Before heading to the mountains of North Carolina, I did my research on the different types of mines (salted vs unsalted, etc), read reviews, and put Mason's at the top of my list. I had big plans to find a few bell ringers, pay off my credit cards, and travel the world with the rest of the gem money..very unrealistic but hey-a girl can dream!
I went a few days after bad storms, so I called ahead to make sure they were open and headed out on the beautiful windy road to the mine. My GPS lost signal a few times, as did the Waze app on my phone, but I still didn't have any problem finding the place, and once you get close there are little yellow signs that lead you straight in to it. The $30 admission fee seems kind of steep until I rationalize it by thinking that if I were to go to the movies, or a baseball/football game I would be spending the same amount, if not more-and gem mining is a very unique experience. I chose not to rent the cart (not a smart move, for the record) but they are available for $5. Once my spot was all set up at the sluice, I grabbed two small empty buckets and headed up to the mining area to get to digging. I was told to stay away from the clay, as there wouldn't be any gems in that kind of dirt, and throughout the course of the day I dug from about 5 different spots.
I can't guarantee you'll find gems (you will) but i WILL assure you that you a) will get muddy and b) need patience. There was a couple next to me at the sluice that was in their 50's, and the gentleman was *completely* shocked that his pants and shoes got muddy. And looking around, he commented about how everyone else came prepared, wearing boots and not so nice jeans. Common sense, people. Use it. As far as patience goes, I know that often we try to fit a list of "must-do" activities into a vacation, so much that we barely stop to enjoy the what it is that we're doing, instead just doing it to say we did it. Make time for this. It takes hours to get the dirt, sift it through your screen, sort through the rocks to find the gems, and if you're in a hurry I can see where you could get easily frustrated. A family sat down and the young daughters were finding big stones (bigger than anything I found that day!) and the dad abruptly told them they were leaving because "it was too much work and he wasn't finding anything."
The guy Luke that was working the sluice is an asset to the mine and Mason's in general. He went through each of my screens to pick out all of the sapphires that I missed, and I missed a lot. He told me how to find them, what to look for, the difference between just plain rocks and gems (which are easily mistaken for rocks). (Hope you finally got your steak dinner Luke!)
I would without a doubt recommend this mine, it is full of native sapphires, well-staffed, and is a fun and unique way to spend the day. I ended up finding nearly 19 karats total, but the experience was priceless.
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