Mining for Willow Creek jasper

A story by John Gaumer

After a hard day of mining at Homedale, Idaho, my dad and I consulted a gem trails map to see where we could go next. It directed us to a nearby mountain, just north of Eagle, Idaho, where we could mine for Willow Creek jasper. In the early 1960s, this mine was operated by a man named Rocky Joe, and we could dig material for a small fee.

Willow Creek jasper cuff bracelet
Willow Creek jasper cuff bracelet

Willow Creek jasper is well known for its pastel colors and stunning patterns. It can take a brilliant polish, making it a shiny, subtle and elegant gemstone. Willow Creek jasper is found in the core of large thundereggs, from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. The larger the egg, the more likely there would be a significant prized jasper core inside.

To mine the eggs, we would drill down into the surrounding host rock and set dynamite charges. After the blast, we would work down in the fractured rock in hopes of finding a large egg. But, for safety reasons, Rocky Joe wouldn’t allow the miners to detonate their own charges. Instead, after we set the charges, we cleared out of the hole and had Rocky Joe set them off.

Now Rocky Joe was as tough a person as I’d ever seen. He was a bit of a skinny guy, but his hands were hard and strong. With a great sense of adventure, he’d be hardly fifteen or twenty feet away as he set off the dynamite. He would simply hunker down behind the lip of a tailings pile and kaboom! Back then, we didn’t use any safety goggles or hard hats. Kids don’t try this at home!

At the mine, my dad and I got into an argument about where to dig. We both thought we knew the best place to mine. My dad wanted me to help him set his charges, but I wanted to go my own direction. We ended up setting dynamite charges in different locations, and had Rocky Joe determine the winner of our tiff.

Al Gaumer Mining Willow Creek jasper near Eagle, Idaho
Al Gaumer Mining Willow Creek jasper near Eagle, Idaho

With a loud boom, unfortunately for me, my dad was right. After digging into his chosen location, we found a beautiful big thunderegg the size of a beach ball. I took a picture of him with that thunderegg, even though he was still a bit mad at me. It’s funny, my dad was always much luckier than I at digging in the right spot. He had a sixth sense about these things.

We smashed open the large geode with sledgehammers and gads and found the gorgeous jasper nodule inside. Though the thunderegg was huge, the core was a dainty ten inches. We continued to dig out about 200 pounds of material, which we still use today to make custom jewelry and museum showpieces. Come visit our store to see them up close.

Willow Creek jasper