Rock Collecting

Philipsburg, Montana – Sapphires

Philipsburg, Montana – Sapphires

There are a few locations in Philipsburg where you can screen gravel for sapphires. Sapphires come in a variety of beautiful colors such as: cornflower blue, green, purple, pink, and yellow. The Sapphire Gallery, Opal Mountain Gems, and Gem Mountain are the different places you can screen gravel.

Gem Mountain is a couple of miles southwest of Philipsburg. There are signs for how to get there. The cost at Gem Mountain was $15 for a two and a half gallon bucket of gravel to screen. (Note this was the price for summer 2010.) They are most helpful with instructions on how to screen your gravel. It is good to wash your screen full of gravel at least three times so that you can thoroughly check all your gravel. The sapphires will have a transparent look to them similar to glass. We did each screened a bucket and got a small variety of different colors. I had a couple of stones that were big enough to be faceted.

Sapphire Gallery is located in downtown Philipsburg, Montana. At the Sapphire Gallery you can screen gravel in their workroom to the side of their jewelry store. The cost of the gravel to screen is $25. They have several beautiful and unique designs of sapphire jewelry in gold settings.. The ladies in the jewelry store are most helpful to show you some unique designs.

Opal Mountain is located in downtown Philipsburg, Montana. Opal Mountain is a great little shop. The owner is most helpful on information for the local area. She likes to collect rocks and knew about a few locations to collect some specimens of chrysacola and hematite. There is sapphire gravel available to screen at $9 per bag. (Note: price of the El Dorado gravel  during summer of 2010.) There are also Spencer Opals in silver settings available here at great prices. This shop also has some charm vials available at a great low price to put your small fractured sapphires in and enjoy them in a pendant. There are several gifts available at great prices. This is a shop you will not want to miss.

Snowbird Mine – Fluorite – Lolo Pass, Montana

Snowbird Mine – Fluorite – Lolo Pass, Montana

Fluorite deposit

We had quite the adventure locating this collection site. It is a high elevation off of Fishtrap Road near the Montana/Idaho border. The scenery is breath-taking with all the little noble fir trees and lakes on top of the mountains. We were there in mid September and some of the gates were closed off by the forest service so we had a hike that was longer than we expected. What was supposed to be a one mile hike in and a mile out turned out to be 4 miles in and 4 miles out. We did not know if we were on the right track until we were a half mile from the mine when we saw a sign. It is downhill going into the mine and the last half mile is steep going back up to the mountain. This makes it difficult to carry your treasures back out with three and a half miles back up the mountain with 30 pounds of rocks on your back. We started out with 60 pounds for the first half miles then had to dump half our beautiful treasures because we became too exhausted and needed to hike back out before it became dark. On our way back out we also came across what looked like a fresh cougar track. We made it to the car just before dark. We were so tired that we snacked on a few chips, but did not eat any dinner. We made our beds in the car because we were concerned about the wildlife and did not want to risk sleeping in a tent.

Snowbird Mine looking out from the cave

This is a free collection site and you can find beautiful fluorite in greens, blues, purples and even black. In the caves you can find the beautiful cobalt blue, purple and black fluorite. It chips out easily with a rock hammer. Much of it is fractured, but you can find some pieces that are larger. There are deposits of fluorite all around the mine. Any time you are digging or using your hammer be aware of your surroundings and safety. A hard hat and safety goggles are always a good option to avoid injury ( ). You will find a lot of what we called sugar crystals. This is more like a fluorite gravel. When wet it looks like wet raw diamonds. I think it would be beautiful in a fish tank. I would like to go back some time, but I think I will contact the forest service to find out when the gates are open to get closer and not hike so far. (Note: I will add better directions when I fine my notes for the forest service road numbers.)

Snowbird Mine Caves

Digging Fluorite in the cave with a rock hammer

Camping in Montana

There is beautiful camping throughout the state of Montana. Many places are lost cost ($10 or less) to FREE. We spent over a week of tent camping at several different locations while we were rock hounding.

