Sapphire Mining

Did someone say c-c-cold?

We headed straight from Missoula to the middle of nowhere about 1.5 hours away. We’ve seen so many deer in Montana that I’ve stopped yelling “DEER!”. That is until we saw deer legs sticking out of the back of some pickup trucks.

We stopped in one small town around dinner time thinking we might stay. But, there were just a few too many home-made billboards discouraging the use of meth for my comfort, so we plodded on.

Melissa and Mitch had pointed us to Philipsburg because of it’s proximity to sapphire mining and ghost towns. The problem with Philipsburg in late October is that it is a ghost town. It had become really cold, and was nearing dark and we decided it was time for another motel. The first was locked but had a sign to call. Problem was, we had no cell service. We found a wireless connection (the hotel’s) and used Skype but no one answered. We headed to the end of town and found another motel.  No one there either, but as we pulled out the owner drove in. I sighed in relief as we were not prepared to drive another 2 hours to the next town. Keep in mind that driving times are somewhat slower in an old Volkswagen, and they are really slower in the rain with a fidgety four year old in the back.

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Philipsburg is actually a pretty neat little town.  There is one paved road in town – main street.  At the end of the businesses on main street, the pavement ends too. Even though all the rest of the roads in town are sort of layed out on a grid – with many historic buildings – it’s all dirt.  Still a real old mountain-side mining town.

All of the working sapphire mines were closed for the season (new keyword: closed), but we found the indoor version at a shop in town and it was really fun. We’ve been through a number of gold rush and mining towns, and Bode has learned that gold=money. He’s asked quite a few times to dig for gold, but we didn’t really have a resource for him. As a child my parents took me to a diamond mining place somewhere in Arkansas and I still remember it. We only found glass, but I had a great time. So this was a real treat, but I had to warn Bode that we might not find anything.

You buy a bag of dirt and rocks, they rinse and shake it, and you pick out sapphires if you can find them. Pretty cool! Bode and I were way into this, and I think we went through about every rock in the bag. They said the average bag holds about 4 cts of sapphires, but we discovered nearly 12 cts of  ‘gem quality’ sapphires. Plus, another lode of ‘fishbowl quality’ broken ones…and a few Bode and I threw in to test the expert.

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Because of our colossal discovery, they wanted $60 to fire them and make them look pretty. I asked what they were worth- $25 as is (what we paid for the bag of dirt) but twice that fired!!!
Well, since the math didn’t quite add up, and I didn’t have $60 anyway, I decided I liked my sapphires au natural. Since then, we’ve pulled our 2 bags out at various times to impress people, though I’m not sure it’s working.

Jason’s cousin Rachel is a jeweler, so when we’re in Austin maybe Bode can convince her to do something interesting with them.

—We are currently traveling east through Wyoming on the way to Crazy Horse in South Dakota… on the way to Wisconsin. We’re headed to see some good friends, but haven’t really done our research on things to see and do. Please let us know if there is anything unique or interesting we should stop and see along the way.

6 thoughts on “Sapphire Mining

  • October 23, 2009 at 1:03 PM
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    Hi there – I’m from the Bay Area as well and an aircooled VW person — no bus though only bugs (’66 and ’63 ragtop) and ghia (’65).

    As for recommendations, take a route that enables you to visit Devils Tower, Wyoming. Also, when in Rapid City (gateway to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Black Hills), I highly recommend you splurge for dinner at the Corn Exchange Restaurant. We are dedicated foodies living in a food mecca, but if you ask my 12 year old son what his favorite restaurant is, he’ll tell you the Corn Exhange. It’s run by a delightful woman – M.J.Adams – who after years of working in big cities returned to her roots to open a first class restaurant in a place that doesn’t have many. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

    If you’re going east across southern SD and MN, don’t miss the Badlands (SD), Pipestone Nat’l Monument (MN) and the Surf Ballroom (Clear Lake, IA – just south of MN border). The Surf is where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper gave their last concert before the plane crash in which they perished.

    If you decide to detour north a bit, the Twin Cities have some great things for kids -even if it is cold!

    Chris

  • October 23, 2009 at 4:20 PM
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    Yay! That sounds so fun, I’m glad you guys enjoyed it! I actually just bought two montana sapphires from a stones dealer who mined them himself, and they are much more unique than the regular dark blue kind. Tell Bode to draw a picture of what he wants, send it to me and we’ll discuss it.

  • October 23, 2009 at 4:55 PM
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    Boil the sapphires in a coffee pot and see if that makes them shine.

  • October 23, 2009 at 8:05 PM
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    Thanks, Chris- I’m hoping to try out the Corn Exchange tomorrow! I had a ’71 bug, and Jason has had 3 ghias (’58, ’65 and ’70). He still has the ’65 parked in Austin, TX.

  • October 24, 2009 at 10:22 AM
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    Angela and family,

    Hope you guys enjoy Corn Exchange tonight – if the Buffalo Bolognese Ragu is on the menu I’d highly recommend it, but you can’t really go wrong with anything.

    A couple of other recommendations – if you like Hitchcock movies, the Sheraton Johnson Hotel (George Kaplan’s supposed final destination in North by Northwest is still. It’s now called the hotel Alex Johnson and there’s some interesting memorabilia in the lobby. There are also statues of many Presidents around downtown Rapid City. They’re a bit touristy/kitchy, but might be a fun way to teach Bode about the Presidents.

    As you head east, you can stop at the ultimate tourist kitch spot – Wall Drug in Wall, SD (right near the badlands). Also the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD is very cool (the exterior is decorated annually with corn).

    Chris

  • December 15, 2009 at 3:46 PM
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    You probably went to Crater of Diamonds state park in AR. We tried our luck there once to no avail. Glad to hear you were luckier with your sapphires.

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