Gold prospecting and gem mining is a perfect for a 2 or 3 day camping trip. A great activity for the whole family. Rubys, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones are abundant in Western North Carolina and parts of Western Virginia. Gold can be found starting from the central to northern Alabama along a line up through North Georgia and South Carolina, then northwards along a line upward to Virginia as well.
Gold prospecting and panning can be the reason for the camping trip or just a part of it. America's first gold rush was around the town of Dahlonega in the North Georgia Mountains where gold was discovered in the early 1820s.
Most of what is in this area is in the form of flaked, not nuggets. The way to remove the flaked gold from the dirt is by panning. The pan is shaped like a pie pan and is ribbed along the sides to catch the gold. Panning requires a lot of skill and patience as what you find will probably be picked out by a pair of tweezers as it reveals itself. If you are camping near Dahlonega, you can stop by any of the active mines and pan for gold or pick up a bag of lode-bearing sand to take back to the campsite.
If you are really adventurous, and have 4 or 5 days, there are some areas along rivers in this area that allow hydraulic mining. To do this type will require you to become a member the gold prospecting club, for a minimal fee. This type requires renting of an auger and other special equipment, and the work is very strenuous, but the results can be worth it.
Traveling northeast into western North Carolina and head for the town of Franklin. This area bears natural rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. There are mostly rubies and sapphires located here and further north Franklin there are other mines where emeralds and other precious gems are found.
Many of the stones in this area are found in the "tailings" of when the area was first mined. Tailings are the built up mounds of clay and other rocks left over when the mines were first excavated. Two of the best places are the Mason's Mine and the Sheffield Mine in North Carolina. It is not uncommon for 2 or 3 visitors a month to find 30 or 40 carat or more rubies at the Sheffield mine. The gem stone are extracted by using a screened box and washing away the clay and mud using the sluices set up at these mines. Not a clean activity but can be very worth while.
You know when you have found a gem stone by the weight. The stone will be much heavier than regular rocks, and the signature six-sided shape may be visible. There are shops in Franklin to take your finds for evaluation size and quality. The shops also can cut, polish and mount the gems. They also offer other gem related items, such as rock polishers for less precious stones.
Finding gem stones of value can be hard work and expect to get dirty while sluicing. For the children, you can purchase "salted" buckets that make it very easy for a child to find all kinds of semi- precious stones. This is a perfect activity for children from ages 5 and up and it keeps them busy while mom and dad can go after the real treasures.
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