Mining for Treasures in North Carolina
Some of best places to mine for gems in North Carolina are of the areas in and around the town of Franklin. This region is known as Gem Capital of the World because of the many different types of precious stones which are discovered there. When we visited, we chose to visit the Sheffield Mine to look for rubies and sapphires. We had a great time.
The Sheffield Mine is one of the oldest native mines in Macon County. In the 1870’s mining companies began actively mining for corundum found at Sheffield and the surrounding areas. Corundum is the second hardest mineral next to diamonds. Impure forms of corundum are used for producing abrasives, such as sandpaper. Pure forms provide the valuable gems. The pure corundum that appears red are rubies, while other colors are considered sapphires.
Because of the quality (and quantity) of the stones mined at Sheffield, it was once owned by famous Tiffany and Co. The Sheffield Mine is one of the extremely few places in the world where spectacular star rubies and sapphires are unearthed. These special gems, when cut in a cabochon shape, show an amazing star figure within the stone. Having the potential of finding one of these treasures is one of the main reasons we chose Sheffield.
The other major reason we decided on Sheffield was because our son, who was searching with us, is colorblind, and can’t see emeralds amongst the dirt. Emeralds are another fantastic gem found at other various mines in the region, but we thought we should stick with rubies and sapphires. Funnily enough, we first realized our son’s colorblindness when we were sluicing for ‘seeded’ gems quite a few years ago in Pennsylvania. After sifting through his bag of dirt at the flume, and picking all the colored gems out of it that he saw, he showed us his sifter saying he was finished. Scattered within his tray were all these ‘green emerald’ stones left. They looked like brown/greyish stones to him. Moral of the story is, a fun way to test if your child is colorblind or not, is to go gem mining. Lol.
The Sheffield Mine is open from the beginning of April to the end of October. The basic price for admission is $15 for most ages (15-60 years (10 all others)) and includes two native or ‘seeded’ buckets of dirt, a seat at the flume, and supplies needed to find the rubies and sapphires within the dirt.
Because the gems are found natural, they look different from the cut and polished stones most are familiar with seeing. Spotting them raw may take some training. Always standing nearby at the flume is a staff member who is willing to explain and demonstrate the techniques needed to sort through the buckets. They are also willing to answer (even after their full instructions), ‘Is this a ruby? What about this one?’….more than just a few times. Of course, we got there first thing in the morning, and at the end of the day, I am not so sure…
By removing as much dirt as possible using the flowing water in the flume, and then cupping the stones under the palms of our hands and rubbing them against the sifter bottom and each other, edges of valuable gems started to appear. What had been hidden for centuries was discovered! Red, purple, pink, and other colors peeked out from the encased grime that kept them secret for ages.
During a normal season, there are hundreds of large rubies and sapphires found at the Sheffield Mine by the public. No one knows which pile of dirt holds a potential ‘honker’ or ‘super honker’. But even if you don’t find any big ones, you will most certainly be able to walk away with a few small gems. Our family just loved the excitement and anticipation of trying to find the hidden treasures. I would recommend gem mining to anyone wanting to have some great family fun.
What I wouldn’t recommend, though, is going straight from the mines to the Biltmore Estate. I sort-of have to laugh at doing this. Mining is not the cleanest of adventures, and we weren’t thinking of how we might look after leaving the mine to go tour one of the finest homes in the States. Lol. It really didn’t matter to us, however. We still had a wonderful time.
We plan on going back to check out other locations to mine in the future. The presence of these beautiful gems, available to be found, is too much to dismiss! And if you decide to go, best of luck in finding some magnificent ones! Feel free to share a story of it here!
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