Hunting for Diamonds: Go Jewel Prospecting at These Parks and Mines
Earlier this year, David Anderson found a 6.19-carat white diamond in a field in Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. The gemstone is Anderson's to keep or sell -- just like more than 400 other diamonds he's found there. The site is one of many across the U.S. where, for a small entry fee, you can hunt for valuable gems to sell.
Where Can You Go Gem Hunting?
Hunt for gems and minerals for free on some public lands. For example, you can collect fire agates and other gemstones in BLM rock hound areas in Arizona. However, you're limited to collecting for personal use, and are not supposed to sell your finds.
Fortunately you can sell what you find at paid mining sites like these:
It costs just $8 per day to dig for diamonds here, and you can bring your own shovel and bucket or rent equipment onsite. Last year, 12-year-old Michael Detlaff found a 5.16-carat diamond worth an estimated $12,000 to $15,000. Park officials say visitors find about two diamonds each day.
This commercial outfit in Montana charges $20 for each bucket of "sapphire gravel” taken from their mine. You then search through the gravel and keep what you find. You can do this at their store in the old mining town of Philipsburg, or at the mine in the nearby Sapphire Mountains.
For $11 per day, you get to prospect for "Herkimer Diamonds," quartz crystals that closely resemble true diamonds. Included in your entry fee is the use of a rock hammer, a how-to guide, and plastic bags to hold your finds.
To spend the day looking for rubies at this mine near Franklin, North Carolina, you’ll pay $30. Then you’ll dig buckets of gravel, then take them to the flume line to wash the dirt away and pick through for the gems.
This mine in the little town of Hiddenite, North Carolina, is said to be "the only emerald mine in the United States open to the public for prospecting." For $5, you get a bucket of ore and use of the sluice. For $5 more, you can do your own prospecting in a creek on the property.
Looking for more options? RockTumbler.com has a list of fee mining sites in the United States and Canada. Note that some operations charge $100 or more and none can guarantee that you'll find anything valuable, which brings us to the important question...
Can You Make Money Gem Hunting?
The 65-carat emerald found near Hiddenite, North Carolina a few years ago may be worth $1 million, but most prospectors who go to fee areas hunt gems for the excitement. Still, there are some things you can do to increase your odds of making a profit from your fun.
Go where you can actually prospect. Some operations sell you buckets of mined ore to sift through. You can find gems this way, but you can go through a lot more buckets of ore for a lower cost per bucket if you're allowed to work hard digging out the ore for yourself.
Take advantage of special deals to get the most for your money. For example, at Crater of Diamonds State Park, if you enter after 6 p.m., your ticket allows you access the whole next day as well. You can also camp there to save money on a hotel.
Prepare before you start. Watch gem mining videos on YouTube to learn the most efficient techniques. Have the necessary equipment for quickly digging and screening ore.
Free mining sites can keep costs lower, and therefore profits higher. According to the Travel Channel, you can find jade pebbles on the beaches around Big Sur, California, between boulders and in piles of shoreline gravel at low tide. People have found meteorites around Glorietta Mountain in New Mexico using a metal detector and a walking stick with a magnet on the end.
As mentioned, many public lands only allow you to collect gems in reasonable amounts for personal use. However, if you happen to find an area rich in gems in a national forest or on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, you can always consider staking a claim and becoming a full-time miner, so you can sell what you find.
Your Turn: Do you like the idea of hunting for diamonds and other gemstones?