Thursday, October 18, 2007

OK, it's not real gem mining

I've probably spent too much time and money trying to replace things I lost in Hurricane Hugo, but i was determined to replace one more thing on this NC trip. I wanted to go mining.

When I was 14, my uncle brought my cousin and me to the mountains and, among other things, we went emerald-mining. The area is studded with old mines, whose main product was feldspar used for BonAmi cleanser and Fels Naptha soap. But they also yield various precious and semi-precious stones. On that occasion nearly 40 years ago (OMG) I though I'd hit the jackpot when I found a chunk of granite with a cloudy, rudimentary emerald (worth about 2 bucks) embedded in it. It's now out in the SC marsh, along with most of my childhood artifacts, where it can baffle some future geologist.

So Larry, good sport that he is, took me along a winding, winding road deep into the mountain, as we followed signs toward Little Switzerland and the Emerald Village mine. I'm happy to say he ended up having a fun day too.

Safety and insurance concerns have ended real do-it-yourself mining in most of these tourist tra- I mean, places. So what you actually do is buy a bucket of rubble and sort through it for any valuables. They seed each bucket with enough poor-to-medium quality gems to make it worth your while, and the rest of the rubble sometimes contains a surprise.

The price varies by bucket size. We got the $35 buckets, and each received a bucket full of rocks, a trowel, and a plastic cup to sort the good stuff into.

You trowel out some of it. Sluice it through the water. Examine each big rock on all sides.

Once the big pieces are sorted out, then I pick through the tiny ones. I pull out every item of any color at all, since even the worthless stuff can be pretty.

Trowel, rinse, repeat. It didn't occur to me to bring my reading glasses, so I examined each piece with a Mr. Magoo squint, for about 3 hours of sorting.

Then we bagged it to take home. The mine will also appraise it for you, but somehow we thought we'd get a better deal elsewhere, so now we've got two plastic bags of pretty varicolored rocks.

This was done in the lower mine. The upper mine is set up to tour and we did that, too, after a nice deli lunch which they also offer. Gift shop, displays, the whole tourist tr- I mean, nine yards.

As we walked to the the upper mine I found one of my favorite rocks-of-the-day for free, lying alongside the road. I've taken umpteen pix, but suffice it to say no photo really gets the multicolored and layered, textured, 3D -ness of it.


According to the guidebook, the third photo shows a 12-horsepower steam engine, model name the "Eclipse," made by the Frick Company of Waynesboro, PA, "probably in the early 1890's." And it still runs.

This mine closed in the 1950's, as did many, though feldspar is still an economic force of some merit in those hills. The mine exhibit shows various miserable aspects of the job, including child labor, and a lot of original equipment, most from the 1920's and 30's.

And here's my take. (above)

A select array of colorful items from it is in the photo on the right -- and note the clear purple-tinted crystal at the very bottom of the picture. This may be the coolest thing I got, because that back speck in the end is a tiny fossilized ... something. Bit of seed or leaf. Maybe a tiny feather? This thing, I will definitely need an expert to identify, but whatever it is, it's neat!


Overlook view in Little Switzerland

Last but definitely not least, a non-mine-related addition to the general documentation of the trip -- I just got back prints from my one role of conventional film, wherein can be found the Motel Cat. She seems to drift from room to room, visiting all who are amenable.


ronnie said...

How interesting!!!

One thing I have always wanted to do but haven't gotten around to yet is to go rockhounding on the ocean floor of the Bay of Fundy. It has the highest tides in the world, and when the tide is all the way out, you can stroll around on the ocean floor (when the tide comes back in, it will be four stories above where you've been standing!). Amethysts and geodes turn up on the ocean floor in this region, although they are lesser than in earlier times due to tourism and rockhounding.

A very nice haul. Do you ever turn any of your interesting finds into jewelry or just enjoy them as geological samples?

I also liked meeting the Motel Cat. A distant cousin of the Bothy Cat, perhaps.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Another post of yours that brings back memories! In the Mohawk Valley, not far North of where I grew up, is an area rich with double-pointed, clear, very hard quartz crystals called "Herkimer Diamonds." (A quick Google shows they have become quite the tourist attraction, with "mines" and campgrounds, etc.) Dad used to take me hunting for them, but I was keener to use my geologist's hammer and chisels on nearby shale, looking for trilobites and other fossils.

As for the Both- er, Motel Cat -- as I think I mentioned to ronniecat when she returned from Cuba with tales of the late Lucky, I suspect that there's some great Spirit Cat who assigns guides to certain travelers who may need them.