Crystal mines open to the public. 🤓
Two months ago, a 12-year-old boy visiting an Arkansas diamond mine uncovered a 5-carat brown gem valued at as much as $15,000.
The country is scattered with mines and sites that welcome treasure hunters. (Gem Hunt, a series about the gem industry, premieres Oct.15 on the Travel Channel.) Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, a family travel expert at MiniTime.com, shares some favorite spots with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Alabama Gold Camp
The gold rush wasn't limited to the West. Parts of the Southeast have the precious mineral too, and amateur prospectors still come hoping to strike it rich. This site, about 85 miles east of Birmingham, rents shacks for lodging and welcomes families. "The gold camp has miles of creek you can sluice and pan and dredge to your heart's content while you're there," Kelleher says. Visitors can also find red garnets, fossils, citrine and Indian artifacts. 256-396-0389; alabamagoldcamp.com
Spectrum Sunstone Mine
Sunstone, the official state gem of Oregon, is found in lava flows, which are prevalent in the state's southeast corner. This privately owned mine was once owned by Tiffany & Co. Visitors can rent cabins or a tipi and stay on site. Open May through October. 775-772-7724; highdesertgemsandminerals.com
Cherokee Ruby & Sapphire Mine
This Blue Ridge mine offers more than memorable scenery, Kelleher says. "It's an area where people find rubies, sapphires and lots of nice, shiny, blingy things." At this mine, about one hour and a half southwest of Asheville, visitors get two buckets of dirt, a creek box and a seat cushion. "That's very highfalutin'." Open April through October. 828-349-2941; cherokeerubymine.com
Crater of Diamonds State Park
Nearly 30,000 diamonds have been found in this park in the past 40 years, including the impressive 5-carat find in August. Make sure to stop at the visitors center before you begin your treasure hunt at this former volcano crater because diamonds can be hard to spot, Kelleher says. "They have photos so you know what you're looking for." When visitors get tired of mining, the park also has an elaborate water park that's open during the summer. 870-285-3113; craterofdiamondsstatepark.com
Herkimer Diamond Mines
While you won't find diamonds at this spot northwest of Albany, the gems found here are diamond-shaped. And these double-terminated quartz crystals are even rarer. "You can rent your equipment, a hammer and bag and visit a museum with an interpretative program," Kelleher says. 315-891-7355; herkimerdiamond.com
Emerald Hollow Mine
You can find emeralds and other gems at this 70-acre site about an hour west of Winston-Salem. A $5 admission includes a bucket of ore to sluice and pick through. Those who want to be certain of a find can pay $100 for a "Cutter's Choice" bucket guaranteed to contain rough facet-grade gemstones. Open year-round. 866-600-4367; hiddenitegems.com
Rare red plum agates are found scattered about at this working West Texas cattle ranch about 70 miles from Big Bend National Park. "They literally lie on top of the ground, so you don't have to do much digging. It's walking and having an eagle eye," Kelleher says. 432-364-2271; woodwardranch.com
Morefield Gem Mine
Just 45 minutes from Richmond, this mine has more amazonite than anywhere else in the country. Visitors also have found mound topaz, garnets and amethysts, Kelleher says. "It's a great find if you're into this, because there are a variety of possibilities." The mine, which has operated since 1929, centers on a geologic formation 2,000 feet long and 300 feet deep. It produces more than 80 minerals. morefieldgemmine.com
California State Gem Mine
In August, an Austrian tourist found a rare star-shaped piece of benitoite at this Central Valley mine, which specializes in the blue silicate mineral. "You pick up things and check them out in a special dark room with ultraviolet light. That's how she knew she got it," Kelleher says. 559-935-5909; calstategemmine.com
Rainbow Ridge Opal Mine
Virgin Valley, Nev.
You don't have to head to a casino to win a Nevada jackpot, Kelleher says. Last year, three visitors found $50,000 worth of opals at this remote rustic mine geared toward serious treasure hunters. "It looks literally like heaps of rubble and you drive in there and basically go in with shovels and buckets," she says. Open late May through mid-September. nevadaopal.com