Awoke early to a thick mist that reminded me of London fog and the promise of a dreary English day, then I remembered we were in the Smokey Mountains- it was the famous smoke. Ate a microwaved breakfast of pancakes (my son was in 7th heaven). Have never nuked prepacked pancakes before, so that was weird, but as it was free- hey pour on the syrup! Then we dressed (er-I learned the hard way to have the smaller monkeys eat in their pjs as they were messing up their day’s clothes with breakfast) we dressed in our oldest clothes (the kid’s clothes would end up getting tossed out, the mud was so ingrained!) and donned our ugliest sneakers (I have still yet to try and wash those babies!) and hit the winding road through and Beyond Franklin.
Up and down hills, over creeks and towards our destination- Sheffield Mine, we drove. It was a Travel Channel recommendation- Sandy had written about it as well, and they claimed to have good sized rubies & sapphires, so we decided it was a good place to start. At 9 in the morning, there were people already gathered (opened at 10). Once you drove in there, there was barely room to get out (glad we didn’t have an RV!) There were lots of newbies, like us, some with pick axes, magnifying glasses, our own brood carried bright plastic sand buckets that looked out of place on a wild mountainside. I came to the conclusion that none of us really knew what we were up against. They opened the gates and we flooded down into the small valley like a herd of cattle. Milk anyone?
Okay, I confess, when I hear the word “mine”, I think of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and really assumed we would go into a tunnel and chip off gems and rocks from the walls like the dwarfs. Hah! The mine here was the side of a mountain they bulldozed off and set aside in buckets for us to sift through along something called a flume- a trough of muddy running water. They herded us into their shop for a brief lecture on what we were supposed to be looking for and how to do it, but I was so busy stopping my daughter from shoplifting all of their pretty display rocks into her plastic bucket that I did not hear a thing, and next thing I knew, we were herded out again to a spot with a metal screen box along the flume. $10 is the adult admission fee, which buys you two buckets of the mountainside to sieve through ($8 for kids and they get two smaller rainbow buckets filled with dirt and cool rocks & crystals & arrowheads- not from the mountainside, but they are guaranteed to come out with treasures) after the initial admission, it’s $5 for 2 adult mountain dirt buckets & $6 for 2 kids treasure buckets.
Did I say my daughter is three? She lasted a bucket and a half, playing in the mud, finding stones, then off she flew- down to visit goodness knows whom. I chased her down, our eldest chased her down, my husband chased her down. I bribed her with cheetos and coke bought from the store and she sat for fifteen minutes (mental note- bring kiddie snacks next time or hire a nanny). In the end, our eldest girl eventually gave up, as did our son and the three of them rolled down the hillside with a couple of other kids while we finished off our bucket sifting. I had not a clue what I was looking for- it all looked like rock and dirt to me. Even after one of the workers showed me how to do it quickly, I was still lost, and sorely wished I had gotten myself a “Rainbow Bucket.” There were two rubies found by people when we were there, and when we gave up around 12.30, there was a wait list for flume spaces- so get there early!!! We got directions from Sheffield mine from the hotel, but they have a website as well- www.sheffieldmine.com
We loaded up our buckets- well the kids buckets of treasures and headed down the road towards Franklin. This time we stopped at Mason’s Mine, right on the main road and ate a picnic lunch in the back of the truck of turkey sandwiches and nacho chips. Then we hiked down the little path to the wooden flume. The sky was darkening and thunder rumbled in the distance. Once again, no dwarfs’ mine! This mine was dirt taken from the mountainside and brought down to the accessible flume. You could either purchase the enriched buckets of treasure for sure finds, or take your chance with the pure mountainside. My husband paid $15 to dig his own dirt for the day.
Our three year old did not even pay attention to this flume- she was more distracted by the big swampy muck at the end of it, formed by all the running water. I sat down, one wary eye on my daughter, who started digging in the dirt, and surprise, I was actually finding stuff! Very small pieces of sapphire and more commonly, Rhodesylite. This was cool! Unfortunately, it did not last long, as our little one decided to try for the big mud puddle, and I ended up carrying her back to the truck, her face red as she screamed, legs and arms flailing in temper. I strapped her into her seat and five minutes later she was sound asleep. With the windows open, we had a cool breeze. The storm had passed by to wash the town of Franklin down. I concentrated on sketching the flume while she slept, and Randal and the kids continued their treasure hunting.
She awoke two hours later (what a napper!) as the kids trekked back to the car- covered head to toe in deep brown mud. (Our son had decided to roll in it! I believe our eldest must have followed suit) My husbandhad his bag of treasures, as did the two kids, and the flume was shutting down for the day (4:30), so we headed back to the hotel for a good scrub down, changed clothes and ended up eating in a steak house downtown that resembled an old Quincy’s or Ryan’s Buffet. The local men’s barbershop quartet was practicing which gave us dinner and a show. The kids loved it. Back to the hotel for an early night.