Fire Agate Mining Adventure at Deer Creek

by Jessa Dow on February 7, 2009

In 2009 Mark and I added a bit more excitement to our annual trip to the Tucson gem show with a pre-show detour to the Deer Creek fire agate mine. The mine owner extended a personal invitation to the mine’s “Deer Creek Fire Agate Invitational” that we couldn’t pass up. We stayed at the mine overnight with one of America’s most experienced pio­neers of the gemstone industry, mine owner David Penney, his family, and his mining Partner, Sarah Heather Scholz.
Dave Penny and Sarah at the Deer Creek mine
Deer Creek mine owner Dave Penny and S. Heather Scholz

We were able to rent the machine they call the “Gem-A-Nator” for an hourly rate. This is a thrilling experience! The Gem-A-Nator sorts and wets the rough before it comes down a belt where you can grab the chunks of rough fire agate. One of the professional miners will be scooping fresh material into the Gem-A-Nator using a backhoe. The miners take material straight from the best areas of the mine and pour it into the Gem-A-Nator. This is material that has not been touched or picked through, giving a rare chance at getting the best material the mine has to offer.

Deer Creek Fire Agate Rough

Mark on the Gem-A-Nator

Mark on the Gem-A-Nator

Dave Penny working "Catrina"
Dave Penny getting another scoop of rough for the Gem-A-Nator

We also were able to explore the mine a bit with Dave and Sarah. We collected rough directly from the base of a small mountain with a wall of exposed fire agate nodules… some were loose enough to grab up and a few had to be removed from the rock with a small pick.

A couple of ground fire agate nodules Mark found at the Deer Creek mine.
A couple of fire agate nodules Mark found at the base of a mountain at the Deer Creek mine

Mark looking for fire agate at Deer Creek
Mark could have stayed at the mine for days exploring and hunting for fire agate on the mountain.

Dave Penny, Sarah, Wendell and Mark
Dave Penny, Sarah, Wendell and Mark with a bucket of hand-picked fire agate.

Our trip to the mine was the highlight of our trip to Arizona… it exceeded our expectations on many levels. We left the mine with over a hundred pounds of rough fire agate in various grades. We’ll easily be able to sell and profit from selling a small portion of our mine run. Our highest grade material will be carved into gems for our custom gold jewelry designs. We’re already planning for another trip to the mine next year!
These are a few examples of the exceptionally beautiful fire agate rough we got from our Gem-A-Nator run~

Deer Creek Fire Agate Rough

Deer Creek Fire Agate Rough

Deer Creek Fire Agate Rough

Dave Penny and S. Heather shared both their time and knowledge generously with us during our stay. We mined fire agate during the day and had very comfortable accommodations at night.
Were able to rent a fully equipped RV at the mine with internet access, a full size bed, a shower, refridgerator, coffee maker and more. Sarah also offers her delicious home-cooked meals… yummy! She had a small menu to choose from with steak, lamb, various seafood dishes and a vegetarian dinner as well. We had a great night while we were there….Dave built us a fire with wonderful smelling local mesquite wood and we sat comfortably under the stars while Sarah grilled our steaks. Sarah and Dave brewed us fresh coffee in the morning and fed us a huge breakfast to power us up for the day of mining. The mine is nestled in a remote location with a gorgeous view. I sat, drank my coffee and enjoyed the Arizona sunrise:)

Deer Creek Fire Agate Mine

Deer Creek mine at sunrise
The gorgeous view from our RV at the mine.

I was a bit apprehensive about my ability to be comfortable during our trip to the mine… I am currently 7 months pregnant and thought the rough conditions would be difficult in my condition. They made me completely comfortable and I enjoyed every minute of my time at the mine. Dave and Sarah are very genuine, honest people…. I can’t say enough about how impressed we were with them on both a personal and professional level.
Mark, Jess, Dave and Sarah
A very pregnant Jessica, Mark, Dave and S. Heather in front of the Gem-A-Nator

This unique experience is being offered exclusively to professional jewelry and lapidary artisans.
Reservation time for this adventure is limited due to the personal attention given to each artist.
Normally many of the people who visit the mine are personally invited or are referred by friends/colleagues of the mine owner. This is a great opportunity to gem collectors, lapidary artisans and professional jewelers wanting top grade fire agate for jewelry designs! Space is limited and filling up fast… for serious inquiries about visiting the mine and rates for mining/accommodations write to Dave Penny and S. Heather Scholz at


Wendell Thatcher at Deer Creek
Wendell Thatcher helping us during our time on the Gem-A-Nator

We’d like to thank our friend Wendell Thatcher for personally referring us to the mine owner. Wendell is a dedicated and experienced rockhound and a very talented fire agate carver. Many of the hand carved fire agate gems in our personal collection were purchased through Wendell.

