original article with photos and links CLICK HERE
Cy Christopher Wentzell, 2012 and updated since.

I thought that I would take the time to write about a subject that I have a great deal of experience with, the famed opal deposits of Virgin Valley, Nevada, and the mining claims there, and the relationship of the mining laws pertaining to lode and placer claims.  One of the most important things that a miner and prospector can learn is the mining laws.  Mistakes can cost the loss of a mining claim.  Maybe this post will help clear up much "confusion" and false information put out there by John Church of Swordfish Mining in Virgin Valley (he has a personal agenda against me, my family, and this issue) on the issue of whether or not the opal deposits in Virgin Valley are lodes or placers, or both.  In analyzing the deposits and how the mining laws pertain to them, I have cited numerous decisions of the Courts and other administrative agencies.  Links (where available) to the caselaws cited are provided after the citation so you can click on them and read this for yourself.  It pays to do your own research and to not always take someone else's advice "as golden," because they might not actually know anything themselves, or may have a bias in saying what they do to mislead you.

           Virgin Valley lies in the northwestern corner of Nevada, southwest of Denio.  Opals were first discovered here as float material, and claims were staked beginning in 1905.  The original claims were for the surface float (alluvial) opal which had weathered out of the in-place deposits.  Between 1918 to 1940, the surface float was exhausted, leaving only the in-place opal bearing deposits.  The precious opal in Virgin Valley is found "in-place" (where it was originally formed and deposited) within a hard, defined and traceable sub-surface horizon or zone of bentonite.  Under the United States Mining laws, a "Placer" mining claim is generally located for alluvial surface deposits containing valuable minerals, such as gold nuggets in a streambed or gravels, which are in a loose state, and are not "in-place," having eroded from the source (lode) deposit.  A "Lode" mining claim, on the other hand, is located for valuable minerals occurring firmly embedded within any zone or deposit which is solid, in-situ, or "in-place."  Further, a "Known Lode," is one that is known to have existed on a placer claim prior to the entry on the placer claim for locating a lode.  Known lodes are open to location even after the placer claim has been perfected. The two types of deposits, lode and placer, are different, and mutually exclusive. (CASELAW CITE HERE). Therefore, a deposit is either lode, or placer, but cannot be both.

          The United States government mineral survey shows that the opal-bearing deposits in Virgin Valley are found within a horizon or zone of  bentonite.  Bentonite has been defined as a mineral and consolidated clay rock derived from volcanic ash.  Above and below the specific opal-producing zone, no commercially valuable deposit of opals are found to exist.  The precious opals occur disseminated in-place throughout the opal bearing horizon or zone.  This was readily apparent to all miners in Virgin Valley since the first discovery and mining of opals there.  The above diagram is for the Royal Peacock Opal Mine, but all in-place opal deposits in the Valley have the same makeup of an opal producing horizon or zone, with unproductive material above and below.

