Our destination – the diatom pits, a mining operation near George, WA. Not far from the famed ampitheater and Cave B. However, visualize a dirt road to nowhere though endless sagebrush, generally headed for the basalt cliffs of the Columbia River far below. The DANGER, NO TRESPASSING, OPEN PITS signs start a half mile before the road curves into a few utterly featureless buildings. The buildings and the heavy equipment are shrouded with white. The open pits and tailings are endlessly white, towering over our parked cars. When we arrive the day is clear and sunny. Instantly, before we get out of our cars, the wind blasts down the powdery white road, covering us, our cars, and filling the Forester with fine white grit. The rock hounds suit up with white paper masks and jump out to search for common opal. The opal is mixed in with the diatoms somehow and they litter the tailings with chunks of rock larger than a brown bag full of groceries. We have special permission to take the opal – a form of recycling for the mining company.
The whiteness pervaded everything. The scene eerily like the initial scenes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I did not dare take my camera out of the case so I pulled out my black sketchbook to record the wild scene. The hounders had no trouble getting enough opal for the day and we left after only a half hour of digging. I was happy to see that there were conditions even too hard core for them. I was beginning to question their sanity.
We finished out our day at the Petrified Wood State Park at the Vantage Columbia River Bridge crossing. We ate our smoked turkey salads, dining comfortably on a picnic table with green grass and graceful trees to provide cool and shade. We were too dirty to enter the museum so we headed home. Driving west on I 90 the cloud formations looked like a fleet of circular flying saucers. I have never seen clouds like that before. Maybe the opal myths are true. Legend has it that there is something spooky about opals. Not just anyone gets to have them. We came away with our share but I think the opals had some resistance that day.