One of the best and most vibrant examples of a crackle patterned fire agate we’ve ever seen. A very special gemstone!
Fire Agate Gem
Fire Agate Gem +++++ Quality

Premium hand carved Deer Creek Fire agate cut by Wendell Thatcher. Photo credit: Tom Shearer.
fire agate flickr 5

Another Deer Creek beauty… this particular gem has a spray of sagenite on one side. This is VERY rare!  Photo credit: Tom Shearer. Fire Agate with amazing Sagenite Spray

An extraordinary gemstone with an eye formation containing neon magenta and a wide variety of other colors.
Magenta eye fire Agate nicknamed "The Russian Doll".

Fire agate jewelry by Jessica Dow and Mark Anderson of Different Seasons Jewelry and Lapidary. Deer Creek Fire Agate Ring by Jessica Dow and Mark Anderson of Different Seasons Jewelry. Sold as a custom order… please contact us at if you’d like your own custom fire agate jewelry created. We are a small family business and can only take on a few jobs at a time. We work in rare and exotic gemstones and use only the finest materials available. Serious inquiries only please.
Fire agate, 18k gold and Continuum silver.

One of the best and most vibrant examples of crackle patterned fire agate we’ve ever seen.
Fire Agate Gem

We also have a wide variety of premium fire agates for custom jewelry from mines such as Slaughter Mountain and Mexican fire agates. An amazing eye formation fire agate from Mexico~  Premium fire agate jewelry made by DIfferent Seasons Jewelry.




Ice Cream in the Fall

Fire Agate and Alexandrite in 14k
Deer Creek fire agate and natural alexandrite set in 14k gold.
Fire agate pendant collaboration by Mark Anderson and Casey Swanson.

Apple Blossom fire agate ring, with diamonds in the centers of each flower.
Apple Blossoms Fire Agate and Diamond Ring

Apple Blossoms Fire Agate and Diamond Ring

Hand Carved One of a Kind Sunflower Ring~
Sunflower Fire Agate Ring

One of our newer and more advanced fire agate jewelry designs, best seen on video! Bleeding Heart Deer Creek Pendant Video Link~ Heart on Fire Pendant/Necklace Video
California Poppies

“California Poppies” fire agate and spessartite garnet pendant by Jessica Dow.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Jose October 5, 2011 at 6:51 am

How much is a Fire Agate worth?

msadesigns January 16, 2011 at 8:05 am

Hello everyone, Please note that we are currently not in touch with the mine owner Dave Penny. When we get his current contact info we will post it here for you. Thanks for your patience, Jessica and Mark

James Piepgras January 14, 2011 at 2:54 am

One of my items on my bucket list is to mine for the great Fire Agates. The main reason for this is my passion I have aquired for the Fire Agates. What excites me the most is revealing the differant colors and strange formation seen through the clear agate window. It seems like I spend most of my mad money and any money I make selling some of my other rocks to buy as many fire agates as I can “Im addicted to the fire agates” .
In four months my wife and I are moving to Arizona to mainly be closer to family, myself, I want a chance to dig at your mine, only then will my dream will come true. I will be looking for you at the 2011 Tucson show “WE WILL BE THERE”

Jim & Judy Piepgras
Currently in Longview Texas ( only 4 more months and counting down)

teel January 12, 2011 at 12:38 am

would like info on how much it cost for the day.can you use hammer and chisles thanks


Deborah November 14, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I too would like more info on how to be referred to the mine owners. I live in arizona and we are supposed to be buying a used camper this week. I’ve been cabbing and betroital carving Mexican agates for 10 years and have yet to get one with the color I’ve seen on this page. I use a foredom flex shaft for the perfect carving and shaving layers off experience. Please send mine reservation information to
Due to heat exaustion issued (medical condition) I can only rock-hound in the winter and fall. I also go metal detecting for gold nuggets so I know my way around cactus, snakes, scorpions, etc.
Prescott, Arizona