  • Quartz Flat – off I-90 by Lolo National Forest. Cost $10. This camp ground is located on I-90 at the rest stop in Lolo National Forest. Once at the rest stop follow the signs to the campground. There are nice trails to the river and piles of firewood for a nice campfire. Camping spots have picnic tables and fire pits. It has pit toilets,  drinking water available and dumpsters.
  • Flint Creek – just a few miles south of Phillipsburg, Mt. Cost – FREE. This campground has several camping spots, with fire rings and picnic tables, next to a beautiful little creek.  There is no water taps. We used water from the creek that we boiled. There are a couple of pit toilets. You are in bear country so be sure to keep all food in vehicles when not eating and do not keep any food items in your tent. Pack in, pack out.
  • Pettingill Campground -by Wise River, MT. Cost – $6. This camp ground has just three camping spots. It is next to a fast flowing river.  Nice camping spots with large picnic tables and fire rings. You will need to bring your own firewood. Pack in, pack out. Here you are also in bear country.
  • Barnetts Park – Barretts, MT – off I-15 just south of Dillan, MT. Cost – FREE. This is a nice little stop. There is a grassy area for tent camping next to the river. It is next to some large rock monoliths. This was a stopping place for Lewis and Clark and later for stage coaches. It is filled with a lot of history. There are pit toilets, drinking water and dumpsters.
  • Lolo National Forest – Schely Mountain, Lolo Pass. – Cost – FREE Off of I-90 take the exit for Fish Trap Creek Road. It is a well maintained gravel road that runs for 33 miles to I-12 that runs to Idaho. Take the road to Schely Mountain off of Fish Trap Creek Road. It is 12 miles to the top of the mountain. Very beautiful place with changing scenery the whole way to the top. At the top of the mountain there are lots of miniature noble fir trees – they grow much smaller and slowly because of the altitude and because it gets too much snow in the winter. There are a few fire rings, a pit toilet and an area to tie up your horses. There is lots of space to move around and park a horse trailer up there. Wonderful trails throughout the mountains. You are in bear country so take precautions with food storage. Bring in your water because there are no water taps or nearby rivers. There are a few lakes around up there.

Oregon Sunstones

You can collect Oregon Sunstones (also known at Desert Diamonds) near Plush, Oregon. The Oregon Sunstones come in a variety of colors including, clear, yellow, pink, blue, green, purple, red, watermelon (beautiful red/green), peach, peach schiller. To the right is some raw sunstones. Oregon Sunstones are the only ones known to be in different colors. You can collect them for free on designated BLM land. You will want a to have a screen with 1/4 inch mesh for sifting in the dirt and a shovel for digging. When you are done digging always replace the dirt back in the hole so that no one is able to fall in it. If you would like to get instructions and help. Spectrum Mine in the sunstone area, will allow you to dig in designated area and use their equipment free for one day. Chris and Jessica can show you how to dig and sift for sunstones. Check in with their office when you arrive at their mine. You can also pay a fee of $200 per hour (rate summer 2009, fees subject to change) to collect on their conveyor belt that does a water wash over the materials. This gives you an opportunity to get some larger stones in the different colors. My friend and I got some beautiful reds and a couple of blues on the conveyor belt.

Here are some sunstones that have been polished in the rock tumbler (Blackcat Mining Rock Tumblers & Kits ). They are very beautiful when polished.  The larger sunstones can be faceted and mounted in beautiful settings. I have a few larger stones that I have been saving to be faceted and mounted into some earrings. and pendants. You can view several different colors at Spectrum Mine’s website. Sunstones can also be carved. This is a fun adventure with the fun of treasure hunting. Each scoop of dirt could have that beautiful schiller or watermelon sunstone. When you find one of the different colored stones, it just excites you to dig all the more. Make sure you bring sunscreen, a hat, water spritz bottle (to more clearly look at your treasures), your sense of adventure and lots of water for drinking. There are no restaurants or stores this far out in the high desert. You will want to pack food with you. You can camp for free on the BLM land.

Here is a pair of earrings that I made from some polished sunstones that I had collected. You can be very creative with the sunstones, because no two are alike. Have fun and enjoy your own adventure collecting sunstones.

Weehaw and Welcome!

This is a collection of adventures that can be enjoyed by families of all ages. Most of the adventures are focused on the Pacific Northwest.