If you are looking for something to do with the family. Plan your next Vacation or Trip to Franklin North Carolina mining for gems. Here is a link to several RV campgrounds. A good place to start for the basic information is at the Franklin Chamber of Commerce’s Gem Mining Page. However, there is other information that is important to know as well. First, know that at only a few of the mines will you be mining in native dirt. Most mines are “salted/seeded” with the tailings from other mines overseas. About the only completely native operations remaining that I know about in the area are Mason’s (not to be confused with Mason Mountain) and Cherokee. Some of the others will offer a combination of native and salted material, while with others you may be dealing with entirely salted material.
What does this mean for you, and how should you base your decision on where to go? Personally, I prefer to go for the native stuff at Mason’s, I have not been to Cherokee yet but, plan to this May. Although you will not find nearly as much, you have the chance of finding something VERY good. This option is best for purists, serious rockhounds, and those with good attention spans. With the salted material, you will find much more, but as it is stuff that has already been gone through, your chances of finding something extremely valuable are quite slim. However, it isn’t to say it is all junk (especially if you buy some of the more expensive salted buckets), and you may get more than your money’s worth. Keep in mind, however, that with salted it is more of a grab-bag than true mining. But if you only have a little time and are just interested in the experience and coming home with some souvenirs that look neat, and particularly if you have children in your party, the salted operations may be a better choice.
Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire Mine
Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire Mine – My favorite mine! This is the only dig-your-own operation where you are allowed to go into the mine itself to dig your own dirt… this place can be a lot of work (especially in the early spring when things can be very muddy), but tons of fun and definitely worth it! For adults, it is $30 a day with no admission fee, $15 for kids, and once again, bring cash. They also have food and drinks for sale at very reasonable prices. The water is very cold as their site mentions, but they do have extra gloves on hand, which really come in handy. This mine is in a really beautiful location, but is a bit out of the way– be sure to look for the yellow signs directing you to the mine, as the area is very easy to get lost in. This mine is actually open all year round, weather permitting, but be careful about attempting the roads (Airport to Olive Hill to Upper Burlington) if the weather is snowy or icy.
This mine was opened to the public in 1942, and a long time before that, it was once mined by Tiffany & Co. The sapphires that come out of here are mostly in the lavender to pink color range (it is mostly sapphires, rubies seem very rare. Though of course they are the same mineral, corundum crystals, only true red ones are called rubies, the rest being sapphires). You can get some very valuable stones out of here– the small facet quality pink sapphires that come out of here can run up to $400-500 a carat or more. Most of the stones you will find here will have a hexagonal shape, often enlongated. Most will have some coating on them, but keep your eyes out for any hint of that pink or purple coloring. As the mud here is quite tough, you will have to put extra effort into making sure your stones are cleaned. Good material in the mine tends to run in horizontal layers. Look for lighter grey soil, rather than the deeper red, and if you find a good location– keep an eye out for lots of mica in the screen, and sapphires in the vein material– dig around there in the same layer. The staff is very helpful– you may come across some older reviews bashing the place, but since the new management has taken over, things are agreed to be MUCH better.
With regards to the mining itself, be SURE to completely clean your dirt in your screen. Most operators at the mines will pound this into your head, anyways, as it is something that causes many to miss seeing gems. You may be on the lookout for different things at different mines, so if you have no clue, ask for help or to see some samples before starting (and at many places the staff will also help you by looking through your “tailings,” i.e., the stuff you have already gone through). As an important rule of thumb though, bear in mind that rubies and sapphires will often have a six-sided shape and are heavy compared to other stones. You may want to bring a container for holding your finds, even though mines will usually provide them if needed; a Ziploc will work just fine, as will film canisters and medicine bottles for smaller stuff.
I’ve found that it is a good idea to bring a small hand shovel, as well. Some mines provide them, but some don’t, and they really come in handy for getting dirt from the buckets into your screen. Depending on the time of year and the weather, things like sunscreen and insect repellent can be useful to bring too. Basic materials like the screen, and shovels at dig-your-own operations, will be provided. Be sure that you know your destination mine’s accepted methods of payment– if it is cash only, you may find yourself backtracking quite a ways to find an ATM. Though it might seem obvious, be sure to find out the hours and season of the mine you wish to visit; April-October is the usual season, but Mason’s Ruby & Sapphire Mine are open all year. Bring plenty of fluids and snacks. Barbara Andrews.