Montana is an untamed wilderness, rich in natural resources and minerals. Second only to diamonds, sapphires are the hardest natural mineral.
While some tourists explore sapphire prospecting in an attempt to get rich, others explore this activity for pleasure. Most gem hunters say mining for sapphires is a relaxing experience, one that allows them to escape from life’s busy, hectic routines.
Gem Mountain is a leading sapphire mine in Montana. They offer seasonal hours to the general public and are located approximately 16 miles off Highway 1 on Skalkaho Pass Road. This windy road is home to abundant native wildlife and at the very end of this rural trek, visitors are rewarded with buckets of sapphire gravel.
With no guarantees of finding sapphires, visitors spend hours panning through gravel in search of shiny gemstones that radiate blue, green, orange, teal, yellow or pink hues. Onsite staff is available to help educate visitors about how to mine for sapphires.
Dirt is poured into a small square metal tray that features a mesh bottom. A large water trough is located onsite, which allows visitors to wash the gravel’s dirt away. By washing the gravel, gems become wet, allowing them to glitter in the daylight. The metal tray is then shaken, being turned around in vigorous back and forth motions. Ultimately, the gems will move towards the center of the tray, as they are heavier than the gravel. Experienced gem hunters can accomplish this with little effort, but for new adventurists, it may take time to develop this skill. The dirt is generally washed two to three times and is then dumped upside down in a single rigorous motion on a work surface. If the gravel is properly washed, gemstones should be in the center of the gravel.
Sapphire mining is a great activity for couples and families, generating energy and excitement. While most of the sapphires don’t meet gem-quality standards, every now and then visitors find a gem that is suitable for cutting and processing.
Once prospectors are done with their bucket loads of gravel, onsite graders divide stones into two separate groups – those that are cuttable and those that are flawed. Gem Mountain offers optional stone cutting and heat-treating for additional fees, or visitors can find their own vendors for unique jewelry designs.
Gem Mountain is an adventure-filled experience. Packed with education and fun, visitors return year-after-year with high hopes of striking it rich.
Yellowstone Holiday is open Memorial Day to Labor Day and offers West Yellowstone RV camping. With a close location to Yellowstone National Park and Hebgen Lake, Yellowstone Holiday is an excellent base camp for exploring nearby Montana sites and attractions.