The state of Nevada has many old mines, which once produced beautiful turquoise gems. Unfortunately, few of them are being worked today, in spite of the new resurgence of the popularity of turquoise. For many years, the US had a historical tradition of small-scale, and individuals or small groups of miners would spend part of the year working the higher-grade sections of old mines and ship the high-grade ore to be processed at smelters or other facilities. Those individual prospectors that made a valuable find could make a decent living off their claims – or at least a nice supplement their other income. In the 1940s and 1950s, that tradition began to die out and only a few hardy souls remain that work their claims on a small scale and make a living off them.

There are however, exceptions. The Godber turquoise mine in Lander County, Nevada is still worked on a part time basis. It has also been known as the Dry Creek or Burnham mine, and is located north of Highway 50, about 30 miles east of Austin, in central Nevada. The mine is famous for very hard, high quality deep blue turquoise with a dark colored spider web type matrix. The current owners have been working their mine for the last 6 years and have uncovered a good quantity of that very fine high quality turquoise – the type the mine has been famous for producing.

Compared to metal mining, there are some advantages for small mining operations that specialize in mining gemstones: there is little competition from big companies because of the “labor intensive” nature of gemstone mining, these is a growing demand for all “American” gemstones, there is no need to process the ore with toxic chemicals or ship large tonnages to be processed. Some gems can recovered with simple gravity processes, others are harvested by sight of the gem across a screen or conveyor. Just as there are advantages, there are also some disadvantages in mining gemstones: the miner has to put far more effort into marketing the mine product, and the gems often have their highest value only after cutting, or even making into finished jewelry.

Turquoise has been gaining in popularity in recent years, and good quality Nevada turquoise is in demand. American material generally brings a higher price than equivalent turquoise from other countries. The better grades of turquoise are those which are strong and hard enough that they do not require any special stabilization or strengthening treatment be fore they can be used in jewelry. Most of the turquoise from the Godber mine falls into this category and is considered as being a natural gem grade. Prices for better grades of Nevada turquoise rough typically ranges in price from $600 to $2500 per pound. Cut stones of natural Nevada material can sell from $2.00 to $25.00 per carat with much of the Godber turquoise coming in more at the top of that scale because of its high quality. In some rare cases, turquoise can fetch even higher prices that those just mentioned, but that range is more typical. The price for the finished gems depend a lot on quality of the material with the hardness, color, matrix patterns, location of origin and quantity being purchased. For a number of reasons, all of the current turquoise mining operations here in the US are done on a small scale.

At the mine, a bulldozer is used to move large amounts of barren rock out of the way, things are different when he is actually mining the turquoise, and extracting the gem rock is a hand labor intensive process. For smaller scale work, the owner uses a soil – a jack hammer like compressed air tool to peel away the barren parts of the rock to expose the turquoise bearing clay seams. The clay seams themselves are dug with a screwdriver so the turquoise itself is not damaged during the extraction process. Although the miners do use explosives at times – they tries to minimize their use as the explosives can induce fractures into the turquoise and cause it to be unusable.

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