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     The state of Montana is host to many important corundum localities, including what was arguably America's principal gemstone locality in the early Twentieth Century.  The Yogo Gulch Mine in the center of the state produced legendary "cornflower blue" sapphires which were highly prized by Tiffany and Company and incorporated into their "Montana Sapphire" period jewelry.  Today, a "Fine Yogo Sapphire" will bring almost as much as a "Fine Kashmir Sapphire" of the same quality.  
     Further west, the riparian gravels of the Missouri River near Helena still contain millions of carats of gem blue and fancy-colored sapphires.  Many of the classic mines along the river (Lovestone, El Dorado Bar, Scratchgravel, ...) are no longer open to the public, but Castle's (Spokane Bar) is.  I will be in Montana in July and August, and will update these remarks after returning.  
      Rock Creek, between Philipsburg and Hamilton, is the locality of the Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine, where day jiggers may sort through gravels for fine, brightly colored gems.   
      Numerous lesser-known deposits around Butte, Montana have produced gems as well.  These are described under the "Butte" heading.  
       Sub-gem deposits exist in a more or less continuous band from Bozeman through Alder Gulch, Dillon, and into Idaho.  One project this summer is to try to find a locality that produced huge pale blue to white crystals near Dillon.  I shall report on it, and the interesting way I found out about it, after the explorations.  

Dry Cottonwood Creek

Missouri River

Missouri River

Rock Creek (Gem Mountain)

Yogo Gulch



       Once upon a time, there were several localities in the State of Montana where a tourist, collector, or entrepreneur could  "day dig" for sapphires.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.   In the summer of 2006, I visited the two remaining sites (Gem Mountain and Spokane Bar Mine) known to me where these activities are possible.  
       Extensive sapphire-bearing gravel beds exist along Rock Creek between Philipsburg and Hamilton and along the Missouri River near Helena.  One of the World's great hard rock sapphire deposits,  "Yogo Gulch", is in the center of the state (click on hyperlink for more info ).   There are numerous smaller gem sapphire deposits around the western part of the state, and a zone of sub-gem deposits that extends more or less continuously from the vicinity of Bozeman through Virginia and Nevada City, Dillon, and into western Idaho.   
       Gem Mountain is on Rock Creek and is easily accessible from the Philipsburg end of the Skalkaho Road.  Material brought down from high benches to a gift shop area is screened to remove the large rocks, but otherwise not "altered" (milked, or salted).   


      Visitors may purchase buckets of this material and jig the gravels to find the usually small but colorful blue and "fancy colored" sapphires for which the locality is famous.  I have always had good luck with mine!   Screens, tweezers, and film cans are provided for pickers to find, harvest, and hold their stones.  If you don't know what to do, there is a covey of field workers ready to explain or demonstrate.   The screening on the left, showing a couple of nice pinks, is fairly unusual.  On the right are two happy "pickers" (my friends and Montana hosts, Dave and Gloria Edden). 


Gem Mountain sapphires

Dang!!  That one is bigger than mine!

      At day's end, there is a staff of friendly experts in the gift shop to "appraise" your stones.   The shop also offers full services, such as enhancement by heat treating (owner Chris Cooney is an expert at this), faceting, and jewelry fabrication.   Anyone interested in stones, or just a day of fun in the forest, may visit their website, www.gemmtn.com , for more information and contact data.  
      Gem Mountain does not ordinarily sell facetable rough (other than in dirt), but we will have a selection of collectible crystals at our "Earth Treasures" room at the InnSuites Show in Tucson, 2007.  Owner Chris Cooney has kindly offered us this unique opportunity to make available some fascinating mineral specimens.   If you are in Butte, Montana, several from our permanent collection are on display at the Montana Tech Mineral Museum until August, 2007.  
     The Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine is on Castles Road, northeast of Helena.  There, overlooking Hauser Lake on the Missouri River, visitors may dig in virgin gravels or buy bags of it (sometimes concentrated, imported, or salted; but identified as such), and screen for stones or take home for later processing.  I have not dug here; but if it is like the other Missouri River deposits where I have, the sapphires tend to be larger and paler than Gem Mountain stones.   This mine places more emphasis on "remote sales", and will ship just about any kind of bag of virgin gravel or concentrates to any destination that your heart desires.  They have a website,  www.sapphiremine.com , where the details are described and through which the owners (Russ and Deb Thompson) may be contacted.