Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Review of Three of Frankilin's Gem Mines

While on vacation to Franklin, North Carolina I had opportunity to visit and dig at three of the area mines. First I'll begin by saying that unless you're looking specifically looking for the enriched "tourist" buckets, stay away from the non-native dirt mines. The enriched buckets are for show and you won't find much in the way of native rock. Second, gem mining is work. You're going to get dirty scrubbing all the dirt away from the rock or else you're not going to find any sapphires and rubies. So if hard work and getting dirty isn't your thing, native dirt mining might not be your thing. Luckily for me, I enjoyed it and did find sapphires and rubies.

The first mine I went to was Cowee Mountain Mine 4 miles outside of Franklin on Highway 441. This small mine offers native and enriched buckets of dirt for you to sift through on their two covered flumes. I was less than impressed with this mine and felt that the staff deliberately tried to steer us toward the enriched buckets and away from the native dirt which was available to dig yourself out of a very small dirt pile. While I worked my dirt in a tray on the flume line, I noticed a distinct lack of help from the staff in either direction or identification. Perhaps we caught them on a bad day, but I personally wouldn't plan another trip to this mine when there are better mines just a few miles away.

My second trip was to Mason Mountain Ruby and Sapphire Mine located at 6961 Burningtown Road near Franklin. Although a bit of a drive through the countryside, it was an absolutely beautiful trip. Once I arrived at the mine I was greeted by the staff and for $30 was able to dig all the dirt I wanted for the duration of the day. Mason Mountain Ruby and Sapphire Mine has two covered and one uncovered flume, which was great because it rained all day and I didn't get wet once. In addition, the staff was helpful at working with each miner so that they knew exactly what to look for. Several other miners found sapphires of considerable carat weight, and although I wasn't one of them, I did find several sapphires worth faceting. Mason Mountain Ruby and Sapphire Mine is one of the mines I'd find worth visiting again.

And lastly, I spent a few hours at Sheffield which has now become my favorite mine. Sheffield's draw is their native dirt, although they do have enriched buckets available for the kiddies. For these you have to walk clear over to the other side of the flume lines to collect it. Native dirt is conveniently placed up close so that miners can grab more buckets. $15 gets you started with two buckets and every bucket thereafter is $3 or 2 for $5. We did four buckets on the covered flume line and were very happy with our finds. The staff was super helpful and made sure that you didn't throw away anything valuable. My only regret about Sheffield Mine is that I didn't get to spend all day here, but I definitely will set a full day aside for it on my next trip back up to Franklin. Sheffield Mine was the mine to beat all. If I could do my trip over I'd drop my visit to the first mine and spend it mining at Sheffield. This is mining the way it should be!

For more information on rockhounding, see Rock Collecting for Beginners.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hiking, Camping, White Water Rafting, and Crystal Digging

I've been gearing up for our vacation at the end of the week, and we've got a lot to look forward to. On Saturday we'll be digging for crystals in Franklin, North Carolina. I'm a rockhound who loves digging for all sorts of gems and minerals, particularly sapphires. I also have an impressive quartz crystal collection with one specimen weighing it at 55 lbs. I got this one from a dig in Arkansas.

In addition to gemstone digging, we'll be hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail where we'll get to camp in style in our hammock tents. We hiked a twenty mile portion of the trail in Georgia last year and enjoyed it so much that we're doing another section this year. We've got our gear down as light as possible, have a nice selection of camp food picked out and with the addition of the hammock tents we fully expect to have an even better time this trip.

This will all be after our white water rafting trip on the Ocoee River on Sunday, and then another full day of gem digging. Did I mention how much I love digging for gems? At any rate after 10 days of life in the great outdoors I'll have plenty to write about when I return, and probably hundreds of pictures. And this is also the part where I think about all the people who don't get outdoors and enjoy the experience. They're missing so much!