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Gemstone Mining?

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Cyn, May 29, 2010.

  1. Cyn

    Cyn Well-Known Member

    Due to the economy and tight finances, we're not going to be able to go to the beach this summer (which we've done for the past few years) :( . Although a week-long trip is out of the question, it is possible that we could take an overnight trip somewhere, so MiniCyn and I are trying to come up with an activities that is fun, interesting, and different.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a marathon on The Travel Channel of a show called Cash and Treasures. If you haven't ever seen it, the show features activities that center around finding all sorts of items, usually (but not always) naturally occurring, that people hunt for or collect, and the surprising value that can come of these "finds." Some of the featured items I saw while watching were things like:

    - geodes/thunder eggs
    - gold (creek panning)
    - fossilized megalodon teeth (a huge paleolithic fishlike creature - fossils are found in shallow freshwater rivers and inlets)
    - meteorites
    - trilobite fossils
    - relics from the Civil War; also from the Revolutionary War
    - sunstones
    - sunken treasure

    and so on and so forth.

    The episode that really piqued my interest was one about mining for gemstones. There are several mineral/ore deposits located throughout the US, rich in a wide variety of semi-precious and precious minerals and gemstones. Interestingly enough, one location can contain several different kinds of gemstones -- some of the ones commonly found include:

    - rubies
    - aquamarines
    - topazes (blue and gold)
    - garnets (red and green)
    - emeralds
    - sapphires (blue and white)
    - citrine
    - fluorite
    - iolite
    - amethyst
    - quartz (rose, smoky, and clear)
    - aventurine
    - moonstone
    - tourmaline
    - peridot
    - agate (several colors)
    - gold

    Cutting to the chase, has anyone here ever tried their hand at gemstone hunting (by way of flume or sluice mining, creeking, or digging)? I was thinking that an overnight or weekend trip to one of the mines in North Carolina might be a fun idea, especially since the cost would be a fraction of a beach vacation. I'm also looking for an alternative to the typical day trips like the Aquarium (either Atlanta or Chattanooga), the Tellus Museum, or the Atlanta High Museum of Art

    In addition to this looking like it might be an interesting (and potentially rewarding) something for MiniCyn and I to do together, I have a personal reason for wanting to try my hand at gemstone mining. I've thought about it a few times over the past several years, but my reason for being so hesitant is a rather long story, and until recently, giving it more than a fleeting thought has gotten me upset. Now I think I'm ready, but I'd love to hear some feedback as to whether or not it is worth the time, money, and sweat :eek: .
  2. Wyliefan

    Wyliefan Well-Known Member

    I haven't gone gemstone mining myself, but I have a friend who loves it (so much that we tease her about being addicted to it). She goes to one of the North Carolina mines, though I don't know which one. I think I'd love it myself if I ever got a chance! If you decide to go, I want to hear all about it. :)
  3. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

    Mr. barbk likes gold panning and hunting for gemstones. We went to a place in Montana where you buy a bucket (approx. a couple of gallons) of stuff, then take it to tables and wash through it looking for sapphires. It took around 1 1/2 hours to work through the bucket. Wear shoes that you can get wet, and clothing you can get wet in, because water gets everywhere. Dishwashing (ie, heavy duty) gloves would have been a help. Some people brought sluices and more elaborate setups. The water was COLD -- but this might not be a problem in the south. (Or it might be, given that a lot of the mining is up in the mountains.)

    As a much cheaper beach alternative -- have you considered camping at Carolina Beach State Park? (one of the barrier islands near Wilmington, NC.) You're just a very short drive from some nice beaches, and there are shaded campsites as well as some nice hiking, the ferry to Southport and noodling around there, some pretty shopping and strolling along the river in Wilmington, NC State Aquarium at Ft. Fisher as well as the Civil War stuff at the fort itself,...They do take reservations.
  4. Holley Calmes

    Holley Calmes Well-Known Member

    Watch out Cyn, it's addictive! I used to go with Richard and our daughter to the NC touristy type places and had a ball. $1 for a bucket of dirt, and they cleverly stick a huge amethyst on top of the dirt (uncut and messy looking, but you can just see what it COULD look like with hundreds of dollars worth of cutting...). We've found lots of amethysts and different types of colored sapphires and garnets. It is tons of fun. I remember yelling "Just one more bucket!" as we were being pulled away from the water source due to an incoming thunderstorm....I never found anything worth thousands, but some people have! We have a lot of amethyst mines up here in North Georgia.

    If you're the type of hunt for seashells or beachcomb, you'll love this.
  5. Tinami Amori

    Tinami Amori Well-Known Member

    Please read this website, although it is old. It gives good info on your interest.

