***Update, 9/8/2012- Sorry for lack of updates to this page; been focusing more on the blog linked in the last update lately. However, I've gone through and tried to fix a few broken links. Also, I realized I hadn't linked the American Profile Magazine article on Franklin gem mining on this page, so there it is! I'm Rebecca in the article and photo you see there. Also, myself and a few others have been posting a lot of updates to the Facebook page for Cherokee Ruby Mine we put together. You don't have to be logged in/have a Facebook account to view it. Not much time left in the season but I do plan on eventually taking some better videos while up there. Also, here is another recent article, from CNN about places to go to find treasure; the Franklin mines, specifically Cherokee, are mentioned here! Update, 4/24/2010- As this page is just getting so cluttered and there will be much I want to add, I've started a Gem Mining Blog to document my adventures up in the mountains from this season on and supplement this page.***
Update, 7/31/2009- Updated my Franklin Area Mining History page with a few more passages from old sources. Update, 6/9/2009- I am the new website manager at The Corunduminium! Some of you may have already seen this site in my links below. I'll be doing transcribing, data entry, photo stuff, and a little research of my own. Definitely check the site out if you have any interest at all in rubies & sapphires-- Will, the creator, is a brilliant guy and has an incredible collection! Update, 4/14/09- A new season is here; have spent the last couple weekends up in Franklin at the Cherokee Mine! Because this page is already so picture and video heavy, I may have to set up another page for this year's trip reports, photos, and videos. Update, 12/2/08- Updated the Franklin Area Mining History page with a couple excerpts from The Rubies of Cowee Valley, by Lou Harshaw (1978). Update, 9/8/08- I am now living up in Auburn, AL, having recently been employed by the University here. In my time in the library (my home away from home, lol) I have done a little research into the Franklin area's mining history, which I would like to share with other rockhounds visiting that may be interested- Franklin Area Mining History. Right now, it just consists of a rather long (but IMO, interesting) excerpt from an 1890 book, Gems and Precious Stones of North America, but I hope to add more to it later.
Welcome to my "fan page" for info on mining and other stuff in the beautiful region around Franklin, in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Like the rest of my site, there is no paid advertising here and I am making no money from this. My reasons for putting this page together are, for one, the number of visitors at mines who really don't know what to do and what the story is on the mines, and two, because I love rockhounding and this area so much and hate seeing how interest in the activity has declined. Some mines that I frequented as a child are now out of business, and I'd really like to do my part, however small, to make folks aware of a vacation destination that can not only be fun, but quite educational and which has a possibility, if you are very lucky, of even being profitable as well. In these tough economic times, too, a rockhounding vacation to the Franklin mines can be done very reasonably, and there are plenty of other affordable activities and beautiful scenery in the region. Plus, anybody can go into a store and buy a piece of jewelry-- how many can have a piece made from a stone they found themselves? Regardless of what you can afford it is hard to obtain jewelry with more personal meaning than those set with stones you found yourself; and, you will know that it is eco-friendly (the mines are held to very high standards) and conflict-free. Many of the visitors at the mines seem to be either from the region, or from Florida-- we Floridians seem to have a particular love for the mountains of N.C.. It would be nice to start seeing an increase in tourism from people from other places, and I'll do my little part to help get the word out.
A big disclaimer here-- the views I express here are my own opinions, and I certainly may be wrong on some stuff. However, I'll do my best to be as fair and honest as I can. The first section of this site will have an overview of mining in the area, the second a review of some of the mines I recommend, and the third will contain other links of interest-- recommendations for other activities, dining & lodging, services, and such.
So, what is mining here all about anyways? How is it done, and what can be found? Are all the mines the same?
A good place to start for the basic information is at the Franklin Chamber of Commerce's Gem Mining Page. However, there is other information that is important to know as well. First, know that at only a few of the mines will you be mining in native dirt. Most mines are "salted/seeded" with the tailings from other mines overseas. About the only completely native operations remaining that I know about in the area are Mason's (not to be confused with Mason Mountain) and Cherokee. Some of the others will offer a combination of native and salted material, while with others you may be dealing with entirely salted material. What does this mean for you, and how should you base your decision on where to go? Personally, I prefer to go for the native stuff. Although you will not find nearly as much, you have the chance of finding something VERY good. This option is best for purists, serious rockhounds, and those with good attention spans. With the salted material, you will find much more, but as it is stuff that has already been gone through, your chances of finding something extremely valuable are quite slim. However, it isn't to say it is all junk (especially if you buy some of the more expensive salted buckets), and you may get more than your money's worth. Keep in mind, however, that with salted it is more of a grab-bag than true mining. But if you only have a little time and are just interested in the experience and coming home with some souvenirs that look neat, and particularly if you have children in your party, the salted operations may be a better choice.
