Even though Walter Harrison had surgery for gastrointestinal cancer in December, he still says, “The Lord’s blessed me so much.” His latest blessing appeared in a sunstone mine.
Harrison is a retired fire captain from Redlands, Calif. An expert with search-and-rescue dogs, he was among those called to the Oklahoma City bombing site and the Northridge, Calif., earthquake zone. After retirement, Harrison went back to his former hobby, designing custom jewelry, adding faceting to his repertoire.
When Harrison and his wife, Cynthia, saw a Travel Channel episode of Cash and Treasures that showed people mining for Oregon sunstone at the Spectrum Mine, not far from Plush, Ore., they decided it would be a fun vacation. It wasn’t. The Spectrum was packed with thousands of other people who had seen the TV show, and after digging a lot and finding nothing, the Harrisons packed in the shovel.
As they left the Spectrum, Harrison saw a sign for the nearby Dust Devil mine and decided to stop. “The people were very nice,” says Harrison, who bought some rough. Mine owner Don Buford saw a pendant that Harrison had designed for Cynthia and offered him an invitation to the annual summer “Artists’ Dig In.”
The Dust Devil Mining Co. is one of the premier Oregon sunstone mines. Buford loves to see his sunstone—considered the world’s finest—fashioned by the world’s finest gem artists, so every summer he invites a group for a week of free digging, free food, camaraderie, and the first 300 carats of Dust Devil red sunstone free to each digger who can find it. (Other sunstone colors are free, with no carat limit.)
Around the fourth or fifth day, Harrison was digging in a hole with the Dust Devil’s jackhammer when a large crystal fell out of the roof and landed in front of him. “It was from God,” he says.
Steve Ewens, gem artist from Winchester, Ore., and owner of stevesstones.com, digging next to him, remembers hearing a gasp. “We were now watching Walt stand in disbelief staring at the stone that now lay at his feet,” he says. “Walt had just managed to unearth a behemoth that we later learned totaled over 2,000 carats! The largest single piece weighs in at an incredible 1,093 carats! The stone exhibits broad flash and stripe schiller as well as some very nice areas of red and green. According to Papa Don and the rest of the Dusties, this is the largest Oregon Sunstone found, ever.”
Buford says finding that gem gave Harrison, now on chemotherapy, a new reason to fight his cancer and live. Harrison is learning to carve so he can tackle the big stone.