    NC tourist mining and vacation info

    My only comment on “hunting for natural treasures” would be is to pick an outfit which allows you to pick your own digging/prospecting spot in the area allocated to the activity, and where you are “on your own with freedom of movement” in several aspects. Not the one where you’re held by the hand, given a specific lot, and “handled” from beginning to the end.

    I have not been to NC locations, but I’ve heard, read about it (gems used to be hobby). But I’ve been gem hunting in other places, and I would only do it again now if the outfit would give me tools and pointed me in a direction of the area where I am allowed to search, and not “sticking me in one spot”.

    P.S. Also, when I took my relative’s child prospecting, I gave a condition that she must learn the gem chart.

    Even if no treasures are found, it never hurts to know your gems……. and to hide a few on your body.

    “Only those who can pay, can go” The Egyptian/1954
    (get to the eye-patch part….. :D)

    Last edited: May 30, 2010
  6. redonthehead

    redonthehead Well-Known Member

    A longtime friend of mine and his brother go all the time. In fact, I bought a very pretty blue topaz from him and had my daughter a ring made for her graduation present. It's 3.5 carats and it's so blue. We love it! If you want, I can take a picture of it and show you though I don't know how good it will look in the picture.
    PeterG and (deleted member) like this.
  7. Gazpacho

    Gazpacho Well-Known Member

    A few questions:

    1. Where do you live?

    2. How old is your child?

    3. What kind of physical shape are the two of you in?

    4. How good are you at handling heat and sun?

    5. What are your goals for mining--do you want to just find something, or do you want an authentic find? Many of the commercial dig mines salt their piles with stones imported from elsewhere so that kids can be assured of finding something. If you want an authentic find, you might not get anything, but if you do find something, you have the pleasure of knowing it was authentic.
  8. acraven

    acraven Well-Known Member

    Rockhounding is a major hobby of mine, but the only places I've been recently are out west, so I can't provide current information about the NC sites. Based on my outdated experiences and the comments of others, I would say this:

    - As long as you don't expect to get rich, you will probably have fun. I made my first visit to NC mines on a school field trip in 1965, and I am still addicted to the hobby.

    - I've never managed to catch one of the gem-hunting shows on "Cash and Treasures", but I've been told by long-time owners of a claim in one of the western states that the program presents an extremely unrealistic picture of what you are likely to find. It's an interesting outdoor activity, not a way to get rich. Folks expecting to hit the jackpot are nearly always seriously disappointed.

    - As mentioned upthread, mines where you are searching through gravel, including those in Franklin NC, involve having your hands in water (typically very cold) most of the time, and you'll probably splash more water on yourself, so avoid chilly days. Old clothes and shoes are highly recommended.

    - Most of the Franklin NC mines salt their buckets with non-native stones that are basically worthless, though genuine, to be sure customers have fun. For a first visit, I personally think this is fine as long as you understand what you are getting. If you prefer only local stones, you can Google franklin nc unsalted and follow the links. Be careful about the date of the information you encounter, because situations can change pretty rapidly.

    - The big scam in the Franklin area seems to be exagerating the value of mediocre finds and encouraging customers to spend $$$ having them cut. Having one stone cut will cost far more than your entry fee to the mine; it appears that this is where they make their money. There's also a risk that if you happen to find something really nice and leave it for cutting, you'll get back a different stone. I wouldn't claim all cutters in that area are dishonest, but I have no idea who is legitimate, and I would never leave a stone at a Franklin-area mine for cutting.

    - There are several Internet groups that discuss mineral collecting. Here are links to two recent messages about rockhounding in western NC:



    - MAGMA runs field trips to collecting locations in NC/GA/TN/SC and sounds like a good option if you get interested: http://www.wncrocks.com/magma/magma.html. Some of the sites on their field trip list may not be open to the public except via MAGMA, so definitely do some checking before heading out to places they list.

    - Be aware that there's another "Franklin" important to mineral collectors: Franklin, New Jersey, is an important source of fluorescent minerals. In searching for information online, be sure you're reading about Franklin NC arther than Franklin NJ.
  9. NancyNC

    NancyNC Well-Known Member

    Yep, have been gem mining here in the NC mountains and it's a lot of fun! I found lots of small stones - kept them, but didn't have any jewelry made. A co-worker went last year and found a beautiful amethyst that she had set into a pendant. I think it's the thrill of the hunt that is the most fun, but occasionally there are some pretty nice stones. Even the small ones I found might be nice as stud earrings... if I actually wanted to go to the trouble of getting something made... :lol: The only negative was that I went in November (what were we thinking?!?) and the water was freezing. I think it would be a great summer activity though and I didn't find it strenuous at all. We come to the High Country all summer long to escape the heat of Raleigh and it's wonderful so I would recommend it!
  10. Cyn

    Cyn Well-Known Member

    Big "Thanks!" to all y'all for your responses, information, experience, and advice :)

    While I'm not a Rockhound in that I've never gone mining to find gemstones, I have gone panning for gold in Dalhonega, Georgia, several times.

