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" on the issue of whether or not the opal deposits in Virgin Valley are lodes or placers.  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."  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 purpose of this paragraph is to provide you with some basic information about what a mining claim is, and what you can and cannot do with a mining claim.   A mining claim is a parcel of land which is valuable for the mineral deposit therein.  When you locate or purchase an unpatented mining claim, you do not get the rights to the land-- what you get is the right to the mineral deposit covered by the claim and the right to own, access, develop, and extract that mineral deposit.  There are different types of mining claims (Lode, Placer, Tunnel Site, and Millsite) and the rights involved with each varies.  You cannot  get lode rights by acquiring a placer claim.  Millsites must be located on non-mineral ground and are used for processing activities related to the minerals.  You cannot use a mining claim for activities which are not related to mining.  Mining Claims can be sold, willed, inherited or transferred.  A good general reference on mining claims is the online booklet published by the US Dept of the Interior/BLM entitled "MINING CLAIMS AND SITES ON FEDERAL LAND" (Click on the title for link to open to book on BLM website).  This is a great introduction to mining claims.  

          Another excellent reference is: 

Papke, K., & David, D. (2002)  Mining Claim Procedures for Nevada Prospectors and Miners.  Special Publication 6.  5th Edition.  Nevada Bureau of Mines & Geology, Mackay School of Mines, University of Nevada, Reno.  CLICK HERE FOR LINK to PDF on ICMJ.


      Further, 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:

This article originally published by Chris Wentzell on DIGGING DEEPER: American Gem Exploration blog, 4/7/12; on Ebay Guides 5/21/15, and on DOMINION GEMS WEBSITE: reprinted here with permission.



           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)>https://www.oha.doi.gov/IBLA/Ibladecisions/090IBLA/090IBLA249.pdf, 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 vs. RUBECK, 708 P.2d 486, 488 (1985).   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).
 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.