Walking up the dirt-and-gravel path from the parking area, you’re greeted by a Buddha and two rusted truck corpses. Wooden bins of large rocks stand next to the stairs leading up to the store’s entrance. A pile of other rocks in disarray rests to the right, adjacent to the sifting area where visitors search for gems. The facility has a working-mine feel of function over form.
Gems of Pala contains gems from the local Stewart Mine, Brazil, China and other gem-producing nations across the world. The variety and rarity of the gems and geodes on display belie the humble exterior of the business, which looks like a Western general store.
“I found another one!” says 10-year-old Johanna excitedly, showing her parents a translucent pink chunk of tourmaline. The pellet-sized gem is her new prized possession. As one of the 23 gem hunters in the Saturday PM shift, Johanna searches for precious, elusive tourmalines with her parents and brother.
With instruction from Lin-Lin, ersatz miners shovel mine tailings into plastic buckets. In the shaded work area, the contents are transferred in stages to rectangular sifters for shaking. Loose pieces of sand and dirt are screened out, leaving larger bits of rock to examine. Spritzing the remaining rocks with water cleans the surfaces and displays the multicolored results. White quartz jumps out at the eyes; pink and green tourmaline dazzles.
That day, enough sparkling quartz, tourmaline, and pyrites were found to entertain virtually all the kids (and adults). However, kids seemed to find more precious stones than their parents.
Operated for over 130 years, the Stewart Mine is one of the few working gem mines left in the western United States. After working the mine for over 20 years, owner Blue Sheppard says that only 30% of the gem-bearing layers have been touched. Many more discoveries lie ahead.
Located on Magee Rd, 7½ miles east of I-15 off of Route 76, Gems of Pala operates on weekends on a reservation basis. Two shifts of miners are hosted, 10:30 AM and 1:30 PM. For reservations, visit mmmgems.com. Cost is $20 cash per bucket. You bring your own luck, but shovels, buckets and screens are all supplied. Lin-Lin’s instructions are entertaining.