Gem mining can be a fun and educational family activity but doesn't require a trip to the mountains. Blue Diamond Gemstone Panning in West Cary near Highway 55 and U.S. 64 offers panning for all ages. The knowledgeable staff there will get you started and help identify stones.
Expect to pay about as much as a trip to the movies. Each bag of ore costs $15 and includes either gemstones or fossils (your choice). Sealable bags are also provided to bring your stones home. Wearing old clothes is recommended.
Two gem ore bags split between myself, my wife and my 11-year-old son took us about 30 minutes to carefully sluice and inspect. They produced some large amethyst, sodalite and adventurine samples as well as some smaller emeralds, sapphires and garnets. There also were a couple of pieces of petrified wood and a sharks tooth to take home. Once we got home we enjoyed more time sorting, identifying, and looking up more information on our find.
Blue Diamond Gemstone Panning is located at 1823 Highway 55 West in Cary across from Family Home and Garden near the intersection of Jenks Road.
They are open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday to Sunday, through the summer. Blue Diamond does birthday parties and can accommodate groups outside of their regular weekend hours as well.
Call 919-303-9745 or check the website for details.
Tony Rice is a regular writer on the WRAL WeatherCenter blog. He also is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.