We’ve traveled to a few places in the Ohio/Tennessee Valley area where they have miniature ‘pan for gold and gemstones’ activities set up for children. You buy a bucket of sand and start sifting your dirt through a screen dragged through water to see what treasures you can uncover. My kids have done it a few times and went home with a small jeweler’s bag of rocks. Usually fool’s gold or pieces of amethyst and such. Nothing all that valuable; it’s really just a fun activity to do when you’re in a location that centers around Appalachian heritage or coal and diamond mines.
But Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee took it to a whole new level. They had ‘Mining for Gemstone’ sites every few miles. Big ones! Attached to Rock Museums and gift shops. These weren’t just simple stands that you passed on the streets of old-timey towns; these were tourist attractions. And with two kids (even if one is actually a grown man) and a rockhound in our group, we had to check them out.
The buckets for sale were a little bigger and more varied than at other sites we’ve visited. Still, we chose two of the smaller buckets at $15 each. Other families bought a more expensive bucket and let their kids share. (Smart!)
My son and daughter sifted and sifted, finding more gemstones than I expected. If you’ve ever seen the “Fill a bag with stones” at souvenir shops, then you know I was expecting a tiny pouches’ worth of stones, but each of my kids actually unearthed quite a haul.
But here where’s the goldminers of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge really expanded on their fortunes: after you finish emptying your bucket and sifting out all your stones, you take it to their gemologist who sorts them for you and explains what you have. This was actually pretty neat. It was fun to learn about the stones we were taking home. Then they took it a step further: you could have your very own gemstones cut and set into jewelry. Rings, earrings, etc. They’d take your treasures (mmm hmm, sure) and turn them into jewelry.
Luckily (?) I have a son who thinks he can do that himself. We saved ourselves a bundle. I don’t know if he’ll ever actually try to cut his emeralds and quartz and make his beautiful wife a pair of earrings, but I’m pretty sure that’s the only way she’d end up with his gemstones dangling from her ears.
Not that it matters. The fun was in the mining. And for $30, my kids had a fun activity they did together, a geology lesson, and a bag full of souvenirs to take home. It was worth it.
Have you ever tried panning for gold and gemstones? How did you like it?