The Gem Mountain and Skalkaho Grazing properties along Rock Creek contain large reserves of gem sapphires.  Both have been mined commercially, but neither is near exhaustion.   Stones tend to be relatively smaller but more brightly colored than those from the Missouri River deposits, and have been labeled with the less than endearing term: "bird seed" (for a remarkable exception, see the article below).  




       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.  
       Gem Mountain is on Rock Creek in Granite County, Montana, 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.   (of course The quantity of stones may be expected to vary widely from bucket to bucket, but I have always had good luck with mine!  Even those who get skunked seem to enjoy the experience, and I see many of the same people year after year. 

     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 friendly 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  experts in the gift shop to "appraise" your stones for no charge.   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.  I really enjoy the ambiance, and do at least a few buckets every year.  
      Gem Mountain does not ordinarily sell facetable rough (other than in dirt and gravel), but you will probably find a few in every bucket.   Doubly terminated crystals are fairly uncommon, but occasionally a spectacular one is found.  I will post some pictures of my favorite Gem Mountain crystals below  as soon as I have the chance to take their pictures.    


     On July 3, 2008, a huge sapphire crystal was found at Gem Mountain.  It is the largest documented sapphire found at Gem Mountain in the past eight years.  It was found in a jig cleanup by mine owner Chris Cooney and and remains in his personal collection,  proudly displayed in the Gem Mountain retail store. 

       Here is some further information (C. Cooney, pers. comm):  
       Weight: 39.41 carats.    Dimensions:  15.8 mm x 12.7 mm x 14.1 mm.  
       "The specimen exhibits very good crystal form for this locality.  It has several inclusions and cracks that prevent it from being faceted as a single large finished gemstone.  Two relatively large portions exhibit good clarity."  

     "It was recovered from the Anaconda Bench on the main access road to the mine.  For several years a short stretch of road was known to contain high grade sapphire.  A good winter snow pack and extremely wet spring resulted in high water levels  in the mine pit making it impossible to mine.  Because of easy access along the road a decision was made to mine the road and rebuild it with washed rock and gravel."   The rest is history!

       Fortunately, Chris has no intention of cutting it!