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Monday, April 23, 2012

Red Rock Canyon, California, Precious Opal

          One of my greatest joys when I was younger and living in Southern California was visiting my friends at an opal mine near Red Rock Canyon, north of Mojave in Kern County.  Dick & Shirley Barnett owned the Barnett Fire Opal Mine, which was the neighboring mine to the famous Nowak (or, Last Chance) Opal Mine.  The mine was operated on the weekends by the Barnett's, who charged a fee of $2.00 (two dollars!) per person, per day.  At the time, you could also camp out at the mine.  I  visited once, and ended up going back over and over.  Common opal was everywhere, but the precious opals were few and far between (that's why they call them "precious" opals!).  The opals were formed in the hard basalt rock of  a lava flow in the area.  Sledgehammers, gads and chisels and a lot of effort was required to find some precious opal.  I found a good amount, thanks to the tips and tricks to the peculiarity of the deposit that Dick had told me.  The greatest treasure here were the owners, whom I came to know very well.  They were some of the greatest people I have ever met, really wonderful folks who enjoyed seeing others having a good time.  I witnessed time and time again that when someone didn't find "color," Dick and Shirley would give them a piece of precious opal from the mine.  Sadly, they passed away a number of years ago, and the mining claim was embraced by land previously withdrawn to mineral entry.  When their mining claims expired, no new claims could be filed and the land became part of Red Rock Canyon State Park.  I went back in January 2012 to visit the place.  All the old structures had been removed, and the workings where the opal was found had been filled in and leveled.  It was very sad.  I would like to hear from anyone that may have a photo of  Dick and Shirley, if they would be willing to share a copy with me.

        Here is a photo of some of the opals I had found at the Barnett Mine in the early 1990's:


  1. Please tell me if we have the legal right to mine opals in redrock state

  2. I went with a friend of mine who works for the state park and she said she forgot where it was. I would love to work hard for some beautiful gems like that. If at all possible. Can you tell me where it is?

  3. just got back from there today..access is poor...probably due to red rock canyon state park taking over the area... no fires...pretty bummed since i had gone there alot in the past 20 years... wish i had a pick of those guys... probably did back in the 90's... currently the picking are slim... at least slimmer than i "mojave flame" but some little stuff to be found... wish the news was better... will be looking for another site to hound in the future...

  4. Sorry to hear. The state park is a joke. Why did they remove the everything? How many more times are they going to expand that park? That area has been a treasure to my family for almost 60 years now. I finally had the opportunity to take my kids there and what did i find? Nothing but a bunch of yellow signs and no trace of the barnett mine. Thanks California. Thanks for reminding me why moved to Colorado. Sorry for the rant. The nowak mine is the only area left and it is next on the states list.

  5. Our Family no longer owns this mine Due to My grandparents have both passed and Our family couldn't keep up with Everything. If anyone has questions feel free to email me if you'd like. At

    Kimmberly barnett

  6. Thanks to all who have commented above, and sorry I did not respond earlier to many questions... I have been swamped with activity. To the best of my knowledge, the area was withdrawn for Red Rock Canyon State Park and I was told that no new claims could be put in when I spoke to the BLM officers in Ridgecrest Field Office in 2012... Kimm, your grandparents were the most awesome people!, and I really miss them greatly. thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you Chris. I do miss being able to mine with my grandparents. It's a shame the the Rangers will now chase people off and will not allow you on the original claim area. There is no talks of being able to buy the claim back and it may have already gone back to either the Indian claim that was next to my family's or possibly the red rock canyon sanctuary.

  7. Very interesting. I used to go to the Nowak mine with my dad as a kid every summer. We'd spend two weeks there. This was from about '75 to 89. Haven't been back since then. I walked over the hill several times to the Barnett and wandered around.

    I have fond memories of those places and also the eccentric and very funny caretaker of the Nowak, Howard Parks. I've always wondered what happened to all the old structures and trailers that were left behind. Also wondered if the mines were even still in operation. Don't know how anybody ever managed to find those places to begin with.