Walt Grayson headshot
By Walt Grayson
March 2023

It’s the Jed Clampett syndrome. The wish to go out in your back yard and find buried treasure.

And if you don’t know who Jed Clampett is, pull up an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” on the internet. How Jed came by his good fortune is right there in the theme song. “Then one day he was shootin’ at some food, when up through the ground come a’bubbling crude. Oil that is.” Etc. Etc. I loved that show when I was in the eighth grade. Ellie May was a lot easier to look at than my American History homework.

Polished opal set in a broach.

But wouldn’t that be nice? To walk out in your driveway and find a gold nugget just lying there in the gravel? Or something like that? Well, now we have a shot at it in Mississippi! Well, not gold or diamonds, exactly. But a precious gem has been discovered here.

My friend James Starnes is a geologist with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. One of their tasks is to do geological mapping of the state. James told me that while rummaging around the sands and loose gravels in the creeks and waterfalls that cut through the limestone bedrock of southwest Mississippi, lo and behold, they came up with an opal! And not just a pebble — a sizable hunk of rock. They call it “The Mississippi Opal.”

Now, I don’t know if there is just the one opal, or if they are tucked into the sandstones in most any old limestone-bottomed creek in Mississippi. Me and Jed Clampett would hope they are everywhere. But most likely they are rare.

Raw opal

(Just an aside — if you decide to go opal prospecting in the hollows of southwest Mississippi, keep in mind there isn’t a single square inch of land in the nation, much less Mississippi, that someone doesn’t have the deed to and probably wouldn’t see the humor in anyone trespassing on their property. Besides, that area of Mississippi has more rattlesnakes in it than it has people. That’s probably why it took so long to find this opal to begin with. Guard snakes.)

James says the opal is a sandstone that formed from the leftovers of a sand bar that was generously peppered with volcanic ash back eons ago when that part of Mississippi was a flat sand delta and volcanos were quite active out west. The volcanic ash was embedded in the rock when the sand turned to stone. And now, light refracting off that ash becomes iridescent when you look at it just right.

A bill was introduced in the Legislature to make the Mississippi Opal the official “Precious Gemstone of Mississippi.” We have a state mineral — petrified wood. A state fossil — the whale skeleton at the Natural Science Museum. A state bird — No, it’s not the mosquito. So, let’s put a State Precious Gemstone in there with the rest of it.

I can just hear ole’ Jed saying, “Well doggies” when the bill passes.

Raw opal
Someone holding a piece of raw opal, a rough rock with bits of reflective green light.
Category: Mississippi Seen

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