Opening weekend and updates

A beautiful spring is here, and went out to Cherokee Ruby Mine on Saturday the 2nd. Found a really nice violet sapphire with a termination early on; the photos below don’t show the color well. Also including a few pics from the grounds, showing the lovely conditions and some of the improvements the new owners have made!

On something I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ll go ahead and name the old gold locale on Forest Service land that I did get a chance to check out: Ammons Branch, which flows into the Chattooga by the old Iron Bridge. If you are ok with “hands and pans” only, and feel like roughing it, hey, might give it a shot. Free, and signs say prospecting is allowed (but no mining; once again, hands and pans). The area by the campground on Bull Pen Rd is about the only area of that creek I saw that could be easily accessed. Panned some there but didn’t see anything. Somebody willing to bushwhack might do better? If nothing else, it is a beautiful area, with plenty of places to hike and fish along the Chattooga itself. Bull Pen Rd itself is a bit of a nightmare, IMO… much is only wide enough for one car, rough, and sharp bends.

Bit of an update… bought a piece of property on Hogback Mountain that turned out to have some interesting boulders right off the back edge. Actually, one of them may even fall on the property, but I think the others are in the green space belonging to the development. Quite different than anything I’ve ever seen. They are settled into a ravine area and I’m guessing rolled down from somewhere higher up.

Long story short, this purchase had nothing to do with rockhounding — jumped on a lot valued at 30k but being unloaded at 1k by a developer so that we could be able to pay the fees (all combined breaks down to about a hundred a month) and so be able to use all the Sapphire Valley amenities. Very worth it for us, and also, this isn’t a typical “amenity lot” but actually seems to be a pretty decent piece of land. Who knows, may build at some point. For those who stay in the area, might want to take a look at Sapphire Valley Resort and see all they have– three pools, three hot tubs, a couple saunas, gym, game room, Fairfield Lake, ect. The fees for a lot break down to about $105 a month, about what you’d pay for a couple people to belong to a gym, but lots more here for a family to do. I actually saw a lot go for $100; there are some steals now if you just want membership.

Anyways, I do know there is corundum in various spots on Hogback, though the closest documented occurrence, Brockton, is down the street a bit. This property is roughly a mile east of the north tip of Hogback lake closer to Rock Creek than Hogback Creek. When taking a look around this property for the first time, was surprised to see an old overgrown trail behind, with stone steps going up as far as I could see.

How long were those steps put in, I wonder? Also, who else was chipping at the boulders? It sure looks to me like they’ve been chipped away at… local rockhounds who have been shut out of the old sapphire mine on 64 in recent years, or maybe remains of older explorations? Or both? Or maybe it just looks like chip marks and
was caused by water? There are creeks on the property, looked a bit at the material, heavy in quartz and mica.

And what exactly are we looking at here? Maybe decomposed mica on the yellow? Decomposed feldspar on the pink, perhaps? Maybe garnet schist? I admit I took a few thwacks at the boulder I think to be on my property, and found it to be very soft, almost a talc-like material produced when hit.


Important Updates

A few important updates here, on a cold winter day!

First, and most important, Cherokee Mine has been sold and will be operating under new ownership. HOWEVER, the new owners will be working closely with the Montoyas this year, and I will continue to help out and maintain the Facebook page. It will remain unsalted and stay a “family” business. The new rates (tentative, subject to change) are posted on the Facebook page, and the mine will reopen in May and stay open through October.

Next, during these boring winter months, doing a lot of research into the history of both gold and gem mines in WNC, mostly from old geological surveys and books from 1860-1910. They make for very interesting reading, actually! I want to start doing a little gold panning in particular, and have identified some spots that are both on National Forest land (where panning is allowed, but nothing else, no power equipment or anything, no metal detectors) and at the location of previous operations, or close to them. Your best bets with panning are to stick to areas known to be productive, and also consider around here, most of them haven’t been really touched in over a century—that is a lot of time for erosion to put more material into the creeks.

