• wentzellgems

Red Rock Canyon, California, Precious Opal


One of my greatest joys when I was younger and living in Southern California was visiting my friends at an opal mine near Red Rock Canyon, north of Mojave in Kern County. Dick & Shirley Barnett owned the Barnett Fire Opal Mine, which was the neighboring mine to the famous Nowak (or, Last Chance) Opal Mine. The mine was operated on the weekends by the Barnett's, who charged a fee of $2.00 (two dollars!) per person, per day. At the time, you could also camp out at the mine. I visited once, and ended up going back over and over. Common opal was everywhere, but the precious opals were few and far between (that's why they call them "precious" opals!). The opals were formed in the hard basalt rock of a lava flow in the area. Sledgehammers, gads and chisels and a lot of effort was required to find some precious opal. I found a good amount, thanks to the tips and tricks to the peculiarity of the deposit that Dick had told me. The greatest treasure here were the owners, whom I came to know very well. They were some of the greatest people I have ever met, really wonderful folks who enjoyed seeing others having a good time. I witnessed time and time again that when someone didn't find "color," Dick and Shirley would give them a piece of precious opal from the mine. Sadly, they passed away a number of years ago, and the mining claim was embraced by land previously withdrawn to mineral entry. When their mining claims expired, no new claims could be filed and the land became part of Red Rock Canyon State Park. I went back in January 2012 to visit the place. All the old structures had been removed, and the workings where the opal was found had been filled in and leveled. It was very sad. I would like to hear from anyone that may have a photo of Dick and Shirley, if they would be willing to share a copy with me. Here is a photo of some of the opals I had found at the Barnett Mine in the early 1990's:

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