A gem mining trip allows you to go prospecting for gems like sapphire, garnet and topaz. There are different ways of prospecting, but all require little equipment. Before you decide on which mine you want to prospect, call ahead to find out the kinds of prospecting you can do and whether the mine rents equipment for the purpose.
Sluicing is common in gem mining operations. You sit before a sluiceway or a flume, which is a channel of running water, and wash scoops of ore and dirt with a framed screen so that only stones are left. The personnel of the mining operation can help you identify which stones are actually gems in the rough.
Buckets or bags of dirt and ore are provided, along with the screens and shovels/scoops, so you don't need to bring much. If you will be sluicing awhile, a cushion makes it easier. This is an outdoor activity, and the water can get cold in the winter. Wear warm clothes that you don't mind getting dirty and latex or rubber gloves to keep hands dry.
Mountain mining operations may have creeks flowing through the terrain that are available for prospecting. The creeks will be up to knee-deep and can contain gems that have been deposited in the waters from surrounding mines through erosion.
Some people like to look for gems by peering at the exposed gravel and rock. Screening, or panning, is more common and more productive. To pan, you need a hand shovel and a screen, which is some type of metal grid enclosed in a frame. Screening is similar to straining things in the kitchen: dump a shovelful of gravel on the screen and strain with the available water. Mining operations will rent or sell you equipment if you don't have your own. Bring sunblock and, perhaps, insect repellent. Wear shoes that can take a splash.
To dig for gems is to cut into the ground or in a mine's vein, hoping to find a mother lode that yields a valuable find. This kind of prospecting is real labor and requires a rock hammer, shovel and bucket. Mining operations will usually supply them for a fee. Equipment you bring from home might have to be approved before you can use it.
If you find gems, you'll need something in which to take them home. Sealable plastic bags work fine. A lot of gem mining can be wet and/or dirty, so old towels are a good idea. Your shoes might get muddy, so bring an extra pair plus a large plastic bag for the dirtied ones. Don't forget extra socks. You might find yourself kneeling, so kneepads can help. Besides hand shovels, a folding shovel can come in handy for times you need to dig while standing.
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Sophie Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media. A freelancer for more than 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews.