Stones of All Kinds Make Visits Sparkle
By Victor Block
Vacationing in Arkansas, Nancy Meyers and Kathy Smith stop at a museum to admire a 5-foot-tall quartz crystal called "the Holy Grail." Bill and Betty Price and their two young daughters sift through a pile of dirt in western Maine looking for gemstones. During a visit to Kentucky to celebrate his wife Evelyn's 40th birthday, Tom McAllister buys her jewelry fashioned from locally gathered pearls.
Several states throughout the country have deposits of minerals, rock and stone that are mined and often made available for people to find, keep or buy. Some designate an official state gemstone or other material, hoping to promote interest in their natural resources, history and tourism.
Gemstones especially serve as magnets for visitors interested in purchasing something of value to wear and display when they return home. Other minerals and substances also have their fans. An internet search can provide information about official state gemstones and other natural treasures around the country. Some locations might be close to where you live.
Arkansas goes all out with an official state mineral (quartz), gem (diamond) and rock (bauxite). In the 16th century a Spanish explorer reported observing Native Americans chipping tools from quartz. Later the fame of the area's quartz crystals was spread by health-seekers "taking the waters" at Hot Springs.
Pieces produced by Avant Mining are displayed at a number of museums, and visitors may dig for treasures at several commercial operations. Paying customers also can hunt for specimens at mines, and both public and private lands are open to "rockhounds" -- amateurs who search for rocks, gemstones and minerals as a hobby.
The dirt that the Price family was searching through in Maine, called tailings, was excavated from a tourmaline mine. Tourmaline has been found at more than 60 locations in the state and is a feature of the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel.
Lesser known is that "thar's gold in them thar hills" of Maine. One place where would-be prospectors can pan for that precious substance is Coos Canyon, a deep gorge in western Maine. Gold was discovered in the state in the mid-1800s, but most get-rich-quick dreamers soon headed for more productive destinations.
Coos Canyon is among places where panners can try their skill -- and luck -- and equipment and instructions are available. Those who think tourmaline is terrific may sift through tailings at Dig Maine Gems in West Paris or take field trips to nearby mines.
People who live in Camden, Tennessee, and near Kentucky Lake as well as those who visit those states have opportunities to learn about their official gems. Freshwater pearls are formed when a grain of sand or other small irritant enters the shell of a mollusk, which secretes a substance that coats the invader. The layers of the material that build up produce what we call pearls.