Thursday, August 15, 2019

Emerald Hollow Gem Mine

Like playing barefoot in the creek and digging for buried treasure? Yeah, me, too. At least as much as the kids. Which is why I'm excited to have discovered Emerald Hollow Gem Mine in Hiddenite, NC, about an hour north of uptown Charlotte.

Emerald Hollow bills itself as the only emerald mine in the world open to the public for prospecting. And it's located in Hiddenite, NC, where the gemstone of that same name was first discovered. Who knew we live in such a geological hotbed?

Situated off a country road out of the way of most everything, visiting Emerald Hollow feels a little like traveling back in time. Wooden signs etched with the names of gems welcome you along a gravel road that leads to a parking area surrounded by woods.

The first building you see is an old wooden lapidary (it's where they cut and polish stones; I had to look it up) with a dog resting on the rickety porch. Around the bend you'll find the two long rows of sluicing chutes next to the registration hut, some covered picnic tables, and a couple of porta-potties hiding behind a privacy fence.

You'll check in at the desk surrounded by mining buckets and mounds of dirt. The staff are friendly and helpful.

There are three mining options: Sluicing, creeking and digging. Since this is an active mine, the fee for each option includes a day-permit required to prospect. Even if you're just along for the ride, you'll need a permit to be on the grounds, unless you just want to hang at the picnic tables. Children 3 and under get in free.

Sluicing is probably the simplest option. Buy a bucket of sand and rocks (they offer different levels: "natural" and "enriched," which means they sprinkle in some non-native finds) and sift through it in the water trough next to the check-in desk.

We chose to go creeking. This is also pretty simple, but a bit more adventurous. It costs $12 for adults and $7 for kids and you can stay all day if you want. Rent a sifting box and shovel for $3 and take a short walk down to the creek that runs through the property. The stretch of creek accessible to miners is probably a quarter of a mile long, so you can find your own quiet spot for prospecting if you walk a little farther than the first crossing.

We spent about an hour digging and sifting and found some actual (albeit small) gemstones. While you can walk barefoot in the creek, I recommend some water shoes to make exploring a little easier.

The final option is digging, where you can rent a metal shovel and 5-gallon bucket (for $7) and head off to the dig site to unearth your own mineral vein.

Whichever option (or combination) you chose, when you're finished mining, a staff member will identify your gems to let you know what treasures you've discovered.

Emerald Hollow Gem Mine is open daily, except for major holidays, from 8:30 to sunset. If you really want to make a day of it, I recommend adding on a visit to Rocky Face Mountain Recreation Area, just 10 minutes away from the mine.

This is a fun outing all around. I can't promise you'll strike it rich, but I'm pretty sure you'll create some valuable, lasting memories, and have a good time while you're at it.

How to get there:
Emerald Hollow Gem Mine is located at 484 Emerald Hollow Mine Drive, Hiddenite, NC, 28636.

Don't forget to pack:
  • Water and snacks: Or pack a picnic lunch if you plan to stay a while.
  • Water shoes: Something to make it easier to hop the rocks in the creek.
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen: The prospecting areas are mostly shaded, but don't get burned while you mine.
  • Bugspray: Fend off mosquitos and ticks.

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