Chad November 5, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I will get you an email address for Dave. He bought property down the mountain on the main road coming in from Willcox. He is my neighbor out there. I am currently in Afghanistan, but have contact with the other neighbors in the area. Give me a couple of days and I will see what I can get for you.


msadesigns October 28, 2010 at 10:32 pm

I’m looking into finding a current e-mail address for Dave Penny. I’ve heard they aren’t currently at the mine. I will do some research and get back to all of you about how to make contact ASAP. Thanks!!

Bryan Shoemate October 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Would like info on Minning @ Deer Creek w/Dave and Sarah
could not locate them at
I would like to contact them, any help is appreciated-
714-970-0186 Yorba Linda, Calif.

Ron Saltzman August 7, 2010 at 2:12 pm


Brent July 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm

This sounds like a great outing. Last winter I had a great trip to Burro Creek with a great group of rockhounding friends. I am looking for my next trip for this winter. This might fit the bill. How far is the mine from Quartzite? I am hoping to go to Quartzite to sell a new material I found here in Canada.

Cindy Krotzer February 6, 2010 at 10:18 pm

are reservations required, or is it on a walk-in basis? Is there camping available? How much per hour does it cost to pick agates by the navigator? Is there a phone number where I can reach you? My phone number is 2187601245. Thanks in advance for answering my questions.

Sherrie Brickey (Boehm) November 10, 2009 at 1:47 am

Brings back memories! My husband mined with Dave Penney back in the early 80’s. He would remember Jim Brickey…(Desert Diggers) Jim was probably the 1st original Carver of the stone, as he worked with the companies to develop the Diamond tips used to carve Fire Agate…it actually took the companies some time to get it right…they would send Jim the tips, and he would test them and tell them what they needed to do to make them better….I remember him experimenting with Tooth picks and diamond grout when he first started because before the 80’s most of the stones were cabochoned wasting so much beauty, that my husband decided there had to be another way…we did a lot of shows, and demonstrated cutting, sold lots of rough from both Deer Creek and Slaughter Mountain, Jim taught many people to Carve the stone in my kitchen in Safford. I just came across some of the original instructions that we used to give out with our orders and sales. I lost Jim in September to Cancer, but feel he left his mark on the world with Fire Agate. Most of the Old Timer’s would remember Jim and his dad…and even our son Quentin, as he would have Quentin grinding the stones during Demonstrations at the shows…(He was 3 at the time) It truly is a beautiful stone

Charles Norris July 2, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Do you have an email address for Wendell, I think I went to Navy boot camp with him back in the 60’s

richard benson April 9, 2009 at 10:24 pm

ive bought some fire agate from wendell off of ebay and love the stuff. very cool dude

David and S. Heather Deer Creek Miners February 9, 2009 at 10:50 am

Very well written story Jessica and Mark (and Pebbles),
We had just as much fun as you, and can’t wait until you come back. We thank you for bringing us out of the outback and getting us on a blog. We can’t wait to see your creations. Loved meeting you and sharing the Gem A Nator with you.

msadesigns February 9, 2009 at 8:01 am

Yes Lauren.. it’s more than worth it. We’ve been purchasing both rough and finished fire agates for years and the price is actually low in comparison. We got well over a hundred pounds of rough from one hour and at least 20 pounds of what we got was medium-high grade material. Top quality finished fire agates can bring in very high prices…. so something like this is a very smart investment for people who cut their own gems. But even if you re-sold the rough you’d come out ahead.

Larry E. Whittington February 9, 2009 at 3:05 am

I recently had a customer send me some fire agates to polish so I am going to have to do some research on how to polish fire agates as they usually can’t be worked like I usual work a cab.

Lauren February 8, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I saw a listing on ebay for this mine – one hour for $1400!!! Wow. Is it really worth that?

Michael Johnson February 7, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Sounds like a blast, and an excellent reason to visit AZ by itself. I can’t wait to see some of your lap work with the new rough and of course the jewelry that is to come.
I bet that little gem in the oven will get a kick out of the pictures latter down the line :o)

Did you bring me back a javalina?

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