Here's a quote from Irish poet, Eavan Boland: "I always think of myself as working at a rock face. Ninety days out of ninety-five, it's just a rock face. The other five days, there's a bit of silver, a bit of base metal...Unless you have a failure rate that vastly exceeds your success rate, you're not really in touch with what you're doing as a poet." Being both a poet and a miner, I think Ms. Boland has described perfectly the kind of hard work required.

(See Geology & Stratigraphy for more information.)

    We worked hard all day Saturday, and were ready to relax in the evening. Near sunset, if we looked at a dark background such as a hillside already in shadow, we could see spiders migrating. The dipping sun picked out their webs as down-canyon winds took them on their way. There were hundreds of spiders, and some of the webs had a radius of twenty feet or more. Where were they going? Wherever the wind took them.

    Twilight was short-lived and we could feel the temperature dropping by the minute. Steve donned his insulated overalls and read antique mining books by lantern light after supper. He read out loud a section where the author said, "there is rest inherent in the work"—meaning that one could pick down if one got tired of wielding the pick upwards; or that one could muck with the shovel if one got tired of picking. (Anytime I want to take a break, Steve now tells me that there's rest inherent in the work.)

    On Sunday morning we basked in a spectacular sunrise. The sky held just enough clouds to reflect light onto the frosted landscape. Before the sun broke the horizon, we were bathed in uniform Tuscan amber light. The color was particularly beautiful on the autumn leaves of the cottonwood grove in which we had set up our tents (that's the grove below Steve's Prudent Man mine, about half a mile from my discovery, the PrueHeart vein of agate). The highest peaks around us already had a dusting of snow. By comparison, plain day was a slow onslaught of boredom as the morning worn on—if you're judging by theatrical lighting effects.

    Steve's Prudent Man trench (technically called an "open cut" that follows the "strike zone") is now 17 feet deep at it's deepest point. Steve cut a wheelbarrow runway that is above the working platform, but still easily accessible for shoveling (mucking) debris. I wheeled many a load of debris out. I also picked and shoveled in the exit lane to make it wider.

    The Prudent Man vein is lens shaped, a huge convex lens that is vertical in the ground. Steve appears to have started working at the top of it. The "lens" hasn't started to get thinner yet, so he's not even halfway to the bottom of the vein. If he exposes both ends of the lens then he can estimate the size of it. Steve's theory is that the lens of agate is a hydrothermal deposit that was forced into a fracture from a magma chamber below the area. The assumption is that there is a pluton of granite that did not make it to the surface, but the bubble of heated rock did send mineral-rich, super-heated, fluid into fractures. It's also possible that the minerals were deposited by fluid seeping into shrinkage fractures from the surrounding rock. That last is the most common occurrence, but neither one of us thinks the Prudent Man deposit looks like seepage from the surrounding rock. After we excavate more and look at other veins we've opened, as well as the geology of the surroundings, we should eventually be able to say how the agate deposit was formed.

    See Geology & Stratigraphy for more information. A polymetallic vein in andesite is most likely what we have at the PrueHeart mining claim. See Jasperoid blog entry for info on rare jasperoid outcrops.

    I cleaned up all the loose rock at the top of the hanging wall so that none of it would fall down. Steve wears the right color of hard hat. White is Head Honcho color. I have a hard hat too, but pink might not even be in the hard-hat hierarchy.

October 27-29, 2006

    We went back to the mine to work Friday through Sunday. This time, our water froze, but we had a jug in the cab of the truck that remained ice-free. Steve's stayed up there digging away for one more day (until the ground froze too), but Leland and I returned on Sunday.

    I did some "double jacking at the breast" in the PrueHeart mine. Single jacking is when the miner holds a chisel in one hand and hits it with a sledge hammer wielded with the other hand. Double jacking is when someone else holds the chisel so that the wielder of the sledge hammer can use both hands. I held a long chisel about three feet long while Steve slammed away with the sledge. The "breast" or "face" is the part of the cut one is working to get agate out of the vein. "Double jacking at the breast" sounds like my daughter's nursing technique as a baby.

    Chisels sing as they bites into rock. If the note the chisel sings doesn't change after several blows, then it's no longer going anywhere, at which point we stop and let chisel and rock "rest." The rock is being pressured by the chisel even when we're not working it, so sometimes the rock lets go after "resting." Steve says the rock may not be ready to let go, but "it's plenty scared" and will loosen its grip eventually. When agate rests directly against a wall of clay we can sometimes "peel" the agate off the wall with a chisel or various pry bars. Steve makes some of his own pry bars and/or shapes the ends of commercially-available pry bars to suit our mining needs.

