By Jamie Pearson
Got a rock hound in the family? Consider taking a vacation to one of these geologically rich destinations and you might just find enough gemstones or precious metals to pay for the trip, because you can keep everything you find. You're guaranteed to have a good time looking—even if you come up empty.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
What: Gem quality diamonds
Where: Murfreesboro, Arkansas
Bring your own tools or rent them at the only diamond-producing site in the world that is open to the public. Most visitors don't get rich digging in this ancient volcanic ground, but with 40 other rocks and minerals in the area you're sure to find something interesting. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children.
Where: Philipsburg, Montana
Gem Mountain is in the middle of nowhere, but well worth the trouble it takes to get there. Staff dig up the dirt, screen out the big rocks, and provide all the tools and equipment you'll need to wash through the gravel for rough sapphires. They'll even help you determine which stones are worth heat treating (which improves the color and clarity) and faceting. Gravel is priced by the bucket, and prices vary. Be prepared to get wet and dirty.
Herkimer Diamond Mines
What: Double-terminated quartz crystals
Where: Herkimer, New York
Nicknamed "Herkimer Diamonds" because of their striking geometrical shape, these 500 million-year-old crystals can be broken out of rocks with a hammer and chisel or collected by casually looking around the prospect area. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children.
Royal Peacock Mine
What: Black fire opals
Where: Virgin Valley, Nevada
The Virgin Valley in Northern Nevada is a stark corner of the world, but come once and you might find yourself planning a return trip. Digging isn't cheap, though. They charge $180 per person per day to dig in the fire-opal-rich bank area and $75 to dig in the mine dumps and tailings (piles of rock extracted from the mine).
Cherokee Ruby Mine
What: Rubies (plus sapphires, garnets, and moonstones)
Where: Franklin, North Carolina
At the Cherokee Ruby Mine, you're provided with a seat cushion and a screen box and shown samples of rough gemstones. Then you proceed to the flume line, where you fill your screen box and begin sluicing. This is a friendly, family-owned operation whose website lists "Mom" on a list of "Our Gems." Awww. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children, and shade umbrellas are available to rent for $1.
Emerald Hollow Mine
Where: Hiddenite, North Carolina
Emerald Hollow Mine is the only emerald mine in the United States open to public prospecting. You'll sit at one of three sluiceways, where you can pick over buckets taken directly from the mine. It's a chance to find not only emeralds, but also aquamarines, sapphires, garnets, topaz, and amethysts. The $5 admission includes one free bucket. You can purchase additional buckets, and digging and creek prospecting are available at an added cost too.
Gold Prospecting Adventures
Where: Jamestown, California
The California Gold Rush may have been 150 years ago, but that's nothing in geological time. At Gold Prospecting Adventures families can belly up to a sluice box (which processes the buckets of gravel more efficiently than an old-fashioned gold pan) and search for flakes of gold. Guides are on hand to help, and while gold nuggets aren't guaranteed, historical nuggets are. The family price for the 3-hour Sluice Box and Pan Adventure is $155 for two adults and three children.
About the Writer
Jamie Pearson is a writer and mother of two. She sees the funny side of family travel, and blogs about it at www.TravelSavvyMom.com.
Image Courtesy of Jamie Pearson