Gems, minerals and fossils have always intrigued Phil Hathcock. Searching through dirt and mud and discovering little treasures has long been a favorite hobby.
As part of a family business years ago, Hathcock helped kids and families pan at a spot in downtown Apex. That business sold and Hathcock moved on for a bit. But he reopened a gemstone panning business about four years ago in a new location off Highway 55 in Cary. It's called Blue Diamond Gemstone Panning.
He ships in bags of dirt filled with gems and minerals from Mason Mountain Mine in western North Carolina and others with fossils from the Aurora area in eastern North Carolina. With the help of water running down two sluices, kids dump some of the bag into a pan and place it in the sluice. The water washes away the dirt and reveals the citrine or shark's teeth or other finds.
The bags each sell for $15. You could easily split one bag among a couple of kids. The spot also has a small museum with a collection of gems, arrowheads and other pieces, along with items for sale. Hathcock is happy to tell you about it all.
"They have a great time," said Hathcock, who also runs a landscaping and stone sculpture business from the property." It's very educational. ... We keep it very simple."
My kids spent an hour or more, searching for gems and shark teeth and asking Hathcock and his staff questions. They found pieces of obsidian, pyrite, amethyst, emerald and moonstone and a whole bunch of shark teeth.
Hathcock bounced from one panner to the next with a little flashlight to show off the colors or transparency of the various discoveries. It's hard not to get excited as he sorts through a pan. His love of all things gem and mineral can be contagious.
"A tiger's eye! Look at that!" he exclaimed to one girl as he sorted through her pieces.
Artisan Emily Galvin, who is there twice a month to turn the gems and fossils into jewelry and teach jewelry classes, tells me that he's like that all of the time. You can sign up for the classes on her website. Her handmade necklaces cost $5 each.
"He has a great time doing this," she said. "He loves having the kids out and telling them about the rocks."
Blue Diamond Gemstone Panning is open Friday through Sunday from spring to fall. It's available for birthday parties and group outings.
And one thing is for sure: Hathcock isn't going to get tired of it.
"I grew up that way. Fell in love with them as a kid and still messing with them," he said. "... These stones truly amaze me everyday."
Blue Diamond Gemstone Panning is at 1823 Highway 55 West in Cary.