As a sidenote, when searching online, you may see that the serious rockhounds will try to steer you away from the commercial mines, and towards collecting at areas like Chunky Gal Mountain. I really don't think this is such a great idea for novices unless you have an experienced guide with you, however-- newbies at the mines often have enough trouble even with the help available. Even serious rockhounds can appreciate the native mines, and for your money you will be getting the use of facilities and advice that can't be taken for granted.
The costs vary, but in general are very reasonable. You may or may not have a small admission fee, and at most places you buy dirt by the bucket to clean off in your screen. Native buckets of dirt tend to be in the two or three dollar range, with salted buckets higher. Some salted buckets can run quite high-- $100 or even more; heard reports of a $500 bucket somewhere-- but even then, you may get more than you are paying for. As for me, even if I had money to burn I think I'd avoid those pricey ones, though I could see where they might appeal to some. Some places will also have an option for a flat-rate dig-your-own deal; I love this myself, and it is a great option for those with a little experience who can go through dirt quickly.
With regards to the mining itself, be SURE to completely clean your dirt in your screen. Most operators at the mines will pound this into your head, anyways, as it is something that causes many to miss seeing gems. You may be on the lookout for different things at different mines, so if you have no clue, ask for help or to see some samples before starting (and at many places the staff will also help you by looking through your "tailings," i.e., the stuff you have already gone through). As an important rule of thumb though, bear in mind that rubies and sapphires will often have a six-sided shape and are heavy compared to other stones. You may want to bring a container for holding your finds, even though mines will usually provide them if needed; a ziploc will work just fine, as will film canisters and medicine bottles for smaller stuff. I've found that it is a good idea to bring a small hand shovel, as well. Some mines provide them, but some don't, and they really come in handy for getting dirt from the buckets into your screen. Depending on the time of year and the weather, things like sunscreen and insect repellent can be useful to bring too. Basic materials like the screen, and shovels at dig-your-own operations, will be provided. Be sure that you know your destination mine's accepted methods of payment-- if it is cash only, you may find yourself backtracking quite a ways to find an ATM. Though it might seem obvious, be sure to find out the hours and season of the mine you wish to visit; April-October is the usual season, but you have ones like Mason's Ruby & Sapphire Mine which are open all year. Bring plenty of fluids and snacks. And please, obey the rules of the mines and be courteous in your dealings with the employees and other miners.
Reviews of the mines I can recommend - Once again, these are my opinions only, and because I don't mention a mine doesn't mean I recommend against it... most likely it just means I have not been there. Directions to the mines can be found on the mines' websites, which I am posting. A map to all the mines can be found on Franklin's Chamber of Commerce Page. Other photos and video from the mines can be found in my Photobucket subalbums here, here, here and here.
Cherokee Ruby Mine - Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine is my absolute favorite place and receives my highest possible recommendation. A completely native operation, many of the best quality rubies found in the area come from this mine. As it is native dirt, never salted, you will not find as much as you will at the salted mines, but what you do find may be very, very good. As an example, on one previous visit we came away with several carats of nice rubies (the high quality rubies from here may be worth $800-1000 a carat after they are cut according to the Cowee Valley Lapidary; though, keep in mind that you probably will not be able to sell them for the appraised value) and a 4.6 carat violet sapphire that may show a star after it is cut (star sapphires show a six-pointed "star" after being given a cabochon cut). In addition to the rubies and sapphires, you may also find garnet, moonstone, rutile, and other stones. Occasionally Indian artifacts such as pottery and arrowheads turn up as well. This mine was actually closed down for a time; it was luckily purchased and is now run by MAGMA members, and they are just the most wonderful and helpful folks. Although as I mentioned above, that with kids in your party you might be better off at a salted rather than a native place, you never know; a lot depends on the personality of your child, and some may have a blast here as well. Last year, we had a 5-6 year old girl sitting next to us at Cherokee, mining all day and just completely fascinated by even the common rocks. I was the same way as a kid. Anyways, bring cash to pay, your lunch, and prepare to have fun! If your question is, "Where should I go to have a shot at the best quality stones?" then Cherokee is your answer. Such huge rubies as the Cherokee Chief and Cherokee Princess came out of here, and as I mentioned, most of your highest quality rubies found in the area are going to be from here as well. Update, 5/26- My husband recently received a message from Tony, one of the great folks at Cherokee, saying that a visitor recently found a beautiful 11 ct. "pigeon blood" red ruby. A 75.5 ct. sapphire was also recently found! Update, 6/15- Went to Cherokee again in the last few days; there were some great finds including a few nice rubies. Adding a pic of some of the finds below. In addition, we have to thank Maria, Tony, and Ray once again for their kindness and