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Turquoise Fever In Tonopah

A handful of the sought-after Otteson family turquoise.
Photo Credit: INSP

A handful of the sought-after Otteson family turquoise.

More than 20 minerals are mined here in Nevada.

They include copper, gold, gypsum, salt, silver – and a mineral that might not come to mind immediately: turquoise. 

One of the places it’s mined is Tonopah – that’s where the Otteson family has been hunting for turquoise for more than 60 years.

The Otteson family is featured in a new reality TV show that premieres August 14, 2019 at 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific Time on the South Carolina-based INSP network.

Turquoise Fever” explores the intricacies of mining for turquoise, how the Otteson family markets their turquoise, and the maintenance of a business that’s all in the family.

Brothers Tony and Trenton Otteson mining “old-school” and working by hand to examine the rubble for quality turquoise./Photo Credit: INSP


Trenton Otteson told KNPR's State of Nevada that he remembers going out to the mines when he was only 4 years old, picking up pieces of turquoise and putting them in his pocket.

“If my arm was cut by a knife right now, it would bleed blue… You marry an Otteson. You are married into the turquoise,” he said.

Otteson said about 15 to 20 members of the family work either mining the gemstone, repairing the equipment, making jewelry or selling jewelry. He said the TV series captures the real emotions and struggles between family members as they operate the business.

“It’s real. We’ve been doing this for a long time and nobody really took notice and now people are starting to notice,” he said.

While most people think of Arizona and New Mexico as the home of turquoise and turquoise jewelry, Nevada is actually home to more turquoise mines than any other state.

And because turquoise can only be mined out of the ground, it is actually rarer than diamonds, which can now be created in a lab, said John Muntean, the director of the Center for Research in Economic Geology at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Turquoise, like other gemstones, is really just rocks that can be polished and made into jewelry. 

What makes the stone unique is that is only found in arid climates, Muntean said. It is created by copper deposits formed millions of years ago. 

“However, the ones that are in desert climates have a better chance of forming turquoise once they start weathering with that groundwater,” he said.

It is the oxidizing groundwater on those copper deposits that turns it green just like a bronze statute turns green over time.

But unlike gold or silver, the amount of turquoise found in deposits aren't large enough to sustain a large mining operation, which is why most are smaller, family-owned businesses like the Otteson's.

Tommy Otteson and son Trenton Otteson examining a piece of excavated turquoise./Photo Credit: INSP

John Muntean, Director, Center for Research in Economic Geology at UNR;  Trenton Otteson, turquoise miner 

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.