    What's stopping you? ;) Now that I'm into my 40s, rather than being :drama: :fragile: about getting older, I've made a vow to myself to get out there and do a lot of things I've given thought to but never pursued. Er, after reading that sentence, am I starting my "Bucket List?" :rofl:

    Actually, if you could find out which mine your friend goes to in NC, I would greatly appreciate it! :)

    This sounds a lot like the setups for most of the mining locations I've found online (and the two in NC that were on the "Cash and Treasures" show...come to think of it, I think the other one they went to may have been in Montana). From the gold panning that we did in Dalhonega, I learned quicky to wear "grubby" clothes that wouldn't be a big deal to get covered in dirt, water, etc. Thanks for the tip about gloves, though. I have no idea about the water temps in those mines, but the water at the Dalhonega one was chilly, but not icy (then again, it's not really in the mountains. We're aiming to try and do this anywhere from late June to the beginning of August, so cold water would probably be quite welcome!

    If we don't do the gemstone trip, Wilmington seems like it would be a neat place to take a long weekend trip - one of my closer friends here (and her family) love to camp and have all the gear; that might be a fun place for all of us to go. She's also interested in doing the gemstone thing, and we're considering going the camping route rather than shelling out $$$ for two hotel rooms (one for us and one for the kids).

    What a lovely graduation present!! Of course I would love to see a picture of it. 3.5 carats :swoon: I'm curious - what shade of blue is the stone?

    Blue topaz comes in a wide variety of shades - I've had three topaz rings over the years - a very light blue topaz (a pretty color but unfortunately lacking the clarity and briliance like most topazes found jewelry - it's almost milky looking :eek: ) in a simple sterling setting that I gave to MiniCyn for her 10th birthday; a modern but simple 14k WG ring with what was referred to as a "Twilight Topaz" (a fancy name for an irradiated topaz :lol: , giving it an Aurora Borealis/iridescent reflection), and my favorite, not just because of the stone, but the story of how it came about

    Several years ago, I was at an antique market and found an antique engagement ring that I liked - it's white gold, with two small diamonds on either side of the mounting for the original center stone, which was missing (most likely removed and placed in a different setting). It also has a very faded engraving of some initials and the year "1915" on it. Because I liked the design, the nostalgic aspect from the engraving and date, and that it was unique and didn't look like any of the mass-produced stuff carried in many jewelry stores these days, I decided to get it and have it reset with a center stone of my choosing. The one I set in it is beautiful - a 1.1 carat, emerald-cut, London Blue Topaz with excellent clarity.
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2010
  11. Cyn

    Cyn Well-Known Member

    1-4: We live north of Atlanta in the North Georgia "Mountains" (after living in WA State and being surrounded by the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, the mountains here in GA are big hills in my book :lol: ). MiniCyn is 14. She's in great health; I have issues with my back and neck, but I have a support brace and, if I don't lift insanely heavy stuff, I'm generally okay.

    As for #5, we're in it to have fun and for the experience, but hey, if we find something that has value to it, all the better. Part of why I want to do this is to rebuild my collection of rocks, minerals, etc.

    Back in 2007, we went to a Rock/Mineral/Gemstone show/festival at a Natural Museum in one of the towns in North Georgia. One of the activities for kids (and adults :lol: ) was a set-up of sluice mining, not only to entertain the kiddies, but to also generate interest in mining for gold and gems. They definitely padded the piles with fragments/small stones from other areas to guarantee that the kids wouldn't leave empty-handed. MiniCyn loved it, and that experience started her interest this as a hobby and she's started building her own collection.

    While that setup was fun from an entertainment perspective, if we go and do this during the summer, I would definitely prefer for anything we might find to be authentic.

    Thanks for the links :) . ITA about being able to have the freedom to be able to pick my own spot (if we are doing actual digging). Two of the places I've looked into offer that option as well as buying buckets.

    Since getting interested in rocks/minerals/gemstones, I've definitely done a lot of homework as far as learning about rocks/minerals/gemstones that goes way beyond a regular gem chart. I have a few books (including a fabulous one (now out of print) that belonged to my Grandmama) that contain a wealth of information.

