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Dean Otteson and Royston Turquoise

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Blog post by Joe Edwards

There have been only a few times that a casual acquaintance has changed the trajectory of my life. I suspect that we all have experienced something like this; an appointment or meeting where someone completely unknown spends a few moments or hours with you. And because of their personality and sense of humor and experiences coupled with the timing of the moment inspired you to see things differently and ultimately make some serious life changes.  This post is about and dedicated to Dean Otteson who passed in November 2016. Dean lived his life in and around Tonopah,Nevada and, with his family, was an owner of the Royston Turquoise Mines.

Many thousands of people from outside Tonopah knew Dean as the gregarious, funny man that for many years led tours of his mines. For 100 bucks one would get a yellow heavy duty bag to hold rocks and the honor of driving 20 something miles out of town following Dean in his pickup truck over high desert bumpy and dusty roads to his mine.

Tens of thousands, probably many more watched Dean on a Travel Channel episode about ten years ago where the show filmed him helping the show’s host find some incredible deep green turquoise samples directly from the mine.

We first met Dean in August 2012, I flew to San Francisco and then drove to Mendocino to meet with Wendy after she finished a jewelers class. We packed up a rented burnt orange Camaro convertible and set off to find opals in north Nevada. In Austin, Nevada we stopped for lunch and started talking to locals who informed us that opals in north Nevada are definitely not jewelry or cabochon grade and we should look for variscite or turquoise instead. They told us that the only mine still allowing outside visitors was in Tonopah, about 220 miles south. A quick check verified that they did give tours on Saturday, the next day, and we pointed our burnt orange beast in that direction.

A group of about 15 of us met at the Mizpah Hotel early Saturday morning and met with Dean while he explained some of the details about our tour. The only crystallized memory of his talk that morning was, “Folks, it is hot and going to get hotter. Not for sure, but 115 degrees is typical for this time of the year and you will not sweat up on that mountain. There ain’t any shade other than what my equipment makes, so you must drink water constantly and go to your cars and rest in the air conditioning every so often.”

Outside the hotel, Dean noted our low slung convertible and asked, “ Are you taking that?” I replied yes and as he adjusted his cowboy hat he informed me of the bumpy, dirt roads with all sorts of unknown dangers and then told us, “Well, if you two make it to the base of the mountain, park it and jump in my truck.”

For fear of scaring Wendy completely out of this adventure, I did not ask any questions and followed at the rear of this caravan. He was right, of course, about the the roads but we did make it to the base of the mountain in our Nevada High Desert Dirt Brown encrusted auto. We happily jumped into Dean’s truck for the last mile or so journey up a mountain over a man made crest that would make mountain goats pause.

And the man starting talking. Good God, he talked more than me! But he was so passionate about everything in his life. His family, the town of Tonopah, his mines, the turquoise!! But he knew what he talked about and his communication skills were excellent. Before we climbed from his truck I determined that he may be the best motivational speaker I have heard.

Wendy and I spent the next four hours scraping rocks and spritzing them with water to look for turquoise veins like we were instructed. Dean would work the mine with one of his sons, but also constantly check with each of us to make sure everything was going well.

After each bag had been filled with high desert rocks and most of the others departed, Dean told of his first ever mine just on the other side of the mountain and would we like to see it. We still had water and energy left and coupled with the fact we were riding with him our answer was, of course, yes.

On the ride over to the other mine and throughout his tour, Dean spun some wonderful tales. About the weather worn shacks at the base of the mine belonged to the Tiffany family and their workers that mined this mountain in the early 1900’s and how the term ‘Tiffany Blue’ came from the color of the turquoise mined right here. Another story about a mine shaft he led us through and a chunk of turquoise that came from it was big enough to make a table top! Still another about how a fellow named Charles Manson was thought to have holed up in these mountains many years ago.

So many tales and memories. Dean told them like he knew them to be fact and related each clearly to each of us still with him that afternoon.

I never checked any of stories for veracity because I did not care to. I believed him then and believe him now.

After this visit, we returned home with a large pile of rocks and zero knowledge of what to do with them. I bought a very used rock saw from eBay and borrowed a very good polishing machine that Wendy used to buff her cloisonné. I took impromptu silversmithing lessons from some very good instructors like Kay and Wendy and Patsy Croft and learned a lot from Youtube U.

I learned much! I broke many valuable turquoise cabs by cutting and cabbing improperly. I melted many bezels and settings by overheating and inexperience and learned a few new cusswords from Wendy when she found out how badly I mangled her expensive cloisonné polishing machine.

We went back to Tonopah twice more. After a mining trip in 2013, Dean took us on a tour of the Mizpah Hotel and basement, telling of stories about the haunted hotel and ‘Lady in Red’ and showed us where the silver was safely stored in the basement when Tonopah was a thriving silver mining town in the early 1900’s. We also viewed the safe inside the center of the Mizpah hotel that served as his office and showroom. I saw many crafted turquoise settings that were stunning in their workmanship and beauty. Dean also told many stories about Royston turquoise including the renowned white or ‘Buffalo’ turquoise. I distinctly remember wanting to make settings as beautiful and finely crafted as the ones I saw that day.

And we returned once more in October 2014, but Dean was not there! He was in critical care at a Reno hospital and everyone, I mean everyone in Tonopah knew of his troubles and prayed for his recovery and return home.

He did return home to his Tonopah and we heard from locals via telephone calls that he lived there peacefully until passing.

He made a wonderful lasting impact on his family and community and assisted a change in the way at least one man views life and accomplishments.

We will remember and miss Dean Otteson.


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