Before I get to the point of this post, wanted to mention that next weekend in Franklin is the Mother’s Day Gemboree and G&LW show. Very busy weekend there, but a lot of fun! We’ll be there to see the show and do some mining.
Anyways, the Travel Channel aired the show featuring Franklin and Sheffield Mine this weekend, which as always results in pretty heavy traffic to my page. I figured I would put together a little FAQ for the most common stuff I get in my e-mail and hear at the mines.
Q) Can I make money doing this? If so, how?
A) This is probably the one I see the most often. To my understanding, the only way for it to be profitable in the long-term is if you cut your stones yourself, though there are good places online like Lambert Industries in Thailand who cut pretty cheap. Selling can be the problem– sites like eBay might be best, finding buyers can be tough from what I hear. You really do have to have them cut to have a shot at selling from what I have heard; that is where most of the cost is and it is hard to tell what you really have until it is cut. I have had some cut but haven’t had any jewelry made yet or sold any. There is certainly a chance you could find something very valuable if you stick with the native operations, especially with good rubies from Cherokee Mine. It is like gambling, though it is a much better deal than traditional gambling, IMO! The positive side to all this is that if the gems were more common in the native mines, they would be commercial and not tourist; this way at least we all get a shot at them.
With salted operations you may get more than your money’s worth but probably nothing at all that valuable, though it will be relative to what you pay– expensive emerald buckets may have very nice stones, but remember that it is more of a grab-bag than anything.
Q) What is the best mine?
A) It is subjective– my favorite is Cherokee Ruby Mine because of the quality of the stones (all native) and wonderful folks, but a lot does depend on what you are looking for. If you are a serious rockhound and want true mining you’ll want to stick with a native operation. If you are set on digging your own dirt out of the mine, Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire Mine is really your only option in the area (unless you go to some of the public digging areas, but I don’t recommend this for novices). If you don’t have much time, are coming with children (or anybody) you know to have a short attention span, or just want a cool souvenir, you may be best off going with salted because it is much easier and you know you will find something.
Q) How much is this going to cost?
A) It isn’t bad at all– though most places have had to raise rates in recent seasons it is very affordable and you will be paying much less than with most theme parks and other tourist stuff! Cherokee and Sheffield right now are both $15 for most (some ages cheaper), includes 2 buckets, then $2.50 for each extra bucket at Cherokee and $2.50-$3.00 at Sheffield depending on what kind you want. Mason’s and Mason Mountain are both $30 a day for adults for the dig-your-own (the salted buckets at Mason Mountain vary, and the dig-your-own is from a pile they bring down). Rose Creek looks to be $6 for adults with one free bucket, then $4 a bucket after that. So really, for a day of mining you’re looking at $30-$40 a person most likely. If you are a real “bucket-pounder” you will probably go higher except at flat-rate places but it is still a great deal. Places that have snacks sell them pretty cheaply from what I have seen; and it is cheap and easy enough to pick up something in town to bring with you.
Staying in town is pretty cheap on average. If you aren’t picky any of the motels will do and you can get good prices.
Q) Do I need to bring any special equipment?
A) The mines will have everything you really need. I mention a few other things on my page that may be helpful– small hand shovel, sunscreen, insect repellent, a good container for your finds (they’ll usually give you something to put them in, though).
Q) What is the best time to visit?
A) Somewhat subjective, but I like May the best probably– pretty, generally nice weather, and except for Gemboree weekend smaller crowds. July and August are nice and warm but are “high season.” September can be a good month; still fairly warm and fewer visitors. October is BEAUTIFUL in the mountains and is another favorite month. Regardless of your planned time, keep in mind that even short-range forecasts up there can be way off and there is always the chance of a washout; have backup plans (some places stay open in the rain).