by Donald Clark, CSM IMG
While the traditional sources of our gems is the Far East, the American continent has its share of gemstones as well. Most are not economically important, but they all contribute to our love of gemology. When you think of mining for diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, it is easy to imagine heading to far-flung, exotic locales like India, Africa, and Columbia. However, there are plenty of gem-hunting destinations right here in the United States. Find gemstones worth thousands of dollars when you engage in a local mining expedition, and have fun while you are doing it. The perfect trip for a family vacation, treasure hunting and gemstone mining is even more exciting for kids who are learning about gemstones for the first time. Grab your gear and head to one of these prominent North American destinations, where you may have never imagined treasure lies.
Famous gem hunting / mining spots in the United States…
Hiddenite, North Carolina
Find glittering, gorgeous emeralds in Hiddenite, North Carolina, only about an hour’s drive from Winston-Salem. The Emerald Hollow Mine is home to the only emerald mine in the United States that is open for public treasure hunting, and you may even luck into finding some sapphires or tourmalines at the 70-acre site. There are sluiceways where you can check out findings from the mine, or you can pay to do your own prospecting, digging, and hunting for a small fee. You could also end up with garnets, topaz, and aquamarines, but the mine is known for their emeralds. The mine is open year-round, and features gorgeous scenery as well as stones.
Murfreesboro, Arkansas is the spot to visit if you are in the market to mine for diamonds. The Crater of Diamonds State Park, 120 miles from Little Rock, is the only existing mine where visitors can prospect for diamonds and keep their findings. There is a campsite so you can spend your vacation at the park, and enjoy wildlife, scenery, and nature as well as some sparkly stones. You will see diamonds everywhere, even sitting in the dirt, but you can rent equipment at the park for deeper digging. Once you have a pan of stones, head over to the office, so an appraiser can check your stash to see how much your sparkler is worth. So far, visitors to the park have found over 30,000 diamonds, including a 5-carat beauty, so your chances of landing a stone are high. As with other deposits, most are small and included, but some fine gems have been found here.
Spruce Pine, North Carolina
Looking for aquamarines? Then head to Spruce Pine, North Carolina’s own Gem Mountain. The Blue Ridge Mountains are the perfect place to prospect for the beautiful blue stones, and you will be able to search through the sediment to look for all types of stones, including rubies and moonstones. You can get your stones inspected by gemologists to see if they’re the real deal, and with gem-cutters onsite, you can even get your stone spruced up and turned into a piece of jewelry before you leave the mine.
Franklin, North Carolina
North Carolina is not limited to aquamarines. In Franklin, you can search for rubies inside the Cherokee Ruby Mine. You will sluice through rocks and dirt with a screen, searching for precious rubies among the debris. The price of admission is low, and the fun level is high, so make it a family outing to the Ruby Mine. To make the trip even more worthwhile, the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains makes it a beautiful journey. You may also end up with sapphires. The Ruby Mine is open to the public April through October, and you’ll be prepared for prospecting when you see examples of what the rough stones look like so you know which ones are worth picking up. Careful cleaning and sluicing ensures you will come home with an authentic Cherokee Mine gemstone. Fine quality rhodolite garnets can also come from North Carolina.
Montana is not only one of the most beautiful states in the country, but it is also a great place to go gem hunting. Check out Gem Mountain, located in Philipsburg, for some stellar prospecting. What will you find when you sift through the dirt and gravel at Gem Mountain? Sapphires, and lots of them. Use the proper tools to hunt for the beautiful blue gemstones, and the staff will help you clean your gems and assess them so you will know which stones are worth saving and possibly turning into wearable pieces. You can also purchase sapphire gravel to take home with you, or ready-made jewelry designs featuring the gorgeous Montana sapphires.
The Morefield Gem Mine is located just under an hour away from Richmond, and the mine is known for their vast amount of amazonite. Prospecting at this mine may also reward you with garnets, amethysts, or topaz gemstones. This rich mine produces over 80 different minerals, and the mine includes an exhibition of stones, as well as mining opportunities for every skill level, including beginners. There are a few ways to mind gems at the Morefield Gem Mine; use the sluicing technique, or collect from the mine dumps using your own container. The Morefield Mine has its own exhibit at the world-famous Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. You may leave Morefield with a number of glittering crystals and stones, including beryl and mica along with other gemstones.
