Which gem mines in and around Franklin, NC should we go to?
June 4, 2008 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Which gem mines in and around Franklin, NC should we go to?

My family went to one (we think it was the Sheffield Mine) 20 years ago and loved it. We're finally going back, and we're looking for the best experience possible now on a summer weekday. We want decent customer service, a good variety of gems, minerals, and/or cool rocks to find, and we would prefer to not be crowded in by a flood of people pressing against us or pushed out after 2 hours. We recognize that we could very well walk out without finding something large or amazing - we're going for the experience first and foremost, although we will be taking anything we find home with us gleefully. So which mine(s) should we go to?

I'm looking for Metafilterian experiences - I've read reviews from elsewhere on the web about several of these mines, but I can tell I can't trust a significant subset of them (i.e. I'm not going to complain if I don't find the world's largest ruby, and it's not going to color my perception of the day if I do or don't find one).
posted by julen to Travel & Transportation around Franklin, NC (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

We visited the Sheffield Mine about 2 summers ago and had a great experience. No
crowd whatsoever. Nice people. Still a small place. I'd say their website is both accurate and realistic about what to expect and how to do it.

I think when we go back we'll also try the Mason Mountain Mine, too.

Have Fun

posted by sandpine at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2008

Our concern about the Sheffield Mine was this: Since it was on Cash&Treasures on TV, it seems to be attracting a lot of traffic. I've heard two reports of getting there a half hour before it opened and being approximately #50th in line waiting to get in.

Right now we're also considering the Mason Mountain Mine, The Mason Ruby and Sapphire Mine, and Rose Creek Mine. All have individually gotten generally good reviews, offer a Native Dirt option, and have covered flumes (we skip tanning and go straight to burning). Even if this thread doesn't get any more traffic, I'll report back in late-mid-June with what we encountered.
posted by julen at 6:46 AM on June 6, 2008

Long Long Followup:
We ended up going to three mines while we were there and the Rose Creek Mine was hands-down the best of the lot. It was the first one we went to, and we stayed all day. Although we had the option of salted buckets, we chose to fill our buckets with native soil from the digging sheds as did the vast majority of folks there. It was fun strategizing where to dig (there were more amethysts in the dirt in the upper right corner of the shed on the right when we were there; this tip is probably only useful for the next few days) Prices were reasonable, the staff was extremely knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful without being intrusive, and the flume kept us in the shade all day. They offered us icy pops in the morning and afternoon, and were good with novices and experienced folks alike.

There were five of us, and after buying the initial bucket each, we could share buckets if we wanted and treated us like responsible adults and not recalcitrant kids. We found a wide variety of stones in various sizes, some cuttable. They also run a campground nearby if you want to rough it. They are accredited by the state and the owners are on the board of the local gem society. Downsides: the seats were a little close to the flume, and the underside of the flume had filled with discarded gem dirt. The long-legged among us alternated bending over and sitting. But that's it for the negatives. We all had a good time, and are talking about doing it again. Notable finds for our 5 person group: a big twisted sapphire deemed uncuttable by a picky Franklin cutter, a topaz he is cutting, several nice small rubies, 1 or 2 emeralds, lots of river pearls (small smooth rounded pieces of topaz, lots of moonstones and quartz in all shades, sapphires, amethysts, adventurine, a piece of Native American pottery, and lots of garnets.

The second day, my brother and his girlfriend wussed out on more mining and went back to Georgia. We had all day to get to Central NC, so we went to the Mason Mountain Mine 2 miles away from the first mine. We could have chosen to dig the native gem dirt pile for a half or full day for a reasonable rate. Because we didn't know how long we'd be there, we were going to go for native buckets, but the guy told us we "wouldn't find much" in there, and pushed the $25 salted bucket. He sold us on it when he said they only salted it with stones they traded for within 100 miles. So three of us shared that bucket and then left. He'd have made more money off us with the native buckets. Anyway, the salted bucket was well-salted, and we got some gorgeous stones, a few cuttable ones (which they want to do in the shop of course), an obsidian arrowhead (they put one in every salted bucket), lots of amethyst, and an assortment of the other stones (including rubies, emeralds, sapphires, amerine, citrine and other quartzes). If you had only had 2 hours and small kids you definitely want to find things and get the experience, Mason Mountain isn't a bad choice. The flume/water flow was superior, and the guy running the show was knowledgable, but you could tell they were used to most people mostly being there for a short period. It was a self-fulling prophecy with us. We got 10-12 cuttable stones, including a sapphire that should be 12-15 karats.