hospitality-- they are absolutely wonderful people, and I strongly encourage everybody reading to pay a visit to Cherokee. We also picked up some of the stones we had cut from here and from Mason's previously; if you scroll down to the info on the Cowee Valley Lapidary, you will find a picture of the results. Update, 7/19- Did another couple days of mining at Cherokee, and among the finds were a 34 ct. (or depending on the pic/video you go by, 35.5 ct.; got different readings) sapphire by me, and a couple pretty rubies by Dan. Also found a beautiful large garnet; but, like the idiot I can be, lol, managed to lose that one. Adding new pics and video below! Update, 9/2- Went back to Cherokee yesterday, and they actually found the garnet for me that I lost! They have been finding some really nice gems and artifacts lately. Update, 10/5- Got out for a day of mining at Cherokee yesterday, and people are finding some really nice stuff! Adding a video of a guest's 22.5 ct. sapphire being weighed (the video isn't as clear as I'd hoped, but the color really is beautiful!). Update, 6/2/09- Have already made a number of weekend trips to Cherokee this season; have made some great finds, and I am adding a couple videos below that may be of interest, including a look at the dig area at Cherokee, and a very large piece of sillimanite found by some guests. Update, 6/25- Went to Cherokee again last weekend, and found one of my prettiest gems yet-- an 11 ct. rhodolite garnet, very clear and with a beautiful purple color. Ones this large are rare as they are softer than the corundum and tend to have broken apart by the time they have settled in the deposits; posting a few pictures of it below. Update, 7/28- I was actually helping out at Cherokee last weekend, to help out the wonderful family who runs it, as they were shorthanded and it was the weekend of the big gem show. The newest material is some of the best I've seen; I pulled quite a few sapphires out of guests' screens and my own buckets. In addition, I found two nice rubies on Sunday, and saw about four or five others found by others there that day. I am adding a photo below of a 3.3 ct. ruby I found on which you can see the triangle-shaped termination. Update, 8/7- Special thanks to Leslie for taking some of the photos of the gems I've found at Cherokee and updated this page with below!
Mason's Ruby and Sapphire Mine - One of my other favorite mines! This is the only dig-your-own operation where you are allowed to go into the mine itself to dig your own dirt... this place can be a lot of work (especially in the early spring when things can be very muddy), but tons of fun and definitely worth it! For adults, it is $30 a day with no admission fee, $15 for kids, and once again, bring cash. They also have food and drinks for sale at very reasonable prices. The water is very cold as their site mentions, but they do have extra gloves on hand, which really come in handy. This mine is in a really beautiful location, but is a bit out of the way-- be sure to look for the yellow signs directing you to the mine, as the area is very easy to get lost in. This mine is actually open all year round, weather permitting, but be careful about attempting the roads (Airport to Olive Hill to Upper Burlington) if the weather is snowy or icy.
This mine was opened to the public in 1942, and a long time before that, it was once mined by Tiffany & Co. The sapphires that come out of here are mostly in the lavender to pink color range (it is mostly sapphires, rubies seem very rare. Though of course they are the same mineral, corundum crystals, only true red ones are called rubies, the rest being sapphires). You can get some very valuable stones out of here-- the small facet quality pink sapphires that come out of here can run up to $400-500 a carat or more. Most of the stones you will find here will have a hexagonal shape, often enlongated. Most will have some coating on them, but keep your eyes out for any hint of that pink or purple coloring. As the mud here is quite tough, you will have to put extra effort into making sure your stones are cleaned. Good material in the mine tends to run in horizontal layers. Look for lighter grey soil, rather than the deeper red, and if you find a good location-- keep an eye out for lots of mica in the screen, and sapphires in the vein material-- dig around there in the same layer. The staff is very helpful-- you may come across some older reviews bashing the place, but since the new management has taken over, things are agreed to be MUCH better. Also, Mason's is very disability-friendly from what I have seen. Areas of the flumes are available for disabled guests, and though the mine is dig-your-own, the staff is more than happy to get and refill buckets if you are unable to do so yourself. Update, 11/11- Hit Mason's again last weekend and did pretty well! Dan found an 8+ ct. sapphire which I am posting a video of below, and we found many smaller ones as well.
Pay attention to the sign in the pic above-- there really are a LOT of dogs that love to wander in the road on the way out to Mason's.
Mason Mountain Mine - This mine is conveniently located right on 28, and a lot of beautiful native garnet is to be found here. However, from what I understand, the corundum (rubies and sapphires) may be salted. OTOH, the new site they have up now has photos of the dig site and claims that it is not salted in the dig-your-own, so I can not say for certain; it is a fun place, either way! You can buy special salted buckets, or dig your own dirt from a pile for $30 a day, or $20 for half a day. The dig-your-own is a good deal-- you will find quite a bit-- plus the staff is helpful, and the gift shop here is very nice. A good option if you only have a few hours, and if you'd like some pretty pieces to take home. I particularly like the flume here; it has a nice rubber lining that helps you avoid splinters and such.
