Barnett Fire Opal Mine
Located in the El Paso mountains just east of Red Rock Canyon State Park, The Barnett Opal Mine is half of a claim formerly known as Cowdons and as Nowaks Opal mine. It is an open-pit operation that is open to the public for a digging fee of $2 per person.
The mine, which is known for its fire opals, is open on weekends and holidays only. Access is possible with a 2 wheel drive vehicle, but good clearance is needed.
To get there, On highway 14 drive north from Red Rock Canyon about 3 miles to GPS coordinates 35 24 m 81 N, 117 58 80 W. At this location, there will be a small sign on the east side of the road that says "Opal Canyon". Follow the trail about 1.5 miles, and at another small sign turn left. Follow the trail (and more signs) to the parking area.
There are actually 2 mines, either or both of which of which may be open on the weekend.
Large groups should make arrangements in advance by calling 805-399-7013.
The mine operators have the following rules: bring your own water and food; don't litter -- pack out what you bring in; keep the restrooms clean; watch children and pets; don't try to catch the lizards, turtles, or other wildlife; don't drive off the roads or parking area.
The operators suggest you bring a small chip happer and a bucket or small container to carry your finds; bring zip-lock bags to store small stones. Use a garden scratcher to turn over the dirt. To get serious, bring a 3 or 4 pound sledge hammer and an assortment of chisels, and a small shovel.
The opal found at this site isn't uniform; it can be any size and many colors. Anything that is shiny and wet-looking should be kept. Not all of the opal is fire opal, or, it may take a while for the opal to dry out and take on the fire.
The opal is found in a volcanic breccia that you break apart with a sledge. Digging them out is hard work, but fun. Extreme care must be taken to avoid damaging the opals.
Back at the last fork, If you had turned right, the road continues to Roaring Ridge and Last Chance Canyon. This is a serious 4 wheel drive trail, with some fantastic views of the canyon. There are numerous photogenic views.