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Just when you may have written off Nevada’s landscape as bleak and uninteresting, you may want to check yourself. There’s turquoise in the hills of Tonopah, I’m talking boatloads of it. Nevada has managed to nab the number two spot of the United States’ largest turquoise producers, and I got to crawl into the belly of the beast myself in the Royston Turquoise Mine. Immersing myself in the grit of authentic Nevada adventure with some good ol’ boys, this is without a doubt one of the most memorable things I’ve yet to experience in the Silver State.
Having signed up for a turquoise mining tour out of the Otteson’s Royston Turquoise Mine in Tonopah’s Mizpah Hotel, I didn’t have any real expectations, other than snatching a nugget of what served as Tiffany and Co.’s inspiration behind their signature blue hue. Per instruction, I had my closed-toe shoes, sunscreen and full canteen of water before individually caravanning out to the Otteson’s third generation turquoise mine. Originally thought to have been mined dry, the family opened it back up with more sophisticated mining techniques in tow, and have been successfully chasing gargantuan veins of turquoise in decades since.
Rendezvousing with the group at the mouth of the mine, the Otteson’s basically turned us loose with no real instruction. Did I miss something? I felt an unnerving void that only fellow A-Type personality comrades would understand; don’t I usually have to listen to some sort of schpeel? “Is there something in specific I should keep my eye out for?”, I asked, before getting a friendly response of, “Nope, you’ll know it when you see it!” Well ok then, here goes nothing.
Who did I think I was, doubting a professional miner. Silly, silly me. He wasn’t kidding…the mounds of debris near the mine were completely bedazzled with turquoise, as far as the eye can see, scattered literally everywhere you looked. A bazillion percent different than any other mining I’d tried my hand at, turquoise mining was intoxicatingly rewarding…no wonder the Otteson’s are out there 6 days a week. Instead of standing there panning for microscopic specs of gold, everyone was securing fist-sized lumps of turquoise. It was lucrative and addictive; every day was a good day for the Otteson’s.
Spending hours and hours scrambling for my most prized fragments, my allotted bag was bursting at the seams so we turned back toward the Mizpah. As if I wasn’t already on a turquoise high, the entire experience managed to get even better when they led us to the normally off-limits basement of the Mizpah. Feeling like a bootlegger as we made our way through the guts of this historic abode, the youngest generation of Otteson’s escorted us to a room where they picked our best samples, and proceeded to cut and polish them into actual gemstones. Hanging on every buzz and grind, it was finally my turn and within a few minutes, I had a dozen choice pieces of authentic Nevada turquoise [some of the most brilliant in the world, mind you], from some bona fide Nevada miners to boot.
Could this experience get any better? In short, yes. Yes it can.
Now that I had a pocket full of geologic perfection, I was hot to transform it into something wearable. Who better to seal off this already unbelievable memory than the wickedly talented Reno-based silversmith Lindsay Jones! Owner of the reputable Honey and Goldies, Lindsay creates each one of her baubles with Nevada-mined turquoise, genuine silver, and a heartfelt touch as the cherry on top.
After reeling off my extraordinary venture in the Tonopah hills, I was over the moon when she offered to craft my find into a masterpiece. [Duh, double the bragging rights...] Handing over my bounty, we carefully chose a particularly vivid, crescent-shaped stone and she was off and running. Watching her creative capability redline and astute attention to detail throughout the entire process was nothing short of amazing; this girl was not born yesterday.
And what a process it was. Contrary to the very little patience required to lock down a hunk of turquoise at Royston’s, all the diligence in the world was imperative to execute this meticulous silversmithing operation. Just as you’d imagine, each step of the grueling process was clearly calculated and precise. I watched Lindsay rigorously perfect her craft as she worked the metal back and forth, carefully measuring the materials as the molding took shape. The process was spellbinding: one minute she was quiet and focused, delicately placing accent balls, or gauging the exact amount of silver required. Next she would fire up the blowtorch, saw the unnecessary scraps out to perfect the shape, or drive the hammer home. I’m no expert, but it seemed to be the perfect combination necessary for a big league jewelry maker to deliver: unparalleled material, calculated precision, and the utmost attention to detail. The final product was an unconditional labor of love...and this isn't even her day job.
Sitting in the mouth of the mine having the Otteson’s help me secure a gorgeous Nevada-mined stone, then watching it artistically transformed into the most beautiful ring I've ever had the pleasure owning was legitimately a thing of beauty. It was raw and nothing short of wonderful, and quite frankly, doesn't get more Nevada than that, folks.
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