    I figure the odds of finding a really valuable stone are about like those of playing the lottery. I'm in this for the experience, rebuilding my collection, and (if it by some chance happens), finding some good-quality uncut stones. I've known people who have bought metal detectors, absolutely convinced they were going to find diamond rings, gold coins, and all sorts of valuable items. Needless to say, they had quite the rude awakening to discover that wasn't the case, not by a long shot.

    Thanks for the heads-up re: salted vs. unsalted mines in the Franklin area - that's something I'll definitely check out before deciding where we'll go.

    As for any potential stones of value (should we be lucky enough to find any), there's no way I'd leave them up there. Like you said, there's no way to guarantee that the finished stone you receive is the one you gave them. There are several places around here and in Atlanta where I would be far more comfortable having them appraised and/or cut.

    :respec: AWESOME!! Thanks for these links, and for the MAGMA information!!

    :cheer2: Where do y'all usually go? ITA with you that the thrill of the hunt is definitely part of the fun. The one thing I'm assuming it does take is a lot of patience. I know when I was little and we (my family and my Aunt and cousins) went panning for gold, it was fun for the first hour or two, and after that we kids would get bored, whereas our parents were having an absolute blast :lol: .
  12. Wyliefan

    Wyliefan Well-Known Member

    Limited travel time that, for this year, is divided up into visits to my goddaughters, to my grandmother, and to Europe on a choir trip. (And hopefully NYC as well, if I can work it in some weekend.) If only I lived near a gem mine, that would be perfect! :)

    Doc's Rocks in Blowing Rock. She also found some on her property in Boone.
  13. Satellitegirl

    Satellitegirl New Member

    I went to one that had the pre-made buckets and they already knew what was in the buckets for the most part. I knew it was a scam type thing, but I did it anyhow. lol. It was my favorite thing to do at the state fair here in NC.

    I'd like to go to a more legit one though eventually.
  14. NancyNC

    NancyNC Well-Known Member

    We went to a mine that is near Boone/Blowing Rock - I'm blanking on the name, but it was on Hwy 105 going out of Boone. There are several in that general vicinity. My co-worker went to Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite, NC. That's getting near the Boone/Blowing Rock area as well.
  15. Satellitegirl

    Satellitegirl New Member

    That Emerald Hollow Mine looks cool :) I'll have to check that out next time.
  16. Cyn

    Cyn Well-Known Member

    The Emerald Hollow Mine is one of the locations we've been considering. The other one is Gem Mountain, which is also located near Boone, NC (their website is kind of corny, which makes me wonder if it's more of a tourist trap than Emerald Hollow; I'm hoping to find more info about each one before we make a decision as to where to go.
  17. Gazpacho

    Gazpacho Well-Known Member

    Arkansas is a bit more of a drive from Atlanta, but it might be a better experience.

    I've heard lots of good things about the crystal mine in Arkansas. They supposedly don't salt, and almost everyone comes away with something. It's physically taxing, especially in the heat, but if you're in good shape and are used to the weather, as it sounds like you are, then it should be okay.

    There is also Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. Don't go there expecting to find diamonds because only an average of three a day are found and probably even fewer by rookies, but there are some other rocks (you will probably need a guidebook or guide to help you identify them), and if your daughter is serious about rockhounding, it introduces her to the reality that most of the time you won't find anything, but you can have a good time nonetheless. And because it's a state park, it's extremely affordable.

    Finally, if your daughter decides after a few hours that it's not her thing, Hot Springs National Park is within an hour of the other two. Because it's a National Park, it's affordable and not a tourist trap, though I'm not sure about the lodging prices in the area.

    Some good stuff from TripAdvisor:

    Franklin NC gem mining
    List of mines and links to reviews of each

    Arrowhead Mine in Arkansas
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2010
  18. acraven

    acraven Well-Known Member

    The rarer (more valuable) the gem is, the less likely you are actually to find a gem-quality piece of it (as opposed to a cloudy, misshapen specimen) even if you go to a suitable place, so it's worthwhile to pay attention to the list of other minerals/gems present at the location. I'm always glad to see garnet listed, because it tends to be common. It's fun to find stuff, even a rather common gem. Agate locations also can be very prolific, and agate is nice because it is so variable piece-to-piece. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any significant agate locations in the southeastern US.

    I spent a lot of weekends at one of the emerald mines in Hiddenite about 30 years ago. I didn't even find a quartz crystal. Emerald is really, really rare, and that particular mine involved hard-rock mining--which is slow work--rather than gravel-panning. I might have had more luck at the diamond mine in Arkansas!

    I, too, have read good things about quartz crystals in Arkansas, but there are several options there, so it's definitely worth some online research before planning a trip.