            Here's the meat and potatoes of the whole thing.  Any opals and mineral material found "in-place" (or, "in-situ") within the opal-bearing clay layers are part of  the LODE deposit, which cannot be acquired by placer claims.  A placer mining claim located for a lode deposit is void, under the U.S. Mining laws and decisions of the Nevada Supreme Court, 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and other Federal Appeals Courts, and the United States Supreme Court, as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior, IBLA rulings.  Any vein, lode, zone or belt of mineralized rock lying between boundaries which separate it from the neighboring rock, even if the boundaries are gradational, must be located as a LODE claim under the State and Federal Mining laws and numerous Court decisions defining lode and placer deposits.  (Papke and Davis, 2002, at page 9 of "MINING CLAIM PROCEDURES FOR NEVADA PROSPECTORS AND MINERS) .   An unpatented placer claim gives NO RIGHTS to known lodes present within its boundary.  Id.   Further, a placer location will NOT sustain a lode discovery, nor will a lode discovery sustain a placer claim.  COLE vs. RALPH, 252 U.S. 286, at 295-96 (U.S. Supreme Court, 1920);  see also WEBB vs. LUJAN, 960 F.2d 89, at 90-91 footnote 1 (9th Circuit US Court of Appeals, 1992).    Moreover, the location of any lode under the guise of a placer is a fraud and the claim would be void ab initio (or "from the beginning").  The same type of mineral deposit cannot be the basis for both a lode and a placer claim, SILBRICO vs. ORTIZ, 878 F.2d 333, at 336 (10th Circuit US Court of Appeals, 1989) at paragraphs 12-15.  As held by the United States Supreme Court, "... no right arises from an invalid claim of any kind.  All must conform to the law under which they are initiated; otherwise they work an unlawful private appropriation in derogation of the rights of the public."  CAMERON vs. UNITED STATES, 252 U.S. 450, 460, 40 S.Ct. 410, 412 (1920).  Moreover, invalid placer claims cannot be amended into, nor inure to, lode locations, IN RE PAUL VAILLANT, 90 I.B.L.A. 249, at 253 (U.S. Dept Interior, Board of Land Appeals, 1986)(a Virgin Valley opal claims case)>, cited in SILBRICO, Supra.  Moreover, in a lode vs placer dispute, the issue is whether the discovery is proper as a lode or as a placer, not which claim was located first.  A presumption giving priority of right against a subsequent locator does not attach to an invalid location in a lode vs placer dispute, as priority of time (which claim was located first) is not the issue, (GILMORE CITE HERE) .   This is especially true where the placer claimants knew the form and character of the deposit, and themselves and/or their families located lode claims for the same type of deposit elsewhere in the Valley and over their own placer claims for the same type of deposit.  Many claim owners in Virgin Valley, knowingly ignore, disregard and side-step these issues.  When the placers were mined out and they started digging into the hill, and "in-place" deposit, a LODE mining claim was REQUIRED.  Surface rights to the pre-existing placers only contain the right to any surface float and alluvial surface material existing on the date of placer location, not to any material removed, mined or tailings created from mining the in-place lode under the guise of a placer claim, as such would invalidate the placer claim ab initio for fraud.  The placer claims did not gain priority over the known lode.  Likewise, as shown below, Placer claims cannot be staked over existing valid lode claims, and any such claim is void ab initio both for trespass and due to the exclusive nature of the lode claim.  Nevada law specifically recognizes lode claims located within pre-existing placers (add case cite here #1928PVH#1928PVH).

     Generally speaking, bedded or layered deposits are normally staked as placers IF the valuable mineral itself is the sole bedded mineral (ie, building stone, calcium carbonate, etc).  However, this does not apply when the valuable mineral occurs within and inside of the bedded deposit, then it is a lode, and the law is very clear and well-settled on this.  This applies to Sedimentary rocks (CASELAW CITE HERE). If you have, or are buying, an opal mining claim in Nevada's Virgin Valley, and the opal is found in-place in the clay within a defined zone, MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE OR ARE BUYING A LODE CLAIM, because a placer claim has no rights to the lode deposit, and someone else can stake it.  LET ME REPEAT THIS: anyone having unpatented placer mining claims in Virgin Valley for the in-place opal-bearing deposits, my sincere recommendation to you is, if someone hasn't already filed a lode claim for the opal deposit, you should file a lode claim now to obtain the rights to same before someone else does:       If you are digging opals out of the in-place clay deposits in Virgin Valley, it is a LODE.  Any lode claim staked over a  prior improper placer claim will  have seniority, priority and exclusive title and rights to the in-place opal bearing deposit and all Known Lodes.  It's the law, and the law is the law for a reason.  Anyone who tells you different in Virgin Valley, including John Church of Swordfish Mining Opal, is blowing smoke in your face to push his/their own personal agenda.  PERIOD.   THE LAW IS THE LAW.

Oh, and by the way, John Church KNOWS all of this, but will lie and manipulate to get his way. He KNOWS the different rights and basics between lode and placer, and he cannot argue otherwise in a court of law, as according to HIS OWN STATEMENT:[John Church Swordfish Mining Virgin Valley Opal knows the difference between lode & placer rights.] [John Church Swordfish Mining Virgin Valley Opal knows the difference between lode & placer rights.]
John Church KNOWS the difference between lode and placer rights. SEE HIS OWN STATEMENT ABOVE. He will try to delete it but we have saved copies with the hyperlinks which can be obtained from Facebook in legal proceedings. He will argue/lie and manipulate the facts BUT HARD TO DO WHEN YOU SAID IT YOURSELF JOHN. One small mistake though, a lode claim gives you the right to the lode AND all of the surface within the location.
John Church ADMITS there are LODES in the placer claims, thus sealing the FACT in concrete evidence by way of his notarized attempted fraudulent conveyance. An ADMISSION as to the LODES (LODE is synonomous with "VEIN"), but a conveyance of nothing, and likely, evidence to WIPE OUT THE PLACER CLAIMS. This "deed" is an attempted fraud to transfer the lodes which belong to my father. It does not pass the lodes/veins, and to the extent it tries, it extinquished the placer claims entirely based on the caselaw above. GOOD WORK JOHN YOU DID IT !!!