Should I find any decent spots, I will share here, but will try to do so in a way that search engines aren’t picking up what I’m typing. Perhaps images with the directions and such. The issue is, too many spots, both public and private (some landowners who used to allow visitors), are now closed off to collecting due to a few greedy and filthy people trashing everything and leaving litter everywhere, hauling off material and using forbidden equipment, and not following the rules in many other ways. And even if following the rules, the sheer number of people who could show up at a creek if it were, say, picked up by a local paper or Chamber of Commerce that it is a decent free panning spot, could be enough to make the forest service folks say, “Um, no.” and close it off to even panning. I could easily see that happening in the case of one spot in question, that, while remote, is quite popular due to the beauty, trails, and fishing there. There is parking and free campsites near to the area I have in mind, but even now it apparently isn’t enough to handle the amount of visitors on busy summer weekends. You will notice that on popular forums for the subject, you will almost never see anybody spelling out the location of spots that aren’t already online, and this is why. However, I would like to help out my readers, those of you folks who don’t have time to do the serious research and those who really don’t want to go to the pay sites. This blog doesn’t get heavy traffic, so probably safe here as long as I don’t make it too easy for the search engines to pick up.

On the corundum side of things, I saw a couple interesting mentions in books from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s of “fine red corundum” in the gravels of the headwaters of the Cullowhee Creek. Although every other occurrence of good specimens is pretty well documented, nothing but dead-ends on this lead. Until I found the site of a local stable/campsite/cabins business in that area that mentions for potential visitors that rubies and sapphire, plus garnet and quartz, can be found in the gravels of their creek. So, I plan to visit once things warm up, might stay a weekend and ask permission to document what I find. If it turns out to be any good at all, would be a great place for any rockhound to consider lodging at.

187 ct. ruby and some fall color shots

Wanted to share a couple things quickly; a really beautiful 187 ct. ruby a guest found a few weeks back at Cherokee Ruby Mine, and a few shots of the start of the leaves changing in the high country. The butterfly photos I took at the Caney Fork Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the waterfall is Second Falls at Graveyard Fields.

This upcoming weekend looks like we may have perfect weather, and at the high elevations leaves should be nearing peak, so great time to get out! Crowds may be an issue though, so try to get where you are going early. At Graveyard Fields on Sunday, finding a spot was TOUGH, and will probably be more crowded next few weekends.

Jakes gem 007 Jakes gem 009 070 079 080 107 111 122 129 130


Huge finds at Cherokee!

Been a bit since the last update here, and a lot to fill folks in on. First: Cherokee Ruby Mine now has a dig-your-own! Rates both for it and the mine’s new rate structure (things had to be tweaked a bit to cover expenses) can be found here- Cherokee Ruby Mine’s fees

With the dig-your-own, you will be taken back to the dig pile and left for a half hour to fill and load buckets into the truck. If you finish those buckets before 2:30, you can go back for more. Any that are not finished by 4 though, you have to leave. Keep in mind that this is HARD work. This is not like digging into the “dig-your-own” piles at salted places, or even at the native Mason’s mine, where they stir things up a bit to help out. You will have to break up the dirt first with a pick to have much shot at shoveling it unless you are extremely strong, and will be working around some big rocks. However, it is worth the effort, if you can handle it!

Now, on to the finds. 🙂 Around the weekend of the 4th, some incredible stuff came out of the mine. Most remarkable was a 138 ct. ruby found by a young guest. It wasn’t clear, and not as red as some of the smaller ones we saw, but it was the largest one I’ve seen in person-

On the smaller ones, here are some pics and video; around 10 and 12 cts. on these two-

There was also a 46 ct. blue-lavender sapphire found on the 4th, and a 53 ct. pink the day before that! –

Summer is shaping up to be another cool and wet one now. The mornings on the weekend of the 4th were downright chilly, so keep in mind that you might want layers even in midsummer, and that the mine will close when the weather is bad. A couple other random pics, to close-


Big sapphire, and another sightseeing trip

I was not there when this was found, and do not know the weight, but wanted to share the photos of a huge sapphire found at Cherokee Mine recently!

Also including some photos from a trip we made last weekend to Chimney Rock and Lake Lure. For those considering visiting the area, I would highly recommend the Rumbling Bald Resort on Lake Lure, especially for those traveling with children. TONS of amenities for the kids… putt-putt, beach, multiple pools, playground, you name it. Great restaurant there too that we ate at. Loved everything we went and saw on our trip, but a word of advice: may want to try to plan your trip for a weekday if possible, to avoid at least some of the crowds. Both with this trip and our recent trip to DuPont, both before Memorial Day weekend (when things traditionally really pick up), everything was absolutely packed. Good sign for the economy, but not the most relaxing when trying to enjoy nature! 😉


Some weekend pics!

