi-precious gems. Some of the most valuable information came from adults who, when they were in the Boy Scouts, had a leader who would take them on hikes for an excuse to pick up a few rocks.

In June, Bruton joined me on the weekly trips. Honoring the trust of previous partners, I did not take him to their areas, but we would search near those areas where maps indicated the ancient volcanic action had been.
One sentence in a journal led us to a hill in the Pass Creek area where “green and red jasper, brown agate, along with green skinned agate littered the ground.”

On our first day, it took us three hours to find jasper on a ridge, followed by the next ridge producing agate nodules up to eight inches across. Spending at least a day per week for the next eight weeks produced pockets of all that the journal had reported.

Sliced between our trips, I attended field trips with the club and in early fall. Four of us from the Idaho Falls Gem and Mineral Society traveled to Little Wood Reservoir to search for “Carey Moss Agate, petrified wood, banded agate and jasper.” Wildfire had burned most of the area that we were to hunt and I was asked to search several long ridges for opalized wood. Just under a rock outcrop, I found a pocket of green rocks with agate lacing through them, my first pieces of the beautiful moss agate I had ever collected.

After lunch, all four of us made our way back to the pocket where each of us found pieces of the coveted rock. The wildfire had scoured the grass and sagebrush off so the rocks had no place to hide. Weeks later, in October and November, Bruton and I made two trips to the Carey area with another planned for the first week of December, but the snow postponed it until next spring.

The IFGMS is in the process of scheduling their field trips and one of the earliest will be to the Carey area in search for the gems exposed by the wildfires. Anyone interested in the collecting of rocks from the “Gem State” are welcome to attend their meetings which is held the second Monday each month, except for December, at the Fairbridge Inn next to the Shilo. The youth club meets at 6:15 with the general meeting at 7.

Since Father Winter has bedded down the rocks for the next few months, I will spend my time ice fishing and hunting with my camera while I dream of finding the perfect stone next spring.