Outlaw Rocks: Ethical American Mining in Oregon
| Shop LC works with miners and mining companies around the world to bring you unique and fascinating gemstones. Outlaw Rocks is one such partner. Supplying our captivating Oregon Peach Opal, Outlaw Rocks owner Troy Newman took some time to chat with Shop LC about his company and our partnership. Be sure to check out our first-ever Shop LC documentary, featuring Outlaw Rocks and Oregon Peach Opal, which you’ll find at the end of the discussion below!
Troy spoke with us by phone from the Pink Lady Claim, the source of Oregon Peach Opal. He’s a friendly man, with an easy-going nature that’s impossible not to like. Free with his words, Troy speaks with a casual expertise that betrays his years of experience in the field mining precious gems and minerals. He took a break from work to relax in his truck as we discussed the background of Outlaw Rocks and some of the finer details of modern mining.
What is your background in mining?
Though Outlaw Rocks is a modern mining company, mining runs deep in his family, Troy explains. Troy is a fourth-generation miner, and his great-grandfather was the first to hoist a pick and begin mining. “He was a shepherd who mined part-time,” Troy tells me. Like many artisanal miners, it’s a part-time vocation to supplement their income. Sometimes these miners get lucky and find something to change their life. Troy’s great-grandfather wound up imparting a love for the Earth into his bloodline.
Blackie, Troy’s grandfather, was the first to mine full-time. Starting as a construction worker, Blackie worked on projects such as the Hoover Dam construction. As a miner, Blackie prospected for minerals and materials such as coal, gold, and mariposite. Unfortunately, Blackie eventually succumbed to silicosis, a lung disease common among miners.
“My dad owned a rock shop when I was growing up,” Troy recalls fondly. He goes on to explain that he spent a lot of time with his father and uncle in the shop. He would also go out with them to mine. “Growing up, our vacations were in the dirt, deep in a hole.” Digging was a way for them to bond and have fun. “There wasn’t a lot of money in mining in the 70s and 80s,” he explains. Mining was a passion project and family endeavor.
How did Outlaw Rocks get started?
Troy shares a bit of his professional background. By trade, he specializes in carpentry such as cabinet making and other custom woodwork. He lived in the Bay Area of California for many years, contracting out custom home jobs. It was a good living up until the crash of the housing market.
After the market crash, Troy used his wealth of experience as a miner to support himself and his family. Troy spent time exploring and prospecting for obsidian. It was grueling work, requiring artisanal techniques with pickaxe and shovel to extract the stone. During this period, Tory formed a partnership that would eventually result in Outlaw Rocks. “It didn’t work out,” Troy tells me over the phone. However, it did lay the foundation for the current company to develop.
“Outlaw Rocks gives me the opportunity to do things my way,” Troy says proudly. “A partnership taught me that I needed to be independent.” The name Outlaw Rocks reinforces this identity. Like in a classic Western, his mining company prefers to maintain their independence from larger corporations and do things their way.
At the time of writing, Outlaw Rocks own a 50-percent stake in nine fire opal claims and seven sunstone claims. “These were from my partnership days,” Troy mentions. “We’re also the sole owner of two pink opal claims,” Troy’s voice beams with pride over the phone line. The pink opal claims are the source of Oregon peach opal, sold exclusively by Shop LC.
How long has Outlaw Rocks been operating?
When Troy began mining after the housing market crash, it was under his name. About ten years ago he was mining obsidian while working for himself. During the day, Troy worked construction jobs. At night, he dug. Troy found out that his talent was extracting obsidian. In a single season, he once filled 20 shipping containers with obsidian for Chinese buyers. All of this was done with hand tools and hard work. Several lucrative deals saw him suddenly making more money than he ever did while working construction.
When Troy started mining, he was struggling. Going through several major life changes, he was nearing homelessness. These lucky deals gave the opportunity for him to pursue mining full time. First, it was through a partnership that didn’t fully pan out. Shortly after, Outlaw Rocks started.
Outlaw Rocks: A Typical Day
Troy explains how he likes to leverage his experience in construction in running the show at Outlaw Rocks. Every morning, the full crew meets up at their 8000-square foot shop. Troy, his son Shea and other miners gather early to travel to the day’s work site. The goal is to arrive before 8 am. Once at the dig site, the team will mine until two to four in the afternoon.