Had an absolutely perfect weekend as far as the weather goes, sunny and 70’s. Hit the mine on Sunday, but on Saturday, did some touring in the area– hit DuPont State Forest, the NC Arboretum, and a few other spots. Wanted to share a few photos from both days!

Only issue was, the weather was just so nice that everything on Saturday was absolutely packed. Also, it was sad to see how little respect some of the families at DuPont had for the dangers of nature. For example, at Triple Falls, it is fairly safe to take paths down to the rocks and view the falls from the rocks, if you use some common sense. However, climbing the rocks between the levels of the falls is a BIG no-no. The falls at DuPont have claimed a number of lives, and Triple Falls alone usually has 4-6 serious falls a year. We saw families with very young children leading them up the rocks (looks deceptively easy, but there are hidden slick spots and such) and even a little girl turning cartwheels near the edge!


New season, and a new dig!

New season at Cherokee Ruby Mine is finally here, and have been out to the mine a handful of times so far. Have had some good crowds, and the new dig is complete now!

Mostly going to share photos in this post. I have a new camera, nothing fancy, but it does a better job with the close-ups I think. The first photo I’m posting are finds from the property of a local guest, from up the valley a bit. These were just too nice not to share! Also, including a few more recent waterfall visit pics. We took a little half-day trip on the Blue Ridge last week; the higher elevations haven’t started to green up yet, but the waterfalls we stopped by (Skinny Dip, trail at the 417 mile marker, and Looking Glass, just off the BLP on 276) were gorgeous of course.


Gorges State Park waterfalls and more

Had a really beautiful day Saturday, almost warm really, and so we went to Gorges State Park to do the Rainbow Falls Trail hike. This is really worth seeing if you are in the area– it is not an easy hike, but if you don’t have any real physical limitations (like trouble with stairs) it is doable; we saw a very wide range of ages out there. It is three miles roundtrip for just Rainbow Falls, and four if you go see Turtleback and Drift also. Doesn’t sound like much, but the thing is, almost none of it is level. There is several hundred feet of elevation change. You can actually get right near the brink of Rainbow Falls, and during the summer slide down Turtleback Falls, but with either I’d be VERY careful! The park is fairly new and has a very nice, new visitor center.

Also including a few other pics from the daytrip; some of the falls at Living Waters Ministries on the French Broad River (private property, but they will let you see them if you ask. They don’t ask for one, but it is also nice to give a donation!) and Judaculla Rock here in Cullowhee.

Short video of Rainbow Falls


Finally got back out to the mine!

We had probably our nicest weekend in months– 60’s and sunny– so was able to go out to the mine for a bit on Saturday. Opening is still a bit over a month away, but with permission was able to go poke around a bit and do a few buckets.

Found a few nice sapphires and some pottery shards. Water is close to freezing, but the dirt was thawed. However, expecting more snow on Wednesday here… hope these cold snaps don’t continue too late into March! Everything is looking great for the season though. Although the extreme cold in January froze the flume solid, the flume seems to be just fine. Material is looking good too!

Posting some photos below of both the mine on Saturday, and also some snow photos from recent weeks up in this area. 🙂


Flume line in February!

Dig Site

Pottery shards

On campus at WCU

Cullasaja Falls

Dry Falls



No updates in awhile I know, sorry!

Heart of winter here, and it has been a brutal one. Natives to the area have told me this is like the old winters of decades past; the 21st century has been much more mild, overall. The snow and ice aren’t so much the issues– had a bit, but nothing too bad. It is the frigid cold, which one polar vortex after another keeps dumping on us. More than a few days with lows in the single digits (one morning saw temps below zero) and highs not reaching freezing.

Obviously, any sort of mining is out for now. True, some folks have been poking around Chunky Gal this month (saw that on one of the boards) and have had a few nice afternoons in the 50’s, but for any sort of digging or screen mining, forget about it. Ground is as hard as a rock. We had a very mild summer, and winter seems like it isn’t going to let up early this time, but there was one year a few back where it suddenly transitioned from cold to 80’s within a week or so in early April. Can only hope!

There is still outdoors stuff to do here, for those inclined to visit. Cataloochee Ski Area, of course… we may hit Tube World ourselves next weekend, and perhaps even head up to the Cat itself to do a little snowboarding. Also, some of the local waterfalls are draped in massive icicles now, which is quite a sight. Probably not the best idea to actually walk under them (Dry Falls being a good example of one that looked pretty scary from the pics I saw) unless you want to risk epic impalement, though!


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