Yellowstone Agate Jewelry
Yellowstone is a park renowned for its natural beauty and iconic animals that roam the landscape. But underneath the surface, at the heart of Yellowstone, lies a massive volcano. This volcano is responsible for some of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. When these eruptions occurred, lava flows covered hundreds of miles of surrounding forests. As the lava cooled, gaps in the trees filled with minerals from silica-rich rainwater. Over time, this resulted in the formation of a microcrystalline type of quartz called Montana Agate. It’s found in the gravel beds of the Yellowstone River flowing north outside Yellowstone National Park. Montana Agate is what turned Livingston, MT residents Paul and Patricia (Pat) Gates from anglers to rock hounds. Paul and Pat are the owners and artists behind Yellowstone Agate Jewelry and specialize in working with Montana Agate. They are a part of our Inspired By Yellowstone series.
From River to Rock
Originally from the Midwest, both Paul and Pat taught and performed music for over four decades. The world-class fly fishing first drew them to Yellowstone, and they quickly fell in love with the park and the area. In 1988, they accepted teaching positions in Livingston, MT, and have been here ever since. And just as Montana Agate takes a while to form, so too did their jewelry business.
While fishing the Yellowstone River outside the park in Paradise Valley,, Paul and Pat began picking up pretty rocks and soon were advised to search for Montana Agate specifically. Their next step was buying a rock tumbler for polishing the pieces. Soon after that, friends suggested trying to make jewelry out of the polished stones. After much trial and error and the addition of six rock saws, various grinders/polishers, and jewelry making equipment, a hobby business was born.
From Rock to Jewelry
One of Montana’s two State Gemstones, Montana Agate is called “picture agate” due to the unique mineral patterns (from iron oxide and manganese oxide) and inclusions in the stone. When searching on the banks of the Yellowstone River, the Gates’ are on the lookout for a potato form with an alligator-like skin outer layer. Holding the agate up to the light helps to determine if it may be an agate. However, it is not until it is processed that the true beauty of the agate is revealed. Paul’s first step is to slab the stones. Then the slabs are evaluated (i.e., reviewed for patterns and fractures) to see what they can become. Next, the grinder/polisher is used to shape, dome, sand, and polish the piece through a six-step operation. After finishing and setting the stone, Paul hands it over to Pat, who selects beads that will complement and enhance the finished stone.
Throughout the process, both Paul and Pat look to the agate itself for inspiration. “[It] will often determine the cut, pattern, and beads used to make a beaded necklace…The art is in the stone. Our job is to release the art.”
From Jewelry to Memories
Besides Montana Agate, Paul and Pat cut, carve, polish, and handcraft other local stones, including Turritella Agate from Wyoming, Snowflake Obsidian, Zebra Stone and Picasso Stone from Utah. They also use Aventurine and Jasper. Inspiration for creating pieces may come from the rivers, animals, thermal features, or other beauty found in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Yellowstone Agate jewelry—including earrings, pendants, and more are available online and in our gift stores. Want a peek into the jewelry-making process? Check out our Facebook interview with Paul and Pat on location at their home studio.
Remember, collecting any natural resources, including rocks and fossils, is illegal inside Yellowstone National Park. If you find a rock, leave it there. If you’d like to become a rockhound outside the park in Montana, here’s a quick guide to some locations in the state: https://southwestmt.com/specialfeatures/rockhounding/. Be sure to contact local US Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management offices for locations, regulations, and permits information.
Stay safe and respectful while traveling in Yellowstone National Park by taking the #YellowstonePledge. “I pledge to protect Yellowstone National Park. I will act responsibly and safely, set a good example for others, and share my love of the park and all the things that make it special.” Thanks for putting the Pledge into action!
For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.
Want to experience Yellowstone in depth? See what makes Yellowstone National Park a great place to work for a season or longer!