Monday, November 19, 2012

Digging for Treasures in North Carolina

5315 Bryson City Road, Franklin, North Carolina

What a thrill it is to find a gemstone!  We have dug geodes in Missouri, quartz crystals in Arkansas and wanted to try our luck at gemstones in Franklin, North Carolina.  We heard about the Cowee Gift Shop and Mason Mountain Mine from some friendly folks at a craft fair (thanks Moberlys!) and decided to stop by on our way to Florida. 

The mine has been open since 1965 and is said to be one of the most visited gem mines in Macon County, NC.  The Johnson family does a great job making everyone from novice to expert have a good time and learn something too!  No need to have special tools or equipment, they provide all you will need:  shovel, dolly, bucket, small trowel, screen and even a ziploc bag for your finds.  There is plenty of parking, picnic tables, restrooms and expert help to get you started and identify your finds.

The native material is trucked in from up the mountain - you dig in the pile

Brian at the mine site explained all of our options.  You can dig your own buckets of native material, buy already dug buckets or buy 'enriched' buckets that have added gems from other areas.  Families enjoyed the enriched buckets while we were there.  The kids get so excited finding gems and even arrowheads!   (Adults enjoyed this activity too)  Groups can share a bucket - Brian will give each person his own trowel and screen.  We have seen this kind of activity at other places (amusement parks, museums and campgrounds) but these buckets are definitely worth the cost.  Lots of fun and they guarantee at least a few pounds of stones to keep.  We opted to dig for 1/2 day in the native material which costs $20/pp.  It was after noon when we arrived and they close about 4:30 - so it was plenty of time for us to try our luck. 

Plenty of room at the sluice for everyone

After picking through our screens for about an hour with the first bucket, it became evident that we needed more help trying to decide what was a 'keeper'.  Brian gave us a couple of example stones to look at and compare to what we were finding.  Rhodolite, sapphire and ruby are what you will find - plus emerald, kyanite and probably more!  Once we started processing more material our finds were more frequent.  Brian identified some of stones for us and told us what was 'leverite' (as in leverite here, it's not a gemstone)! 

Now we know what to look for!

You may want rubber gloves if you have manicured nails.  The dirt is red and stains so wear old clothing and shoes.  Expect to get wet - the sluice can splash and even your shoes can get dripped on.  There is a covered area on the sluice to get out of the rain or sunshine and plenty of room for everyone.  If you plan on spending the day bring your lunch, it is a bit of a drive to a town for snacks & drinks.

A Rhodolite that Dennis found

At the end of the day we took our finds to the gift shop where Tom and Ginger Johnson helped us sort our finds.   Dennis found a couple nice pieces of Rhodolite - one we left with Tom to be faceted into a stone for jewelry.  We also had some sapphires and rubies.  You can have your stones finished by Tom and mailed to your home.  The cost is based on the finished carat weight.  The gift shop also has finished pieces, minerals, rocks and fossils from other areas plus lapidary equipment.  If you buy your lapidary equipment there Tom will give you a lesson before you take it home - great way for a beginner to learn how to cab or facet stones.

The sapphire and rhodolite in front of Tim are what we had Tom finish for us

We are already planning our next trip to the mine.  Franklin, North Carolina isn't far from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg and camping/fishing areas.  Check out their website  and they are on facebook too, Cowee Gift Shop & Mason Mountain Mine.

Finished stones - 6.44 ct lavender star sapphire and 2.70 ct Rhodolite