The Story Behind The Stones Is Revealed On Turquoise Fever
Q&A With Donna Otteson - Aug 5, 2019
In 2005, I asked the right question in the right town at the right time and had the good fortune to meet the Otteson family during a Nevada road trip to celebrate my late Mother’s 70th birthday. Since then, I have mined with and become close with many of the Ottesons. I’m so excited that they have been cast in a new reality docuseries, Turquoise Fever, which will premiere on INSP on Wednesday, August 14th at 9PM ET. Family matriarch and friend, Donna Otteson, has been kind enough to answer a few questions that will enlighten everyone about the stones that are the star of my work: Turquoise.
Some people I have spoken with over the years seem to think that you can just go out there and mine turquoise. Would you let everyone know the ins and outs of finding a claim, registering, bonding and protecting your rights as a claim owner?
It takes countless hours of walking the desert to find a lead of turquoise, and that's with the knowledge of the visual formations that carry turquoise. Once you discover turquoise that made its way to the surface you will need to file a location notice, put up boundary posts and file a claim with fees for both county and federal permits. We are also required to put up reclamation bonds for all ground disturbances. This only gives us rights to the minerals.
Mining turquoise isn’t as easy as some people think, since much of the “exposed” surface float has already been picked up by early pioneers, etc., which means that you have to have a way and means to go below the surface to find veins and pockets of nuggets. What kind of equipment do you use to mine turquoise?
Our mines are open pit, so we use heavy equipment, such as air compressors, explosives, excavators and bull dozers; however, we still need to collect the material by hand, which is very labor intensive.
The Otteson family now controls a lot of the mines/claims within the Royston District and beyond. How big is your operation, and can you estimate what your daily cost is to mine each location?
The cost to mine turquoise is different at each mine, once you consider the size of the deposits. Some deposits are in more remote areas and some are in more difficult terrains. What I can say is that it's not cheap when you figure travel expenses, such as diesel, machine maintenance, explosives, labor, bonding and yearly filing fees.
How do you protect your claims from Claim Jumpers?
Some people still protect their mines with guns. Today we have the benefit of cameras. We keep them posted at active mining claims. It's everyone's job to educate themselves about the public lands and we hope they respect our investment in these mining properties.
Do you mine year round?
Yes, we mine year-round, we battle excessive heat of more than 90 degrees in the summer, extreme freezing cold in the winter, and lots of wind. It's rare that we would let the weather stop us from mining.
How much Turquoise do you have to find just to break even?
It's a feast or famine kind of business. Sometimes we may not hit turquoise for weeks and not get checks for a month. The families need to love this way of life to make it through the hard times.
See the story unfold on Turquoise Fever, premiering August 14th at 9:00pm ET on INSP.
How much did the biggest piece of turquoise you found weigh?
We have taken out a 10 pound piece, however most large pieces tend to be low grade. The largest high grade piece Dean sold to a collector was 2 pounds in size.
Roughly, how big is the average size of turquoise?
This also depends on the mine, but I would say nickel in size is the most common size.
What’s the most rewarding thing about mining turquoise?
The most rewarding thing is the love of the discovery of this beautiful stone and the way it allows us to work as a family.
What’s the most frustrating thing about mining turquoise?
The most frustrating are the times you're not hitting turquoise and have to wait to pay bills.
How do you grade Turquoise?
We grade according to hardness first, then color. We sell 3 grades: low, medium, and high.
The Otteson family has been mining for decades. What is one of your fondest and most memorable events about your business?
No one thing stands out other than the pack rats running over me in the sleeping bag at the mines. I loved going to the mine with Dean and sharing his adventures. If you were lucky to have met him you know how much he loved to share his life.