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We originally planned to visit Chimney Rock Park on our way to a gem mining operation near Marion today, but after spending several hours hiking and taking pictures of nature yesterday for no admission charge, paying $15 each seemed ludicrous.  How many pictures of blue ridges does one actually need, you know? 

Interestingly, though, we did drive by the place on our way (since we went the way the Hubby suggested, rather than the more direct route I had already decided on…).  So, we have pics of the Rock from beneath, where it is decidedly UN-chimney-like in appearance.  And that’s all I’ll say on that subject.  (That’s it on the left in the pic)

We stopped for a picnic lunch at a rest-stop/visitor’s center, saving our precious funds for the adventure ahead – discovering TREASURE!!!  We watched an episode of Cash and Treasures on the Travel Channel that featured a guy named Jerry Call.  He’s a lapidary with connections to the Rio Doce mine in Brazil, and he runs this little mining operation of the same name here in NC.  He is one of only a few qualified lapidaries in the country.  Lapidaries are the people who cut and polish the stones once they’re pulled out of the ground. 

The mine offers several varieties of experiences, starting at $15 for a smaller bucket, and going up to $120 for a big one that also includes two free stone cuttings and guarantees some nice material.  The stuff in the buckets is not fresh out of the ground, but is what rock hounds call “enriched” or “salted”.  At first I thought that would deminish the Fun Quotient, but I was wrong!

We weighed the options and decided to split the $120 bucket between Hubby and I and our girls.  We put the material in two buckets and all went to town.  I have to tell you, the quality of stuff we pulled out was really amazing.  We are definitely going home with rocks that are worth the money we paid, and more.  Not to mention, each of the girls chose a stone to have cut and polished, and we paid another $40 to do one for me.  We have some fine pieces of pink opal, green tourmaline, garnet, emeralds, smokey quartz, rose quartz, regular quartz, golden citrine, amazonitedalmation… and I can’t remember all the rest.  Some are worth cutting into facets, and many others will make great cabochons.

Funny story:  Griffin was being a VERY patient boy, and as I was going through our goodies I let him hold a rock.  It was a Canary Citrine, and was a nice big piece and very clear.  As I inspected the rest, I didn’t notice that he’d wandered off, and the next thing I knew he had tossed it into the sluice right by the drain and it was gone.  I hoped that when we went in to have the folks at the mine inspect our haul they would tell me that wasn’t a valuable piece, but to the contrary – when she saw the smaller one we had, our inspector was most appreciative and told us this was a very special stone.  Figures.

Luck was on our side, because when we told her what happened she laughed and said they could retrieve the stone for us and cut it if we want to use it as one of our free cuts.  Since she seemed to think it was one of the best things we found, we told her to go for it.  Delaney picked a garnet (her birthstone) and Kelsey chose a green opal that will be cut in a cabochon.  My mom (a rock fan from way back who threw a lot of “pretty” gravel in her keepers pile) found a lot of nice stuff as well in her $30 bucket, and chose a rutilated quartz to have cut.  All in all, a great visit, and definitely worth the money.

We stopped for some yummy mexican food in Tryon at a restaurant called El Chile Rojo, stuffed ourselves, and came back to the house to recover.  Tomorrow we’re doing the Biltmore tour… a little less strenuous, and not as much time on the road.  Yay!

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