We weren’t prepared for winter weather during a rock hunting trip in central Idaho this week, but it turned out great
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“I think we have to make one more rock hunting trip before winter sets in,” my weekly rockhounding friend, Mike Bruton, suggested last Saturday as we met each other ice fishing on the Henrys Lake. “Weather does not look too bad for Wednesday but even though there may be a little moisture, we can go after that vein of opal that we found in September.”
It would be our 17th trip of the summer into the mountains of central Idaho looking for beautiful and odd stones to make into cabochons for necklaces and other jewelry. Agates, jasper and petrified wood were our usual material that we had been hunting with an occasional trip for opal or crystals.
The day before Thanksgiving we left early enough to join the daily migration of workers to the Idaho National Laboratory and by the time we got to Arco we had avoided playing bumper cars with the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Then as we drove through central Idaho we had another migration to go through. The antelope were crossing the road migrating from the high country to the harvested barren fields.
Ten miles from our destination, snow started falling and we both chuckled because it was about six hours early. But we had the vein GPS’ed and a little snow would not deter us. The snow squall had quit by the time we were at the site but a quarter of an inch of the white covering changed everything and it took us 30 minutes to find the small vein. Even though we had picks and bars, chisels and hammers, we were not prepared for the frozen earth around the rock and the host rock containing the opal was very reluctant to give up the “good stuff.”
After three hours of “hard rock mining” and the sun had come out and melted the snow on the south slopes, we decided to hit some of the slopes where we had not been for two years. It was very rewarding as we picked up some beautiful plume agate and colorful jasper.
On the way home, we reminisced about our season by avoiding the crowds. Covid-19 had canceled most of the rock club’s activities, so the two of us spent our “rock time” during May, June, early July, September and October quietly and slowly expanding our territory. We took off most of July and August due to the heat and rattlesnakes.
We went through phases during the season. Our emphasis went from moss agate to petrified wood to red, yellow and orange jasper to black agate and then to tube agate. We used former good hunting spots as starting points and then expanded our searching to the ridges, gullies and mountains around them. Several of the days were almost rockless as we found very little for half the day before we happened on to a “hot spot” or we went back to the original spot for few good rocks.
We also rehunted areas we had led groups in previous years where we found very small pockets of outstanding material. Areas classified as “over picked” produced some of our best pieces of tube and moss agates and we found chisels, soda cans and other things left or lost by rock hunters many years ago.
As we loaded our tools in the truck on Wednesday, snow began falling once again and continued until we got home. We left with bare ground Wednesday morning and came back to four inches of white covering everything.
“What a trip and we got some great stuff,” said Mike as we unloaded. “But you know what? It may not be our last one of the season. If it warms up enough to make the south slopes bare again we could still go – one more time.”
It was a great way to “social distance” during a summer and fall for a person who loves the outdoors and nature. If that was the last rock hunting trip hunting for 2020, I will dedicate five hours a week searching for new places for next summer by researching expired claim logs, old scoutmaster journals and looking for old rockhound’s notes and maps.