John Church's (and I presume other people associated with him) last argument trying to wiggle around the above is that both lode and placer claims have been patented in Virgin Valley for the same deposit, so he makes the false assumption that you can stake either type of claim with validity. SUCH IS NOT THE LAW. There are 5 patented mines in Virgin Valley (1 patented as placer, the others all as lodes):

  • 1. Rainbow Ridge, 1929 & 1930 (placer)(Patent EXCLUDED KNOWN LODES);

  • 2. ROYAL PEACOCK, 1980 (LODE);

  • 3. BONANZA (LODE)(previously HODSONS placers that were overstaked by HODSON himself with Lodes;

  • 4. REEDS (LODE) (1980)

  • 5. BIRDLEBOUGHS (LODE)(1992)(previously placers that were overstaked by LODES).

The land department (predecessor to BLM) regularly made mistakes in issuing patents for the same type of deposit in the early days as both lode and placer claims; this normally happened because there were no adverse suits. That does not excuse compliance with the law then nor at the present time. This is not legal to base the argument that "either type of claim will work for the same type of deposit because patents have been given to both in the past", as the LAW dictates what type of claim is required (IN PLACE is LODE; anything not in place is placer; not to mention that known lodes are excluded from placer patents by statute). Mining District custom cannot form a basis to stake either type of claim for the deposit when such custom is contrary to the Statutes and caselaw. Such custom is void and no reliance can be given on past practice for violation of the statute as in-place deposits must be staked as lodes. Placer patents do NOT convey lodes known to exist on the date of the placer patent application, and they remain open to location. The statute is plain and clear, and known to everyone who is involved with mining. All Virgin Valley opal miners realized this in the late 1970s after an article discussing this appeared in a national magazine. Hodson himself overstaked his own Virgin Opal placer as the Bonanza Opal Lodes and patented them as lodes. All of the Virgin Valley miners who went to patent changed to LODES. Hodson also staked the Rincon Belle Extension LODE as an extension of the Rainbow Ridge placers (known lodes therein) in the 1990s. I did not make this up, it has been going on in Virgin Valley since the first claims were put in and Lockheed made the wrong choice of locating placers (they were cheaper to patent) and everyone followed suite without checking THE LAWS.

Not to mention that economic opal placer deposits DO NOT EXIST because opals are too fragile to survive. No wiggle room here either, case dismissed. Thus, there is only one outcome:

  • 1. In-place opal-bearing deposits are LODES, and not subject to placer location. If staked, located or patented as placers, they can be claimed by lodes, as the lodes were known and excluded therefrom.

There is no way around it.

But, in the event that John or anyone else wants to argue otherwise, it doesn't alter the above conclusions but would open another can of worms in the valley that I will be happy to exploit.......


Home of the world-famousVirgin Valley Black Fire Opal & source of the world's finest collector Gem Opal Specimens
 Several mines are open to rockhounds for fee digging of  precious black, crystal, fire, and other opal types. Opal Gem Mines & Mining Claims for sale.  Links to the Royal Peacock, Rainbow Ridge and Bonanza Opal Mines Fee Digs with information on the Virgin Valley Opal and Mines.  DOMINION OPAL MINES  is a private group of claims and mines which is not open to the public but I provide limited info on the public opal mines and fee digs.  There are opal mines and mining claims for sale in Virgin Valley, Nevada, HERE and HERE.  Glass Display Domes with Stoppers for displaying wet opals are for sale HERE.  There are some Virgin Valley Opals for sale HERE with links to more sellers.  For more detailed information on Virgin Valley Opal you can visit THIS SITE.

Dominion Opal Mines of Virgin Valley Nevada


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VIRGIN VALLEY OPAL NEVADA OPAL MINES, home of the world-famous Nevada Black Fire Opal and source of the world's finest opal specimens and collector opal gems.  Several mines are open to rockhounds for fee digging of  precious black, crystal, fire, and other opal types. Opal Gem Mines & Mining Claims for sale.  Links to the Royal Peacock, Rainbow Ridge and Bonanza Opal Mines Fee Digs with information on the Virgin Valley Opal and Mines.  Virgin Valley Nevada Opals, Mines, and Mining Claims for sale, Nevada Opals, Gemstones and information about Virgin Valley Opals and the Opal Mines and fee digs.  Information about other opal mines including Kokopelli Opal Mine and John Church Swordfish Mining Opal.