Times of Year To Go Mining: Most mines in the area are open from spring through autumn. While some mines charge a daily admission fee, most sell gem dirt by the bucket or bag. A few allow you to dig your own dirt from a specified area.
Two Types of “Dirt”: There are two different types of “dirt” you can get. Some mines have only “native” dirt, which means that you are getting a bucket of dirt straight from the ground in the mine. You may or may not find anything in it but whatever you do find is an authentic gem from Western North Carolina. Others have what they call “enriched” dirt in addition to native buckets. These buckets of dirt are “salted” with gems bought at shows. They most likely are not gems native to the area.
For beginners or for young children who want the quick payoff, an enriched bucket is really the way to go. The colorful stones are easy to see and exciting to find. For those with more experience, the native buckets are a great challenge.
Step 1: After deciding which type of bucket you want, it is time to get down to business. You will be provided with a sifter box; a wooden box with a screen on the bottom that lets water and dirt rush out but keeps your gems and rocks inside. Take your bucket and sifter box and have a seat next to the flume, which is a shallow trough with water running through it. The running water will help you wash the dirt of the rocks and stones in your bucket.
Step 2: Pour some of the dirt from your bucket into the sifter and place it in the water. Shake the sifter from side to side and move it up and down in the water to rinse away the dirt. If you have an enriched bucket, the job won’t be too difficult. Stones are clean when mixed into the dirt, so it will wash off easily. If you have a native bucket, it will take more time and effort. Rinsing the dirt off native stones is a bit more challenging and the gems are still surrounded by their matrix, a crusty gray protective barrier.
Step 3: Push large rocks aside and gather smaller gravel into a mound at the center of your tray. Push your hands down onto the pile and move it in a circular motion to help remove the dirt. Rinse your stones and rub again. Repeat the process until no more mud is visible on your hands. Spread your clean stones into one layer and look carefully for glints of lavender, pink or deep purple-red. Don’t forget to check those larger chunks you set aside. Chances are they’re just rocks but you never know – there could be something amazing hiding within!
If it’s your lucky day, the mud will be washed away to reveal spectacular treasures in your sifter! Rubies are silky red; garnets reddish brown; and note that sapphires come in just about every color there is! Quartz, a favorite among gem hunters, is a smoky clear color. Mine staff are usually on hand to help show you what to look for because gem stones in their natural state look nothing like the brilliantly colored cut gems we see as the final product.
We hope you have a wonderful time on your gem mining adventure! There are a lot of gem mines in the area, many just a short drive away from Bryson City, NC and your vacation cabin rental from Yellow Rose. Happy hunting!