Then it’s back to the shop for processing. Everything is a group effort. Stones are extracted by hand tools and jackhammers. At the shop, rough screening occurs to separate the usable material from the haul.
At their base of operations, Troy’s fiancé Michelle manages the office. She stays in contact with buyers and keeps the operation running so that fieldwork can flow effortlessly.
What is your most exciting find to date?
There’s a brief pause on the line when this question is posed. Up until this point, Troy has been jovial and talkative, easy with his words. “There’s been so many,” he quietly explains. “It seems every time we’re up in the mountains we’re finding something new and cool!”
Eventually, he settles on his recent discovery of pink opal. “This find was special. Not only was this the first claim owned 100-percent by Outlaw Rocks, but I also did it with my son. We have a great time in the mountains together, digging. We’re running the show our way, and having a blast doing it!”
This variety of opal is notable, as it’s never been on the commercial market before. “Shop LC is the first retailer to sell it nationally,” Troy says. “It was our first trip to Tucson,” he recalls. The first day of the show was slow. But by the second day, things picked up. “First, just two of the Shop LC staff were there, talking and examining rough. Then six.” Next thing, they have the rough scattered on the floor as they review each piece.
“Shop LC bought every piece we brought to the show,” Troy tells me proudly. The other vendors were more than a little envious about these upstart newcomers, but the undeniable quality of Oregon peach opal speaks for itself. It caught the eye of the Shop LC buying team immediately!
“It’s like a detective game. You have to follow the clues,” he says. To clarify, Troy tells me about “following the float,” an old miner’s expression. It’s gemstone tracking. Float are pieces of mineral that have moved from their original location by natural forces. Geologic activity forces the minerals to the Earth’s surface, and weather carries them away. By following these natural indicators, good dig sites are found.
What is your favorite thing about mining?
“I’m talking to you from my truck in the middle of a pine forest. I’m miles away from civilization. Our neighbors are bears and cougars,” Troy tells me. He’s lived in the city for a long time. But out in the wilderness, there’s a sense of independence. Troy explains you can go for miles, just exploring and enjoying nature. There’s nothing else like it in the world.
How is a mining claim made and managed?
Miners can only prospect on public land. Troy educates me on the process. Mostly, it’s copious amounts of research. And it starts online of all places. Troy will examine satellite records of the terrain in his area, looking for the telltale signs of a potential prospect. “There are certain clues Mother Nature provides to indicate a mineral deposit,” he explains knowledgeably.
Once a prospective site is identified, it requires a physical expedition to the location. The ground area will be examined for evidence of a suitable gem. They might do a little test digging to see if anything is there. Should a mineral presence be found, the GPS coordinates are recorded, and a discovery marker is placed. This marker is a cairn, or pile of stones, with a piece of 4×4 wood sticking out of the top. “It’s far from over, though,” Troy says.
Next, more research must be done. Troy will search records to make sure that a claim on his coordinates doesn’t already exist. If everything seems legitimate, the process of filing paperwork with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) begins. It’s a lot of red tape, and no two claims are alike. It can vary depending on a number of factors. “Usually, you just file and pay the filing fee,” he tells me. After, a registration number is provided.
“This isn’t the end,” he says with seriousness. Disputes are common, and Troy has to deal with other miners over rights constantly. Civil court resolves most of these matters. Larger companies will try to strong arm him from his claims, using their deeper pockets to their advantage. “It’s a lot of work, but if you have the passion, you’ll prevail,” Troy finishes.
How has your partnership with Shop LC changed your approach to mining?
Troy tells me that he had no prior example with opal. So, when it was brought to Tucson, it wasn’t sorted very well. “When they arrived at our booth and scattered the rough all over the floor, I learned a lot,” he says. Shop LC helped Outlaw Rocks improve their approach to grading rough opal material and accommodate the color preference of our audience. Outlaw Rocks has worked with other national retailers before but never has a company took such a direct hand in communication during the buying process.
Check out our first-ever Shop LC documentary, featuring Outlaw Rocks and the beautiful Oregon Pink Opal: