Emeralds and Rubies, Muck and Luck

Hiddenite, NC is a tiny town with a sparkling history.  Back in the late 1800s, Thomas Edison hired a mineralogist named William Earl Hidden to look for platinum in the foot hills of Alexander County, NC.  Hidden found an intriguing green gemstone instead.  Named for Hidden, the gemstone was soon known as hiddenite.  It was mined almost to extinction over the next few decades.  The name of the town was changed from White Plains, NC to Hiddenite, NC.  Today Hiddenite is home of Emerald Hollow Mines.  Some of the largest emeralds in the US were dug from the red clay of Hiddenite.

Slooshing for gems at Emerald Hollow Mines.

We took our family to Emerald Hollow Mines as we returned home from our stay in Bat Cave, NC.  The rolling green hills dotted with cows and horses make the drive out there pleasant.  My wife is from Alexander County originally, and she had visited the mine a couple of times as a kid.  The first visit was a school field trip in the 4th grade as part of the social studies curriculum.  The students were learning about North Carolina and its natural resources.  The second trip was a memorable event where Denita’s dad took her, and she found a fairly large emerald.  The emerald was dark green and shaped like a hexagon.  The geologist who worked there acted excited and suggested that the gem be made into jewelry.  Denita’s Dad had it transformed into an emerald cut ring for his wife.  Denita was so excited about her discovery that she even did a rocks and minerals collection for the science fair that year.



Linville Falls

Our trip didn’t inspire any more science fair projects, but we did end up with some cool looking gemstones that now grace the bottom of our fish tank.  The mine is set up for three kinds of explorations.  You can search the creek for valuables, dig your own holes with shovels, or buy buckets of dirt that you “slush” on wire screens.  Slushing is fun for everyone as long as you don’t mind a little cold water and dirt.  Like panning for gold, you wash away the dirt with flowing water so that the heavier rocks and minerals remain in the bottom of your square wire screen.  Our girls loved finding treasures in the buckets of dirt.  Their favorites were clear quartz crystal in its spiky hexagon form and hematite with its green spots on a red background.  It’s ironic that the more valuable rubies and sapphires don’t look like much when they are first discovered.  They usually need to be cut professionally to rid them of their outer layer of rock.  Trust me, they are not the clear red or blue of jewelry store brilliance at first glance.   My wife had to explain the phrase “a diamond in the rough” to our daughters because they barely believed us when we told them that most gemstones don’t start out beautifully cut and polished.  We kept all the pretty rocks and dumped the common stuff each time we slushed our screens. The process was a bit muddy and messy.  We still had a few hours in the car before we would reach home so we changed clothes there after we had used up all our bucket of dirt and filled ziploc bags with our “keepers.”  I suppose mining for rocks and minerals is like buying raffle tickets.  Most of the time you won’t win anything, but there is always the chance that you’ll get lucky.  Will an emerald be in the next bucket?

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