Sunstone Mining 101
- Good Tires. Any way you come to the mine will be at least 20 miles of gravel road. A donut spare is unlikely to survive the drive back to the highway, so we recommend bringing a full-size spare tire on its own wheel.
- Drinking Water. This is dry high desert country and you need to allow two gallons of drinking water per adult per day.
- Food and high energy snacks. The Mine does not provide food for visitors except on potluck nights. Potluck nights are Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Please bring something to share.
- Cool clothing. It gets hot out here during the day.
- Sun Screen and a protective hat. The sun can be intense here.
- Warm clothing. It can freeze here any night of the year.
- Your favorite shovel and screen if you have them. If not, we can loan you some.
- Eye protection, especially if you plan to use a pick or hammer to break up the brittle basalt parent rock.
- Other digging implements such as work gloves, a hammer and pry bar, etc.
- A good attitude. This is about having fun, making friends and finding pretty rocks. If this is your goal, then please come visit us.
Knowing and observing a few basic rules will help make everyone's digging more enjoyable and productive:
- Be safe. Be careful in the way you dig and handle tools.
- Have fun. That is what this experience is all about.
- Be polite. To maximize everyone's enjoyment, please observe the following few points of mining etiquette:
- The mine has many tools and screens for loan. If you are unsure whether a particular tool or screen is private property or is being used by someone, just ASK. Either way, you'll probably make a new friend.
- Tools left inside or directly in front of a hole or spot on the wall were left there to indicate someone's work place. Please leave both the tools and the immediate area as they are.
- Don't crowd other miners unless invited to do so. There is plenty of room, and any place in the mine can yield great stones.
- When in doubt, see rule #2 above: HAVE FUN.
Sunstone mining is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. This is because a wide variety of tools and techniques can all produce good results. Some of these methods are outlined here. They are presented in order from most to least physically demanding, along with some important tips and tricks to help increase your fun and success.
WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR
Rough sunstones are commonly found in sizes from the head of a pin to the size of a large peach pit - or even bigger. They may have a shiny, glassy appearance, or be dulled by dust or mud. They may be very clear, or show color from straw yellow to shades of red or green. Sunstones often contain a copper schiller that makes them flash like a brand new penny.
A sunstone crystal is seen protruding from the basalt parent rock.
A juicy red sunstone lies in the bed of basalt gravel where it was found.
At the proper angle to the sun, a stone may transmit a striking glow of fiery color.
THE PICKING / BREAKING METHOD
The walls of the mine pit can often be worked using a small pick or a pry bar and hammer (remember your eye protection). Some stones are found in the loose rocks this way, or after screening the broken rocks.
Any rock larger than a handball may conceal sunstone crystals of significant size. So, many people enjoy success from hammering rocks against each other or with a hammer and chisel. Often, large pockets of hidden crystals containing over a hundred carats of nice material are found in this way.
If you find crystal embedded in a rock, it is most easily removed by striking the side of the rock OPPOSITE the crystal with a chisel. Striking near the crystal is more likely to fracture it.
THE SCRATCHING METHOD
The mine pit usually contains several piles of earth. Many people simply sit down on a pile of dirt and slowly scratch through the sand and gravel using small garden tools or even their hands. This can be a surprisingly successful method, especially in a nice fresh pile of dirt. It also requires almost no physical exertion.
THE WALKABOUT METHOD
Another low-exertion method is to simply wander about, looking at the ground as you go. Large, valuable stones can be found almost anywhere in the mine pit at any time - often right under your feet.
The best time of day to walkabout is when the sun is very low in the sky. Walk facing toward the sun to see it light up stones on the surface like reflections on a pool of water. It is very exciting to spot a stone this way from a good distance.
- THE SCREENING METHOD
- Screening is one of the most popular and productive methods for finding sunstones. While it tends to produce the greatest total carat weight, all methods seem to be equally productive for larger stones.
In screening, loose earth is shoveled into a screen...
...which is then shaken vigorously to remove sand and dust:
The contents of the screen are examined carefully for sunstones before the process is repeated:
Here is the result of three days hard work - a double handful of chunky red gems, ready for cutting:
- Use just enough raw material to cover the bottom of your screen with a SINGLE LAYER of gravel after shaking. Using too little will allow too much light to reflect up through the screen, confusing your search. Too much material will allow gravel to cover up valuable stones.
- Watch your screen carefully while shaking. Sunstones will often flash as they roll about, making them easier to see.
- When examining screenings, stand facing the sun so that sunlight will reflect through the sunstones toward your eyes. It is also a good idea to examine screenings from various angles and to roll the gravel about with your glove as you look.
- ALWAYS remember to LOOK UP through your screen before dumping it. Dusty stones will often be missed until you pass light through them.
- Smaller screens can be lifted overhead; kneel and peer up through larger ones. To avoid confusing glare, face AWAY from the sun while using this technique.
- The following three photos illustrate the importance of this last method.
Can you find the valuable red sunstone in the first photo?
The same section of screen as seen from below shows the stone shining like a beacon!
Here's the dark red 17+ carat stone in my hand, next to size 10.5 fingers: