We recently enjoyed a road trip/camping trip up to beautiful Montana. Our first stop was Gem Mountain, for hunting sapphires. Gem Mountain is in a remote location, 22 miles west of Philipsburg, off of Highway 38 (mile marker 38.4, to be precise). We camped on their site, which is remote and beautiful!
If you've ever wanted to collect your own sapphires, I highly recommend going there. They take care of most of the work and you don't have to dig in the ground. In fact, you buy the sapphire gravel by the bucket or bag and they provide the equipment for extracting the sapphires. All it takes is a screen, tweezers, a brush and some little tubes for storing your finds.
Staff is on hand to provide instructions for washing your gravel - they are very helpful and friendly. I think the washing technique is the most important part of the process, assuming you don't mind playing in muddy water. Once you get the moves down pat for dipping and swishing (and, yes, there are specific moves) and wash the gravel about 10-12 times, by the time you flip it over onto a table, the sapphires are now laying on top of the gravel and you can easily identify them by color and sheen. You simply pick them out of the gravel with the tweezers and drop them into the plastic tube.
We spent two full days and purchased 15 buckets of gravel. Our hands and arms were fairly sore after that many buckets of dipping and swishing (and my clothes and glasses were quite muddy, so be prepared) but it was definitely worth it.
In total, we found about 276 carats of sapphires! Usually we bring home our finds and Jim facets the ones that are gem-quality and big enough to not strain his eyes. However, this time we decided to use their services to evaluate the quality of our finds.
Out of the 276 carats, 25 were flawless facet-grade gems. For these, we decided to enlist their services to heat treat 23 of them and send all 25 to Sri Lanka for faceting. Unfortunately, it could take as long as 9 months before we get them back but I'm sure we'll be glad we did it. Additionally, we have another 20 gems that are flawed but still facet-grade. So, it's not uncommon to get some good, quality gemstones from your visit to Gem Mountain.
Stay tuned for Part II of Rockhounding Montana, where we spent some time in a bat cave.