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Opals are among the most beautiful gemstones you can find in nature. Classified as a mineraloid, opals occur in specific geological areas. So what are the common environments for finding opals and the best location in the United States?
Opals aren’t found in all U.S. states, but they are commonly found in Nevada. They can be translucent, transparent, or opaque, while the background color can range from black, white, and almost any other color of the visual spectrum. Black opal is the rarest, and opals, generally, can be found in the fissures of rocks, such as sandstone.
If you want to find opals in the U.S., you have to understand precisely in which types of environment they occur. Finding them isn’t so tricky, especially if you know where to look for them.
If you are interested in checking out the best books about rock and minerals identification you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Where to Find Opals Near Me
Both precious and common opals form in the same way. The base material is deposited at a very low temperature, and opals have a high chance of developing if any rocks have fissures in them.
Some of the best kinds of rocks that opals tend to form in are sandstone, limonite, rhyolite, marl, or basalt.
Because of this, to find opals near you, you have to search for areas where these types of rock are present, such as valleys, deserts, mines, regional washes, draws, surfaces, gravels, canyons, and so on.
Mines are usually the best places to find opals. This is because the excavations occur at various lengths. Opals or “opal dirt” is easily found as the specimens got buried in time underground or formed there through natural means.
Sometimes, searching through discarded mullocks can yield fantastic results in finding precious opal specimens.
In some instances, certain “deserts” are a great place to find opal specimens. The mines opened in these places tend to have various opal specimens.
Rockhounds shouldn’t pass out on the offer if such mines are opened to the public or can be entered and exploited by paying a fee.
Draws and Washes
Draws (re-entrant) and washes are also among the best places to find opal specimens. This is because a draw is usually etched in hillsides due to water flow and may contain loose rocks from eroded rockfall where opals may have formed in. Valleys are also an excellent place to search for opals.
Areas of land adjacent to rivers (washes) are usually flooded from time to time, which may also yield several rock specimens, some of which may have opals formed in them.
Canyons & Valleys
Opals are also commonly found in certain canyons, valleys, and outcrops as well. Places, where volcanic activity was present in the past, are great for finding such specimens.
You can find opals even in lava outcrops, for example. In some instances, opals may be found even in lakes, or other bodies of water, most likely carried out due to natural phenomena.
TIP: To make the opal affordable to a wider range of people, a lot of different fakes have been created. Check out the main differences between real and fake opals in the article below:
Real vs. Fake Opal: Focus on These 6 Differences
Where Can You Find Opals in the United States? The Best Locations
In the U.S., you can also find rare black opals, fire opals, and common opals. For example, white, gray, and green opals are some of the most common colors you will encounter. Opals aren’t found in all states of the U.S. However, there are some noteworthy ones.
The best places that you can find opals in the U.S. include Nevada, which has opal as its state gemstone, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The richest states in opals are Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. If you are situated in any of these states, you have a high chance of finding opals.
|Nevada||Virgin Valley, Black Rock Desert, Fish Lake Valley|
|Idaho||Spencer Opal Mine, Setters, Moscow, Snake River|
|Washington||Waterville, Mondovi, Pullman|
|Oregon||Priday Agate Beds, White Rock, Opal Butte|
Let’s explore some of the best locations to find opals in these states and see precisely where you should look for them.
The Best Places to Find Opals in Nevada
Nevada is the capital of opals in the U.S., and some of the specimens unearthed here are the finest worldwide. Nevada designated black opal as its state gemstone in 1987. Black opal is the rarest type of opal in the world.
Some of the best places to find opals in Nevada are the several mines located in Virgin Valley and the Black Rock Desert. Common opals (opalite) are found in abundance at Fish Lake Valley. The state’s northeastern, northwestern, and central parts are the richest in opal specimens.
In the northeastern parts of Nevada, you can find beautiful precious black fire or common opals at the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine. On the eastern side of the Virgin Valley, you can find several types of opals and even opalized wood.
If you want to find gem-quality opals, fire, black, and even common specimens, head towards Greenfire Opal Mine. The Black Rock Desert is also a great place to explore. The area surfaces are filed with fire opals, and so are the regional washes, draws, and surfaces near Lander County.
In northwestern Nevada, you can find opal specimens at Nellie Spring or in Vya, about 30 miles south on route 34.
When it comes to Central Nevada, you can discover hyalite opals at Coaldale, in the area draws and washes, or in the area around Fish Lake Valley. The area mining dumps around Beatty are also worth scavenging.
Some of the brightest opals in the world can be found at the Bonanza Opal Mines, but you can also try your luck at Kokopelli Opals, Royal Peacock Opal Mine, Opal Negra Mining, or Montezuma Peak.
TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Nevada, check out this article.
The Best Places to Find Opals in Idaho
The next most prosperous opal state in the U.S. after Nevada is Idaho. The panhandle region is especially abundant in opals of various types. If you head to Setters, you can find common opal specimens that range in color from yellow to brown in the area gravels and surfaces.
In Moscow, Nevada, search in the basalts on the state border for precious opal specimens. North and east of Agatha are several opal-rich areas, where opalized wood is commonly found as well.