    Dick and Judy Morris camped with us for one day, and one night. Dick brought samples of PrueHeart agate he had cut, polished and set into jewelry. He displays the pieces at rock shows and is helping to spread the word about Prudent Man and PrueHeart rock among the aficionados who attend rock and jewelry shows. The photo on the right shows a bracelet made by Dick Morris of DM Silvery in Buhl, Idaho. Call 208.543.8869 to order jewelry.

July, 2008: See photo below of Judy Morris standing on “Moby Dick” piece of plume agate while it was still in the trench.

August, 2008: To the right is a photo of a piece from the PrueHeart mine that Dick Morris cut and polished. The blue or teal color is from a new extension of the vein that Steve and I dug out in mid-August, 2008, as part of our assessment work. Steve said he might have some of the blue PrueHeart stone analyzed. He thinks it might be zinc that produce the distinctive color.

September 30, 2008: I went to the mines again to work with Steve on the Prudent Man trench. We left so early in the morning that it was still dark. Steve had his truck lights on. You can see where this is going. By the time we got ready to leave, about 6 PM, the truck's battery was completely dead. We charged the battery with a small generator that Steve usually brings along. We sat around and watched the sunset until the battery was finally charged enough to start the truck. Good thing Dick and Judy had fed us a good lunch earlier. We worked that day on the smaller trench, Prudent Man #2 vein, expanding it as part of Steve's assessment work.


    The PrueHeart Mine is almost exactly 100 miles from Idaho Falls, Idaho. We drive west across the desert, then north in Big Lost River Valley to a spot where we can turn west again to enter the White Knob Mountains along a dirt road.

    Steve has been studying the area for a couple of decades, and I have occasionally followed along after him, accidentally absorbing bits of geological information. Once we find a likely area to stake a claim, we put up a claim post, use a GPS to set up four corner posts, and fill out the necessary papers.

See for an example of mining claim rules for public lands.

May 16, 2006: How-We-Filed-a-Claim

    Steve, Leland, and I went to Challis and got our mining claim papers notarized on Friday, May 12th. We got an impromptu tour of the 1880s safe that they built the new building around. The safe was apparently too big to move. It had double doors, and both sets of doors were painted with elaborate landscapes. The offices were furnished with a combination of antiques and modern furniture. We have paid about $190 for this filing and copies. After the initial filing, we have to work the mine and pay $5 per year to keep the claim active. We are also required to put up a reclamation bond. There are a lot of other rules to follow.

    Environmental Impact: There are several positive aspects to mining by hand, not the least of which is that environmental impact is kept to a minimum. There are fewer restrictions, rules, and regulations with which to comply—and less money to invest when you get started. We're not using or changing any water courses, so most other visitors to White Knob Mountains don't see our "mines" unless they walk right up to them.

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The PrueHeart trench is not as deep as the Prudent Man trench because we haven't worked on it as much, but even so, the photo above (taken by Dick Morris) is deceptive. My brother Steve is standing over the deepest part of the trench, but he is on top of a mucking board several feet high. He is removing overburden from the foot wall to give himself more room to work. My brother Leland is kneeling to remove clay from around the end of the exposed vein where it comes almost to the surface. I am working with the pick to widen and deepen a wheelbarrow lane so that we can wheel debris out of the trench. So, yes, I do work at the mines, but I'm not as good at it as my brothers. Picking and shoveling takes a lot of upper body strength.

The Aspen grove above is next to the PrueHeart agate ledge. The photo was taken October 15th, 2006. A spring feeds the grove, and we frequently hear birds disputing over nesting sites in the oasis. There's no running water there, just underground seeps.

Agate slabs for sale at

Or call Steve Howard      at 208.520.2449

Plume agate from the PrueHeart Lode has been carved into some interesting art pieces.

July, 2008: Steve Howard removed a huge piece of agate from the Prudent Man #1 vein. He named the piece “Moby Dick.”

Bluish stone from the PrueHeart vein.

Bracelet made from PrueHeart vein plume agate. Design and execution by Dick Morris.

Jewelry and rock buyers are subjected to various claims about the beneficial effects of stones. Here’s an example:


"Botswana agate is sometimes called the change stone because of its mystical property of helping one handle change in a positive way...Relief from depression and/or grief is another metaphysical property of agate. ...increases creativity... helpful in overcoming addictions and other compulsive behavior patterns.... It is also a stone of sensuality....can help rid the body of toxins, as well as help in the healing of broken bones."


Well! Imagine that! We thought we’d better test our plume agate and inform the buyers:

Prudent Man and PrueHeart Plume Agate fine tune one's bullshit detector. These rocks will drastically, and mystically, reduce your tolerance for bullshit.