Silver City Quartz Crystals
Owyhee County, Idaho
July 30-August 1, 2007
Report by Rhonda Gheen


Hey Rockhounds!

On Monday July 30th we took off to a new-for-us location; which was Silver City, Idaho. I’d never seen any specimens from there but had simply read that quartz crystals occur and had been collected. There was also the possibility of garnet or cassiterite coming from screened creek gravels but that sounded like even more of a long shot. We would keep our eyes peeled but I didn’t expect to be screening. All of our usual sage country rockhounding haunts had been at record high temperatures near 100 degrees every darn day for over a month in Oregon in July 2007. We couldn’t cope with that. So, after going to Dismal Swamp and having had nice cool nights there; I decided our only other choice was at another 6000 ft mountain elevation!

We drove in to this Idaho location from the Oregon side, via Highway 95 and the “Sheaville” (there is nothing there though!) aka Cow Creek exit. This takes one over a water crossing that’s deep after a heavy snow type winter (almost flooded/stalled our truck in June 2006) but usually quite shallow (as it was this year, 2007, just a puddle!).

The road goes past a few locations of colorful chert cobbles and possible agate collecting. Some folks say there is petrified wood out there too. A year ago we’d spent a couple of hours hounding the lower part of this route but all I ever got were “pretty yard rocks” and one agate. I like ‘em but didn’t need to spend time in the heat getting any more on this trip. Rick had found a decent botryoidal then that looked to have come out of some sort of red geode but it was all alone and worn from traveling a long ways from its bed! I took note that a burn had uncovered a lot of new hounding but our drive was long and we agreed to “get to where we’re going” after only a 10 minute perusal!

The road is very bad higher up (it takes a lot for ME to say that) and gets real wearisome to lurch along! Being the passenger with no wheel to grip ,at one point after being bounced and jolted for 15 minutes I had to yell “STOP!!!!” at Rick and jump out and just pace back and forth and pant and cuss a bit. Whew! I’d been about to hurl! I thought my whole head was about to roll off! After shaking my arms out and stomping my feet upon the good earth awhile, I felt “settled” enough to get re-seated and deal with it. I asked my husband to PLEASE go from his 10 mph to 5 mph to make it easier on me! It was not a good road to be dragging a utility (or any) trailer on and every time another vehicle approached we needed to find a turn out and wait. We made it just fine, but found out later that the Idaho side from Murphy is a much easier drive with mostly 2 lane width and just some simple washboard to deal with! We went home that way and God Bless it! Both routes have some rather boring miles of dried up hill terrain but once into the mountains there is terrific scenery. Here are some Oregon side scenes which have more mining remnants and my Favorite tree picture I’ve ever taken!!! (big smile)

We finally rolled through the reawakening ghost town of Silver City and followed the signs to “campground”. We stopped at the primitive campground at the far end of town and although buildings are visible from there, we experienced two of the quietest nights I can remember. There was no owl or coyote or chukkar call, not even the jet plane sounds that frequented our other recent Idaho location ...just a very faint creek sound in the distance. There were more remote camping spots we saw on the way in and discovered later exploring side roads, but for a first visit the “set aside” camping area worked fine for us. I found a couple of small white quartz crystals within 20 feet of the truck, right in a dry ditch, so that was auspicious! (laughing at myself)

Silver City is the photographer’s dream of an authentic gold rush town with many buildings being restored and no modernization. The roads IN town are steep and non level dirt & rock and there is no electricity; not even in the hotel that offers rooms! No gas station or convenience store; just the hotel lobby for food (and museum) and one little open “What-Not Shop”! We didn’t go in the shop and later I learned it had mineral specimens so I had to kick myself and make the plan to go in on our next visit. In the 1970s Silver City was still a deteriorating and abandoned ghost town but now maybe a dozen summer-only residents and one paid winter caretaker reside there. Plenty of tourists came in during our stay of two weeknights though (and a couple of other campers).

Our long drive was so hot and miserable we only set up our tent upon arrival and then splashed off, had a snack, reapplied sunscreen and then drove back down the road to seek some rocks. Any rocks! We first stopped at a dredged area right outside of town and I immediately found an eroded very small white quartz cluster. Then no more! Ha. After a short while we moved on to look for tailings areas. There are abandoned mines and more mines there; all along probably every visible track and not far apart. A local-made spiral bound book can be purchased at the hotel that maps 2 dozen of them and all sorts of old building sites! Any history buff would adore this place and several paperbacks all about it are available too. Well, it turned out that a random stop and walk led us to a slope with pretty massive quartz with pretty pink feldspar and mica sheets in it. Rick found a beauty with a big side of a shimmering crystal sticking out. I enjoy the way light rolls across feldspar faces and so collect nice pieces even though they are “common”.

