CHEYENNE - William Ainslie has been collecting rocks and gemstones in Wyoming for a half-century, and news that state geologists have found a deposit of opal in central Wyoming has the 81-year-old rock-
shop owner ready to head for the hills.
"I would like to know where it's at," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I'm getting too old to climb steep hills … but I'd sure try."
On Friday, the Wyoming State Geological Survey will release a report detailing the exact location of a "large opal deposit" found in Fremont County in hopes that it might lead to a successful and lucrative mining operation.
Quality opal can be refined into expensive, colorful, delicate gems that the American Gem Society describes as a "enchanting gem" through which some believe "the mysteries of love can be exchanged."
The opal found in Wyoming is mostly of the "common opal" variety, but there were also traces of the highly valued "precious opal," according to state geologist Wayne Sutherland, who assisted in writing the report.
"The traces of precious opal indicates to us that there is the likelihood of finding more of that," Sutherland said. "… We think there's some real economic possibilities for the deposits."
Because of interest already shown in the find, W. Dan Hausel, state senior economic geologist in charge of metals and precious stones who has led the research into the Wyoming site, decided to schedule a release time for
the report so that no one prospective mining company or rock enthusiast gets an advantage, Sutherland said.
Sutherland said the site in a desolate, mountain area southeast of Riverton contains many outcrops of opal within a three-square-mile area.
A 34-pound chunk of opal from the site was brought back to the state Geological Survey office in Laramie, where it is on display.
Melissa Connely, a geology instructor at Casper Community College, said opal deposits are found in many areas but are usually small and of poor quality.
The best-known deposit of precious opal for gems is in Australia, she said. The best-quality opal deposits in the United States are found in Nevada, Idaho and Oregon.
The more color the opal shows - what geologists call "play of color," or rainbow effect - the more valuable it is, she said.
Sutherland said the Wyoming deposit contains a broad array of colors - yellow-orange, transparent blue, semiclear with black spots.
Connely said she would withhold judgment on the Wyoming opal for now, but "I would be interested in taking a look."
Whatever the value of the Wyoming opal, Ainslie, a retired underground uranium miner, said he would gladly make room in his collection case at his home-based Bill's Rock Shop for a piece.
"It's part of being a rockhound," he said.
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