How to mine for gems in North Carolina
Gemstones (precious and semi-precious stones) have been mined in North Carolina for many years. The 1870s saw the beginning of ruby and sapphire mining in Macon County. Gems that have been found in North Carolina also include emeralds, garnets, aquamarines, golden beryls, hiddenite (a form of spolumene), moonstones, rhodolite, rutile and sillimanite.
There are several mines in the mountains and Piedmont areas of western North Carolina that are open to the public for the purpose of gemstone mining (prospecting). Several specialize in "enriched" or "salted" dirt that customers will work for a gem. Enriched (or salted) dirt means that the mine has purchased raw gems and intentionally planted them in the dirt, so that customers are guaranteed the finding of a gem. Other mines specialize in "native dirt"-that it, when you go you are actually going to have "the thrill of the hunt." The dirt you process may or may not have a gem in it. some mines give you the option of choosing enriched or native soil.
One place that gives customers native dirt is the Sheffield Mine, in Franklin, Macon County. Once you purchase your bucket or two (or more) of dirt and proceed to the flume line (a shallow trough made of wood, with water flowing through it), get a wooden sifter box with a screen bottom. You will then work on your dirt, cleaning and sifting the dirt away, leaving any cleaned stones sitting on the screen. If you are blessed that day, you will find a ruby or a sapphire!
Another mine you may want to check out is the Emerald Hollow Mine in Hiddenite. It is the only emerald mine in North Carolina (and in the entire USA) open to the public to prospect for emeralds. Other gems and minerals that can be found at this mine include aquamarines, sapphires, garnets, topaz, amethyst, citrine, tourmaline, rutile, hiddenite, and quartz.
Other minerals that occur in North Carolina that are prized by artisans for carving and for use in jewelry are talc and soapstone (talc with impurities that make it a little softer and easier to carve than the already soft talc). There are no active quarries in North Carolina. The most recent production occurred in Madison and Cherokee counties. Once you have learned of locations of talc or soapstone, be sure to check with the local landowner for permission to prospect for talc and soapstone. A listing of locales for deposits and mines/quarries for talc and soapstone in North Carolina (and other places) can be found here.
The counties with the most mines open to the public are Macon, Mitchell, Watauga, Alexander, Cabarrus, Haywood and Stanly.
More details and information can be found at the following sites:
http://www.geology.enr.state.nc.us/answers.htm#Gem mines, mineral museums, and NC mineral clubs