Mineral County: WANDERINGS
Rock&Gem Magazine|July 2020
Chance Encounter Creates Opportunity to Mine for Variscite in Nevada
BRUCE MCKAY

Best intentions can be very effective, especially if you can keep to your goals, but some places and experiences can really put one’s resolve to the test.

Thinking back about my time in Quartzite, Arizona, in January of 2019, I’m reminded of the conversation I had with myself about keeping my purchases to a minimum. The fact is, I have more rock than I can cut in this lifetime, and since I don’t know if I’m going to be reborn as a lapidarist and I don’t know how to get the rocks I have in this life into the next, purchasing more may not be the wisest decision. Add to that, not all the rocks I have are the best quality, so if I find better specimens and add a pound to my pile, the lesser quality sinks to the bottom and out of sight. Sometimes it’s all about justifications as you wander the booths at the Quartzite Pow WoW.

My rockhound logic softened the iron resolve not to purchase more rocks and allowed me to stop short in my tracks when I saw some of the most beautiful Variscite I have ever seen. There were huge slabs of lime green orbs mushed against each other into spiderweb patterns, and slabs cut from football-size chunks of material. A longtime fan of Variscite, I was smitten, looking at some of the finest I had ever seen.

The proprietor of the booth was Alan Chambers, partner with Rodney Frisby in the Vista Grande Mine outside of Mina, Nevada. We got to talking, and soon he invited me to come to visit the mine during summer. I slotted some time in early June and stopped by on the first leg of a cross country trip.

MAKING THE TREK TO MINA

Mina, Nevada is a town that I have driven through before and have no memory of, just a stretch of highway with a few buildings. Around 150 people still reside there, after the town dried up when the big mines closed. One of the nearby mines and once one of the largest silver producers in America, the Candelaria Mine, closed in 1990. Today, the space occupied by the mine since 1885, is now just a large pit with two ghost towns on its flanks. After the mine’s closure, one burger joint, one bar, a library that opens two days a week, and a Post Office is what remains of Mina’s downtown businesses. Upon reaching Alan Chamber’s mining compound on the outskirts of Mina, I was surprised by the amount of equipment. Huge graders, dump trucks, and drilling rigs were all over the place, looking like they had served many hours of mining duty. I thought this was a lot of equipment for mining variscite.

After an evening of great conversation, a delicious dinner, and a good night’s rest, Rodney, Alan, myself and two dogs took off for the mine in a pickup, hauling two all-terrain vehicles. Twenty miles down the highway, we turned down a gravel road and came to a stop in Columbus, Nevada. A ghost town left behind by a closed Borax mine, Columbus has just two buildings standing, but likely not for long. I think the next good snowpack could finish them off. On the way to the site, my guide miners pointed out various gold mines, turquoise mines, copper mines, mines everywhere. From downtown Columbus, my guides pointed to a mountainside nearby, indicating it was our destination, the Vista Grande Mine. Upon viewing the destination from afar, I saw a hillside formed from a bunch of brown rocks and not much else.

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