Our arrival half-day was ending fast so we soon were back in camp. I felt we had a good start. Being in an “established” camping area we had a picnic table and trash can but also plenty of eager yellow jackets after our dinner! We never did get stung but it’s a nuisance to keep in mind for that camp. While eating I spent the Entire Time waving one hand around! Also that camp has a clear creek running through which is heaven for dogs. For future campers I’ll also report that there were only a very few mosquitoes as of the first day of August. Oh, then there were the range cattle! Out west here the phenomenon of the “open range” is law. Cattle roam BLM and Forest Service lands wherever there is grass and open country. Most spook instantly so walking around is no problem for a rockhound except to watch one’s step! Ha. Fresh “pancakes” are common and goofy dogs need to be trained from puppyhood not to dive head first right into them! Eeeeek! Ours are old enough to know that activity means irate sounding parents and a sequence of loathsome baths that ruins all their fun of instinctive scent-masking! Poor dogs(I’m rolling my eyes). Cattle were right by our camp one night but moved on as soon as our “boys” startled them. The peace of the place resumed quickly.

After a great sleep our plan for our only full day out there was to hike a mile or so up the area called Long Gulch which was said to have quartz crystals in the tailings and hillsides on our rockhound map. Well now, humph, all I can say is that I guess someone else read that too and picked them all up this year. I imagine a new crop could erode out every Spring in those hills though, maybe. Or maybe we got discouraged and pooped out too soon, only an hour in. After the second tailings pile and about one tiny crystal each to show for our hiking, we decided we needed to find a spot Not marked on any map!

I discovered I’d had the wrong idea about tailings piles in general. I thought they were piles of rubble that could be picked through or sifted. Not where we went! Every mine’s granite pile we found in this area consisted of platter size chunks! Those piles were either steep or loose or both and crystals would have fallen deep into them and not be safe to look for. The hillside dirt around the piles didn’t yield crystals for us in Long Gulch either. We hiked out of there leisurely simply enjoying the deserted terrain and moseyed over to the hotel for a cold drink. The hotel porch has this wonderful view that Rick pieced together from 3 of my photos. My man loved that view and said he could be at peace gazing out from the bench on that old time porch any time. A rocker would have been perfect though!

We walked back to camp and then drove down a road that said “dead end” in order to find some more open hills. There is glass glitter all over those hills. Pretty purple shards that made me wonder what old bottles they used to be part of…..whiskey or apothecary? I’d guess the old miners used plenty of both! (smile) Also square rusted nails hand made by blacksmiths were there around rotted wood. Building foundations told the tale of some spots and a child’s old glass cats eye marble made me wonder who once played with it. It is no longer legal to pick up anything “historical” like a nail but I sure loved seeing that stuff! It was rather awesome wandering out there. Well, it is still OK to collect quartz! I discovered that if I set my hounding sights to “micro” I could find quartz crystals among all the historic litter bits! Neat! We hiked up and around a couple of hills and ended up picking mini crystals all afternoon until we roasted. The hills were just full of rusting mining machinery pieces too and I never knew what I’d stumble into next. To add nature to the scene; I liked the Easter Island looking rock above the area too! Haha. I’m always noticing that sort of thing; it’s a habit just like cloud watching for faces is.

Rick had adopted the “I’ll be happy with what this place offers” attitude and ended up on his tummy picking cute micro clusters from a hot-spot until he couldn’t see straight any more! I was delighted that this hunt had won my “agate&wood” man over to crystals! Heck, we never find quartz crystals in Oregon, except some druse over agate or mm size inside nodules and so we had fun! This was sure easier than our quest for smoky quartz at Dismal Swamp had been. Sometimes specimen value just doesn’t matter in order to have a great time!

The sun drove us back to camp fairly early but after our usual showering and eating routine I took another walk to a tailings pile way above the camp I’d spotted. It turned out there were two wide open mine shafts up there! They were marked with metal posts but no “keep out” or “danger” signs! Because I was so tired by then, I backed out of there quick and gave them a wide berth. I wished I’d had my camera though for a shot of those black holes plunging so deep into the earth!

The next morning we packed up and headed out for the long drive home via the Idaho route out of Silver City which goes to highway 78 / Murphy and eventually back to Interstate 84 and up into Oregon. One last great scene picture courtesy of That route!

We decided we like Silver City enough to visit and camp again next year. I do want to at least try for the creek rolled garnets too since the majority of ground rock is pale and garnets ought to show up well in a screen. There are wide open spaces up there and it’s just fascinating too. Our day and a half wasn’t nearly enough time to explore or see-the-sights of that place! We didn’t even get onto War Eagle Mountain, only a mile away, and that’s where most of the mines operated!

Well, our quartz crystals from here would make those with access to Arkansas laugh out loud, but heck, we like ‘em and they do have a great location history! I got to make some quickie earring pairs too and I hardly ever collect a rock small enough to wear without a major lapidary operation first!

I hope you all enjoy this report coming to you via me and Mike-Of-McRocks who put it together and up on his site! Until the next time, Keep On Rockin my internet friends! Don’t be shy and tell us about Your rock adventures too!!!

Blessing To Ya!

Rhonda & Rick