The Cherokee Mine in NC

Recently, my husband and I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains to enjoy a vacation of hiking, camping, and gem mining in Franklin, NC. Before I share our experience mining at the Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine, I’d like to provide some background information for other rockhounds or rock collectors in the beginner stages.

Let’s begin with a look through history, back to the very start of gem mining, which we accredit to the Pueblo Southwestern tribe who began mining for Turquoise approximately 2,600 years ago. As the word spread of the treasures below the earth, immigrants began to flock to colonies and stake their claim. But did you know that even to this day, North Carolina remains the only state to possess a unique gem/mineral?! In 1879, a geologist by the name of William Hidden discovered the rare gemstone we know today as Hiddenite, a lime-green chromium-rich stone which forms within the hydrothermal veins of rocks.

Don’t let anyone convince you that gemstones are nothing more than pretty rocks! Not only are most gemstones truly more valuable than diamonds, but more of them are sold in the United States than anywhere else on Earth. And Franklin, NC happens to be considered one of the gem mining capitals.

My husband and I have been members of the Memphis Archaeological & Geological Society for a couple of years now, and we’ve gone digging for gemstones with them a few times. We have also hunted down Agate many times at the Nonconnah Creek together, and we spent the 4th of 2017 in the sun, up to our knees in red dirt, filling buckets and buckets with quartz at Mount Ida. As passionate as we are, I’m sure you can imagine how excited we were to visit NC and get our hands on some of the stones native to the area. I suppose we should have done a bit more research to discover that only one mine produces the Emerald I was after!

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So the first thing we noticed was what a different process it was at Cherokee vs Mount Ida. There was no vast expanse of dumped dirt to dig through all day, but rather we were allowed to choose a bucket to sift through and sluice. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, sluicing is simply washing a bucket of dirt at a sluice way to find precious minerals.

Each bucket was perhaps a solid 3 pans, and one of mine produced absolutely no treasures to be found. It’s also worth noting that you have to pay for each bucket, which again was nothing like Mount Ida, where we paid to spend the day digging away to our heart’s content.

The lady who admitted us and provided us information on what we were searching for was witty, sharp, and extremely helpful. She gave me all sorts of information on local gem museums, lapidary schools, and art fairs in the area. In fact, everyone who worked there seemed extremely helpful (though maybe a bit anxious to get all their miners out to end the day, and very hesitant to refer rockhounds to their “competition”, which was frustrating but I suppose to be expected when it’s about money and not a shared passion).

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The staff did an amazing job with instructing us before we got started, and it was so nice to have them around to double-check our pans for us and answer our questions. I had several times I wasn’t able to spot something (usually because it was all so small, which I’ll get to momentarily), and they found it all for me! It definitely makes you feel better about buying every bucket you sift through when you know you have someone nearby to be sure you don’t miss anything!

At the start, my husband and I were extremely excited. We’d been dreaming of mining for something new for the past year or so now, and we were anxious to uncover some shiny new beauties we could proudly display back home.

Equipped with the knowledge we needed to get started, we began to “mine” (sluice) through our buckets, and it’s pretty adorable how excited my husband would get with each little garnet he managed to find!

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However, as time went on we discovered no one was finding much of anything big and exciting. I can’t lie, I felt a bit disappointed after spending over what we’d spent at Mount Ida and knowing that then we’d gone home with buckets of huge clusters we still keep on display at home today and points I still use in my creations from time to time. I suppose we should have realized we wouldn’t be finding anything too large and spectacular when we were given nothing but a tiny pill bottle to put our gems into!

Unfortunately, this is one of the only stones I’m able to share a photo of. I was able to find small chunks of Moonstone and Kyanite, but they need to be cleaned up first, and everything else is much too small to get a shot of .

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If you’re a creator like myself, you may find that these small beauties are great little settings in rings or sweet embellishments in pendants, and they’re also wonderful to use as inlays either naturally or crushed. However, if you’re searching for cabochon-worthy stones, this probably isn’t the mining trip you’d plan on. You’re paying more for a calming experience with some occasional little surprises around other people who perhaps love gemstones as much as you do, or at least some curiosity.

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So at the beginning of this article I mentioned how Hiddenite was discovered in a mine in NC, the only mine said to contain emeralds as well. This mine, unfortunately, is nothing more than a tourist trap today. Most of what you’re given access to, even the creek beds, have been salted (meaning that they’ve basically put what they want you to find out there), and the major source of Emeralds is NOT NC but rather Brazil.

If you’re looking for an amazing experience with some really dope finds, your best bet is always to go off the beaten path. Mount Ida is still the only mine we ever paid to dig at that produced some incredible collector-worthy finds. Most pay-to-dig mines don’t truly give you access to anything substantial. This is why I love being a member of the Archaeological Society; it allows me and my husband tons of opportunities to go on trips and dig in places with rich mineral deposits that most people know nothing at all about! I’d suggest doing some digging around to find out if your area has its own Geological Society. We pay just $25 annually, and we are privy to all sorts of free lectures and classes, great deals on lapidary tools, and much more!

All in all, I’d have to say that all the hype about some of these gem mines is a little bit overrated. When I find another mine half as good as Mount Ida I’ll be sure to share, but until then, this wytch considers it by far the very best. Save some bucks and skip the mines in NC- Arkansas is where it’s at! Otherwise, just be prepared to find what appears to be nothing more than some tailings (little pieces that fall through during sluicing) in your ore. But hey, at least you’ll have one hell of a pretty view!

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