On our way out of Franklin we stopped at the Cowee Mountain Ruby Mine (no website), and it was a tourist trap. I suspect they try to get people before they get into Franklin and see what a good mine is like. Although they had the most comfortable seats at the flume, the flume was narrow and high and we all got the wettest and dirtiest there. The sieves were smaller, and they pushed the salted buckets hard, again telling us we wouldn't find anything in the native buckets. We each got a ruby and sapphire bucket, and they actually salt it with a cut tiny ruby in a plastic baggie plus stones in the rough. The woman running it seemed permanantly peeved, and none of the stones we found were cuttable into anything interesting. There were a decent number of small sapphires and 1 or 2 rubies in the cheapest stocked bucket. So so not recommended.

The Franklin Gem museum (in the old jail) is well worth the visit for cool stones and fossils, the florescent mineral exhibit and the old jail cell.

The Sheffied Mine came up in conversation several times. One couple, who had seen it on the Travel Channel showed up shortly after it opened on Tuesday and were told they'd have to wait. So they waited. And waited. An hour and a half later it was explained to them they could be seated when the people currently seated went off for their lunch. But when those people were done with their lunch, they'd get their seats back. So they left and went to a mine where they could actually mine. The gem cutter Rose Creek recommended to my brother and his girlfriend (they gave him names of what they said they were the best and pickiest cutters/experts in Franklin) felt that you didn't get anything good at Sheffield and that it was over-rated. I heard another couple comparing the finds at Sheffield and Mason's Ruby and Sapphire Mine and agreeing that Mason's Ruby and Sapphire Mine (not the same as the Malson Mountain Mine) was a much better experience. Next time we go to Franklin, we're going to try that one out in addition to going back to Rose Creek.

General tips: Get there when the mine opens or soon thereafter. Bring lunch with you. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to tell them you don't know what you are looking for. Bring a cushion for the flume seat. Look for translucency, color, columnar-shapes, 2 or more flat edges, sparkle, and/or anything that looks different from everything else. Ask them how they want you to mine (what do you do with buckets, where do you dump the dirt/stones you don't want to keep).

On a side note: we went to the Emerald Hollow mine in Hiddenite (20 miles northwest of Statesville) this morning. We got there when it opened which is the way to go - it was a zoo when we left at noon. The 'free' bucket that comes with sluicing entry fee is stocked with NC gems from all around. We didn't get appreciably more emeralds there in the stocked bucket than we got at Mason Mountain, so my father forked over for an Emerald bucket and we got 12-14 small emeralds. (These buckets were either lightly salted or not at all; they came with other common stones in them - river pearls, quartz, jasper, and based on my eavesdropping of the staff they actually go up and dig the specialty buckets in different gem-rich areas of their large property, and didn't look particularly stocked or pre-meditated. Our experience with salted buckets were less ... natural in composition - all sand or gravel plus salted stones).

At the sluice, the helper walked back along the inside of the flume and picked up rocks my neighbors had tossed not realizing they were nice stones they should have kept and gave them back and told them what to look for. As the day went on and more people and camp groups poured in, the staff didn't grow and he didn't have time to do that. We did go creeking as well (take a sieve and a shovel down to the creek and look for stones). The first 200 feet is reserved for school groups and they seed that section (with big bright stones like adventurine and blue quartz and bright red jasper) just before the kids come down so they'll find things. We found 2 stones downstream that had been carried down from the seeding. I also found some nice amethyst, blue quartz, adventurine, quartz, topaz, and moonstone in the creek. My trick: look for a crook in the rocks near a flowing portion of the creek, and remove the large rocks on the sand. Then dig down to where the sand and rocks are intermixed and run that through the sieve. We loved the creek, and ranked it second after the Rose Creek experience. If we didn't have to drive home, we'd have stayed longer.

When we came up from the creek at noon, the flumes were packed, people were waiting, and in bad moods. It didn't help that they told people who were done to jump the line and go get their refunds for returning the creek equipment intact. My poor mom was given the passive aggressive treatment by people in line who were being noble martyrs and waiting their turn and letting her know THEY were doing that and treating my mom like she was lying when she explained that the staff told her to just go in and get her refund right away. The parking situation was horrible when we left (Hence the desire to get people who wanted to leave out of there!). Next time, we'd probably just go the creek since we're not big fans of the salted bucket. We'd bring our own equipment to skip the refund thing as well as water, snacks, etc, and make a day of it.
posted by julen at 8:34 PM on June 19, 2008

My mom wants me to add that Rose Creek and Mason Mountain both gladly identified our stones when we were done as a matter of course. They sorted them, picked out ones that were (probably) cuttable, and were generally willing to answer any question we had.
posted by julen at 7:37 PM on June 20, 2008

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