Virgin Valley, Nevada
Colorful and unusual, opals are an eye-catching stone that do not look like any other gemstones. Mine your own opals at the Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine in Virgin Valley, Nevada. This mine has produced some very valuable stones, worth upwards of $50,000. Bring tools and buckets, because you will be doing some serious digging to get to the treasure at the Rainbow Ridge, but your hard work could pay off. The mine is open from May to September, and this mine is not the only spot to find opals in Nevada; visit the Bonanza Opal Mine in Denio, Nevada to look for sparkling fire opals in the southwest. Many of these mines are remote, so prepare yourself with plenty of water and the tools you’ll need, along with camping gear and food if you like. There are campgrounds nearby, so make a weekend out of your mining expedition.
St. Johnsville, New York
New York is home to Broadway shows, plenty of shopping, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, but did you know New York is a great place to mine for gemstones? Crystal Grove Diamond Mine is the place to go if you wish to find some Herkimer diamonds, which are beautiful quartz crystals that are fun to hunt for. The mine has tools you can rent, or you can bring your own prospecting tools into the mine for the day or the weekend. These crystals are native to New York, and the perfect clarity of the stones makes them very popular with gem hunters. For big crystals, you may need a chisel or hammer to break them out of the rocks they are embedded in, and it’s worth the effort.
Four Peaks, Arizona
The world’s finest amethyst is found in Four Peaks, Arizona, just east of Phoenix. There are many other sources in the US and Mexico.
California’s state gem Benitoite has the color of fine sapphire and more dispersion than diamond. It is found in San Benito County and is unfortunately rare. In southern California, magnificent spessartite garnets can be found. Southern California also produces a small amount of beautiful, pink morganite.
Florida Keys, Florida
Conch pearls are an exotic gem found off the Florida Keys.
Coral is Hawaii’s state gem. Gold, pink, and black coral is found in the coastal waters of this state.
Danbury, CT (USA) and various parts of Mexico
Danburite is one of Mexico’s gems.
The Northwest Territories, Canada
Canada has become a major source of diamonds. The Northwest Territories is producing some of the finest-quality colorless and near colorless diamonds on the planet.
Various parts of Arizona and Mexico
Andradite garnets, chrome pyrope and other garnets can be found in Arizona and Mexico.
Alaska and the Canadian Arctic
Alaska is one of the primary sources of hematite. Fossilized walrus tusk ivory, and mastodon ivory are found in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.
Jade Cove, just above Monterey Bay
Jade Cove, just above Monterey Bay, all the way up to Dawson in the Yukon, have substantial quantities of nephrite jade. Plus, fine jadeite is occasionally found. Black jade from Wyoming is also prized by many.
Labrador, Newfoundland, Eastern Canada
Labradorite comes from, (no surprise here,) Labrador, Newfoundland, in Eastern Canada.
Obsidian Obsidian is found in several states. New Mexicos is famous for it’s Apache tears and California has several sources. Oregon is one of the few sources for bright red, green and blue obsidian. Rainbow Obsidian in Mexico is one of the more spectacular varieties.
Opal Opal is found in Idaho and Oregon, but the greatest prizes come from Nevadas Virgin Valley. The material there is some of the most beautiful in the world, although little of it can be cut.
Pearls Natural pearls are found in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Other rivers producing natural pearls extend into West Texas.
Abalone pearls and mabés hail from California, although their supply is now severely limited.
The U.S. cultured pearl industry is centered in Tennessee, where it began. Supplies are good, with qualities and designer shapes emphasized.
Peridot Peridot from San Carlos, Arizona is world famous. Supplies are plentiful on the world market.
Quartz Quartz is plentiful in North America. Besides the crystalline versions, there are many sources of agates, fire agates, and petrified wood.
Red Beryl One of the world’s rarest and most desired gems is red beryl. It is found in Utah.
Sunstone The Dust Devil mine and other sources in Oregon produce world class sunstones. Schiller is common to these stones and some are in the very rich, red, green, blue and multicolored varieties.
Topaz Guerrero, Mexico is the best known source of topaz in North America, but California, Colorado, Utah, Maine, and New Hampshire have also produced topaz.
Tourmaline Maine and California are the main sources of tourmalines in North America. The Old Himalaya mine in San Diego County has been worked for more than a century.
Turquoise Arizona and New Mexico contain the some of the largest commercial deposits of turquoise in the world. Sleeping Beauty turquoise is considered some of the finest in the world.
Fossil ammonites (ammolite), whose iridescence rivals opal, are found in Alberta, Canada.
Mexico (various areas)
Facetable apatite comes from several parts of Mexico.