LeAnne Martin
Beauty and the Beholder

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gold and Gems

Last week, I went on a field trip with my daughter's class to the largest hardrock gold mine east of the Mississippi River, the site of America's first gold rush. During the excavation period in the late 1800s, approximately 4,000 tons of dirt, debris and ore were removed from the tunnel system. During the tour, our guide talked about the geology of the gold belt, including quartz and pyrite formations, where early miners found gold.

Before we took the underground tour, though, we did some gold panning and gem grubbing. My favorite was the gem grubbing, which involves taking a wooden box with a mesh bottom, filling it with sand, and dunking it into a stream of running water. As the sand washes away, it leaves gems behind. Apparently it's possible to find emeralds, rubies, and sapphires but I didn't wash up any. I did walk away with a bag full of colorful gems, though, including quartz, adventurine, sodalite, carnelian, citrine, blue calcite, a desert rose, a chunk of fool’s gold, and more. When she panned for gold, my daughter found nine pieces, the most of anyone in her class but unfortunately not enough to make a dent in her college fund.

My gems now sit in a small mason jar on my desk to remind me of a fun day with my daughter and my early fascination with rocks and geology. We're planning to go back and take my husband with us. Maybe next time we'll strike it rich.

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