Sheffield Mine - This is the place featured on the Travel Channel's Cash and Treasures show, for those interested. Have found some cool stuff here. Both native and salted buckets are available, but arrive early if you want to mine the native stuff. They will not let you start on native buckets if you arrive past 2:30-3:00, and they can be quite crowded due to their popularity from being featured on the show. Although they claim star rubies are found here, according to the lapidary between there and Cherokee Mine, they are all pink sapphires, not rubies. However, this is a judgement call-- red corundum crystals are rubies, all other colors are sapphires. Same mineral, and whatever they are, they often look quite nice when given a cabochon cut (rounded) to bring out the "star" in them.
Rose Creek Mine - Both salted buckets and dig-your-own ($3 a bucket last time I was there) available. Really neat stuff in the dig-your-own, though based on what we were finding, it is salted. They do have the permit to dig into the placer from what they say, so you may find some good native stuff too. This is a good bet if you have kids with you, since they will probably love what they find in the dig-your-own pile. Neat little shop here, too. The facilities here are very good.
The above video is just a clip of some of our stones from the Franklin mines, along with some trilobites from the U-Dig Fossil Quarry out near Delta, Utah.
Other information and links of interest for those visiting the area.
Lodging & Dining - The Franklin Chamber page I mentioned earlier lists lots of options. If you are going just for serious rockhounding, any of the "Mom & Pop" quality hotels and motels-- of which there are plenty-- should suit your needs just fine. Really, if you are going to be mining all day, main thing you need is just a place to crash. We often stay at the Days Inn in town, as it tends to be the cheapest place with free WiFi access. But non-chain places like Barber's Motel are comparable, and may be a little less expensive. Another great one is the Sapphire Inn. If you want something a little more upscale or different, there are some beautiful Bed & Breakfasts in town, or, you could even rent a cabin. This cabin is really nice, and is located right above Cherokee Mine; beautiful location and perfect for any rockhound! For food, there are lots of fast food options, and it can be good to pick something up to take to the mines with you. I personally enjoy the Chinese buffet in the plaza with the Wal-Mart, and if you are looking for a nice meal, great quality and atmosphere but won't break the bank, I'd highly recommend Livingston's Bar and Grill. Everything there is really great, and they have the best tomato soup I've ever had!
Getting There - Keep in mind that if you drive in, coming in on 64 from the east will give you a very winding (though scenic!) drive. Franklin is a tiny bit over an hour from Asheville and around two hours from Atlanta. If you are flying in then renting a car, Charlotte is another town to consider flying into.
Want to Relocate? - A cabin in the mountains of North Carolina is a dream for many-- especially for us Florida folks, who seem particularly drawn to the area. If this is a dream for you as well, check out CabinQuest. Run by Tony Montoya, who also runs Cherokee Mine along with his mom, Maria-- great people!
Need your finds from the mines cut? - There are many options, but the Cowee Valley Lapidary (1408 Ruby Mine Road - up between the Sheffield and Cherokee mines) has a good reputation, and his rates seem the best as well. We are having some stones cut there right now; when they are done, I'll post an update with pictures. Ruby City Gems is another reputable option for having stones cut. Update, 5/26- On our last trip up, we saw the finished work, though we did not pick them up yet as we didn't have our checkbook with us. The results were really beautiful, however, and hope to have some photos up within a month or so. Also forgot to add that he has a lot of beautiful jewelry for sale. Keep in mind that most of the world's best rubies come from Myanmar (Burma), mined with virtual slave labor and with the revenue going to fund the oppressive junta there. By buying a piece of NATIVE jewelry here, or having a piece made from your own finds, instead of buying in a traditional store, you will know your money won't be going to Myanmar's junta. Update, 6/15- Picked up our cut stones the other day, here are the results (top row are stones from Cherokee, the others are from Mason's Ruby and Sapphire Mine)-
Other Points of Interest in the Region -
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad - Take a scenic train ride! You can catch this in nearby Dillsboro and Bryson City. Update, 11/11- Took a trip on it out of Bryson City last weekend; really love it! You can see some of the photos from the trip in this album.
Nantahala Outdoor Center - Go on a wild whitewater rafting adventure! Other activities, shopping, lodging, and dining available.
If you have any questions or comments, would like your page-related link added or have other suggestions for additions, or just would like to say hi or whatever, please feel free to e-mail me or send me a message on my Facebook profile.