Off the Beaten Path – Mining Gems for Fun and Profit

More on how to mine for your own gems! See Part One, posted yesterday.


various gem colors of Oregon sunstone labradorite

various gem colors of Oregon sunstone labradorite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some specific tips I discovered while looking for stones:
When working on the belt run:
– The most fun is working at the top of the belt, because you’ll get first crack at all the stones. If you’re working in a team, rotate through this ‘first position’ because it is way more fun to be the first picker instead of the last picker.
– The miners will help you, if you’re by yourself, or if you don’t know what to do.
– Use the water on the belt to help you find the stones. Get your hands in there, swish the ore around, get everything wet, shift the larger rocks because the sunstones may be hiding underneath.
– Don’t panic. If a little stone goes by you, it’s no problem – focus on the chunkier, larger stones. Let the person picking behind you pick up any mistakes.
– It will be hard on your back and lat muscles to be standing over the belt for an hour. You may want to sit on the edge of the belt table. If you do, your backside will get muddy and wet – so dress appropriately.
– Pick while the sun is hitting the belt, in order to make the sunstones more obvious. Don’t cast a shadow across the belt.
– Don’t STOP. If you find a big red stone, give a little ‘hooray’ and keep going. You can’t take your eyes off the belt for a second.
– Be careful when your hour is up. Staring at that belt going past you for an hour may make you dizzy.


Pit after I’d been digging for a while

When working on digging in the pits:
– Only dig where you’re assigned. If they tell you to dig in a certain area, ask permission before moving. Just because you’re the only person working in a pit, doesn’t mean the mine wants you digging anywhere in that pit.
– I’m not an expert after mining sunstone for a few days, but we found the best colour/schiller material in the SOFTEST matrix. A lot of the lava has degraded over time, and is very soft – in those soft layers we found the most coloured stones. Especially right where the rock changed from harder lava, transitioning to the more clay-like material.
– Any clump of soft material bigger than an egg needs to be broken up – it could be hiding sunstones inside.
– You will from time to time, hit a ‘pocket’ of sunstone. They look a little like a shiny clam or an oyster lying in a bed. The crystal structure can’t be missed. Obviously, don’t whack such a ‘pocket’ with your hammer, but scrape gently around the edges to free up the sunstones causing as little damage as possible. If you happen on such a ‘pocket’ or solid red, green, or ‘dichroic’ sunstone, you could potentially be onto something worth several thousand dollars. Use appropriate caution.


– There is no water source for washing the sunstones in the pits. So when you have processed a sieve of ore, you need to look CAREFULLY for all sunstones. Look for sharp edges, and anything transparent. Your eye will get good at this, but it is harder to pick sunstones when digging in the pits.
– Bring LOTS of drinking water. This is very hard work. Also sunscreen and appropriate floppy hat.
– Tools you need: Work gloves (leather), a geologist’s pick is highly recommended. A small sledgehammer you are capable of swinging with one hand for several hours is a good idea, as is a sharp chisel/pry bar. A small garden shovel for scooping material. The mine will provide you a large sieve and a big shovel.


Digging in the pits

Digging in the pits

Other helpful tips:
– There is no light pollution at night, so the skies are amazing. If you’re a stargazer, you would do well to bring a telescope.
– A hand-held black light will make certain desert creatures ‘pop’ at night.
– Be Prepared. Plan to bring what you need for a ‘rustic’ camping trip. If you’ve reserved a cabin, you may not need a tent, but you’ll need everything else.
– Be aware of the local flora and fauna – this is desert country, so there are scorpions, rattlesnakes, coyotes. I didn’t see anything particularly dangerous, but they are out there. As such, use appropriate caution if you’re bringing the kids or pets. In general I would say it’s not a great venue to bring a dog from the city, because of the risk of getting lost and/or an encounter with a coyote/snake/etc… Kids would have fun digging and sorting, but this is an activity that requires sustained attention if you’re going to get your money’s worth out of a $200 a day fee dig. I would plan accordingly and perhaps only bring older children who are into rocks, and understand that this is going to be a camping trip with eight hours of ‘work’ every day. Kids would probably have a blast doing ‘belt runs’.

The perfect sunstone

What to do with your Sunstones?
– If you find any big red, green, or dichroic ones – I may want to buy them from you! 
– Or, if you don’t want to sell, I may be willing to cut them for you.
– For lesser material, you can send them away for ‘commercial’ cutting. I can assist you in organizing this.
– Once you have cut stones, then you can make jewellery with them. Again, this is an area I can help you out, if you don’t have a goldsmith / silversmith in your network.


Most of all, have fun!



Categories: geology, Travel

Tags: , , ,

1 reply

  1. It sounds fascinating. Certainly a novel break away.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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