All the creeks and streams near Lewiston have yielded hyalite opal specimens. The Snake River, near Lewiston, is a good place to find fire opals.
Moving on to southwestern Idaho, fire opals can be found at Little Squaw Creek, on the eastern side of ridges. Some beautiful white with cinnabar opals can be located at Yellow Pine, in the volcanic exposures. Branded opal specimens can be uncovered just 3 miles west of Challis.
Southeastern Idaho also has some great areas to find opals. The Spencer Opal Mine is probably the most famous. However, you must pay a fee before entering, but those fire opals are totally worth it!
The rhyolite exposures near Camas Creek are also excellent for finding both fire opals and topaz specimens. In the dike near Cobalt, you can also find common opals at Poison Creek or at Panther Creek.
TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Idaho, check out this article.
The Best Places to Find Opals in Washington
The state of Washington may not be as rich in opal specimens and diversity as the states mentioned above. However, it does have many areas where opalized wood can be found. This indicates that there are several unexplored regions where pure opals may be discovered.
However, let’s focus on what we know. Common opal specimens are located in the area of excavations, gravels, and diggings near Waterville. If you want to find fire opals in Washington, you must head towards the eastern parts of the state.
For example, both common opals and fire opals can be discovered in Mondovi, in the northwestern lava outcrops. In Pullman, the lava outcrops to the northeast are also filled with common and fire opals.
TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Washington, check out this article.
The Best Areas to Find Opals in Oregon
Oregon is among the best rockhounding states in the U.S.; naturally, you can easily find opals here.
The Priday Agate Beds in northcentral Oregon is a good area, but you have to pay a small fee. If you want a good and memorable adventure, head to White Rock, and explore the area, or go to Warner Peak.
In northeastern Oregon, you can find nodules filled with opals at Buttes, just southeast of Heppner. The Opal Butte is also an excellent place to find hyalite opals.
In all of these places, if you don’t find as many opals as you would like, the good news is that there are other valuable specimens you can collect right near them.
TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Oregon, check out this article.
The Best Places to Find Opals in Utah
Moving on to the state of Utah, we can begin our adventure in Tooele County. Here, you can find opal specimens in the Clifton mining district in most of the mines. The mines around Gold Hill are also worth exploring as they have yielded many high-quality opal specimens.
In Grand County, you can find opal in the town known as Agate, the area surfaces. Opalized wood is also present here. If you want another good place to find opal and opalized wood, head towards the Colorado River, and search the bars near Moab.
You can find common opals in Juab County at Thomas Range, the general area, or you can head to Sevier County at Fish Lake. In Beaver County, Utah, there are several significant areas to search for opal specimens.
In Frisco, the area mines, especially Horn Silver Mine, are abundant in opals. The area mines around Lincoln Gulch are also worth taking a shot at. If you are near Piute County, head towards the surrounding mines near Marysvale to find opals.
TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Utah, check out this article.
The Best Places to Find Opals in Louisiana
The state of Louisiana may not have many places to find opals, yet, it does have its own variety of opals.
The Louisiana opal is sandstone with opal cement, quite beautiful to look at and relatively rare. The only place to find it is in Leesville, in the outcrops of Catahoula Sandstone.
TIP: For a complete rockhounding guide in Louisiana, check out this article.
TIP: Opal is a one-of-a-kind, highly valuable gemstone. Find out the key factors that determine opal’s value in the article below:
8 Factors Why Opal is Valuable (Prices for Different Types)
FAQs about Finding Opals
Still did not find the answer to your answers about finding opals? Find frequently asked questions in the section below:
Best Place to Find Opal in the USA
The best place to find opals in the U.S. is in the state of Nevada, specifically the Virgin Valley area. Here, some of the highest quality opal specimens in the world were unearthed. It is a remote yet rich mining district where some of the best black opals were ever found.
How Deep Are Opals Found?
Opals can be found at various lengths depending on the terrain and natural phenomena. Generally, if you dig for opals, they are usually discovered at about 90 feet / 30 meters underground. They occur in veins that are around 3 feet / 1 meter in length.
Can You Find Opals with a Metal Detector?
Metal detectors are often used to find precious items underground. However, they won’t be able to highlight their presence when it comes to gemstones, such as opals.
This is because standard metal detectors can’t detect the gemstone’s contents. When mining for opals, several specimens are destroyed by accident as there is no guaranteed way of seeing them.
What Color Opal is Most Valuable?
Black is the rarest and most valuable opal color, followed by red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. White, gray, and green opals are among the cheapest variants as they are the most commonly found. Combinations of colors, such as blue-green, are also highly valuable.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
Opals are often part of many rockhounds collections, and since they are precious and used in jewelry, it’s no wonder so many people look for them. They are beautiful to behold, and the excitement of finding them is more than worth it.
If you want to find opals near you, we hope this article has helped you out. Opals aren’t present just in the western U.S. states mentioned above.
You can also find opals in Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, and Australia. When it comes to Australia, the country produces about 95% of the world’s precious opal, and this is why it is designated as their national gemstone.
TIP: Correctly cutting and polishing opals brings beauty and exceptional color flash. Find out the step-by-step guide on how to cut and polish opals in the article below:
How to Cut & Polish Opals: Follow These 9 Simple Steps