Bo's Minerals, Rocks, and Mines

Updated on January 20th, 2020

I began my interest in Geology early in life. When our family moved from the hills of western Pennsylvania in the late 1940s to Delaware, we lived in a house which bordered on a large unimproved area that included woods, streams, hills, and even a small cliff. I spent most of my days after school and on weekends wandering and exploring this paradise for a six or seven year old boy. I collected turtles and salamanders, fished in a water filled quarry and climbed that small cliff. I found a quartz crystal on the cliff which I still have in my collection today.

We moved from Wilmington, Delaware to Rochester, New York in 1951. My father was an executive for the Boy Scouts of America so our family spent summers in scout camps and on camping trips. My interest in geology was magnified when I would go hiking or canoeing in the Adirondack Mountains. I also collected minerals in a local dolomite quarry and spent a lot of time in the Ward's Science Establishment seeing all their display minerals and even as a junior high school volunteer assembling the Ward's Industrial Minerals Collections.

We left Rochester and moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey in Bergen County which is northwest of New York City. My father commuted to his Boy Scout executive job so I learned my way into the city often traveling to the Museum of Natural History to look at the minerals and rocks displays. My uncle was a Vice President of the New Jersey Zinc Company so I made many trips to the Buckwheat Dump at the Zinc Mine in Franklin located in the mountains in the northwest part of New Jersey.. You could find fine specimens of minerals such as Rhodonite and Rhodocrosite in the mid 1950s. I also joined along with
my great friend, Jeff Lapic, the New Jersey Gem and Mineral Society (NJGMS) which was located nearby in Patterson, New Jersey. My first night driving experience in my 1950 Flat Head Ford was to and from a Wednesday night meeting at the NJGMS. Jeff and I learned about the New Street Quarry in Paterson where we collected many zeolite minerals and nice amethyst crystals.

I applied to the Colorado School of Mines as my first choice for college until I got a full Navy NROTC scholarship to Cornell University.
I was also interested in the Navy and I couldn't turn down a full scholarship. I decided to go to Cornell with a major in Geology. Cornell's primary focus in the Geology Department was paleontology, stratigraphy etc. The market for geology majors at the time was in exploration for oil, natural gas, and water resources. I was more interested in mineralogy and fortunately one of my geology professors at Cornell was of like mind and encouraged me. I achieved my best grades in inorganic chemistry and mineralogy related classes. One of the mineral locations we studied was the Spruce Pine Pegmatite Mining District in North Carolina, a location at which I was destined to spend a lot of time.

However, the Navy would be my priority from graduation from Cornell in 1963 until I retired as a Navy Captain twenty eight years later in 1991.

Upon retirement from the Navy 1991, I decided that I wanted to teach science at the high school level. I retired from the Navy on July 31st, 1991 and found myself teaching Oceanography and Earth Space Science six weeks later. My career as an educator lasted sixteen years teaching mostly Earth Space Science and a few years teaching the lab portion of the Earth Science course at the University of North Florida (UNF). I developed an Earth Space Honors course for gifted and motivated students at my high school using the Tarbuck and Lutgen's text used at UNF.   I was hired by the Florida Space Research Institute as an "Aerospace Mentor" for a one year contract from May, 2005 through May, 2006. My job was to teach elementary and middle school teachers basic physical science which included geology, physics, chemistry, and space science.  In order to accomplish this during 2006, I reduced my high school teaching schedule to part time (mornings) and conducted workshops as an Aerospcae Mentor in the afternoons.

The Spring 2006: I decided during the spring that I would make a trip to North Carolina to study the Spruce Pine Pegmatite mines there. To prepare for this, I purchased two reference books from Amazon.

Richard Jacquot, Jr.'s "Rocks, Gem, and Mineral Sites in Western North Carolina" describes the mineral collecting sites that are recommended by the Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Society (MAGMA).

I studied this book to plan which mineral collecting sites I would visit on my trip.

I also joined MAGMA.

Lowell Presnell's book "Mines, Miners. and Minerals of Western North Carolina describes the mines and mining families of the Spruce Pine Mining District.

Lowell is a resident of Burnsville which is located in Yancey County adjacent to the Black Mountains. This is at the western edge of the pegmatite district. Mitchell and Avery counties to the east contain the remainder of the pegmatite body.

Lowell's book describes the history of mica and feldspar mining including the important mines in the area. His book also provides critical information on the chemistry of the pegmatites which proved helpful in identifying the micas and feldspars found there.

The summer of 2006, I made a 10 day trip to Asheville, North Carolina with Michael Hall, a teacher from my high school for a Gem and Mineral show. Amazingly, we met both Richard Jaquot and Lowell Presnell there.

After the show, we moved on to Spruce Pine in the mountains northeast of Asheville to investigate the pegmatite mines.

I had no idea where to stay in Spruce Pine. I picked the Richmond Inn which is a Bed & Breakfast place from my AAA travel guide.

I could not have picked a better place. The owner, Maggie Haskins was a wonderful host for this initial trip and has continued as a friend to this day nineteen years later.

Maggie was well informed about the area as her husband had been a mining engineer. Maggie gave us some lots of good advice.

We began our day with breakfast at the inn and made a sandwich to take with us during the day. We checked out several mines during our stay.  We worked until the late afternoon and found a different place for dinner each day.

Mines Visited during the summer of 2006

Ray Mica Mine- Location: Yancey County, Property Owner; National Forest Servic
Minerals to collect: potash feldspars, smoky quartz, muscovite mica, beryl (Aquamarine), black tourmaline, flourescent apatite, kyanite (on the ridgeline above)

The Ray Mine combines an excellent collecting opportunity with a a nice hike. It also provides the opportunity to observe the vertical shafts which were used to provide a means to dig horizontal tunnels to get to the mica which occurred in veins. See my Bo's Mine Tours website for more details and restrictions.

Hike up the hill toward the tailings.
You may surface collect along the trail but no digging! (summer)

You may surface collect in the stream;
 but no digging!
(late spring)

 You may surface collect from the tailings near the shafts but no digging. Digging is permitted only in the approved digging area above the shafts!

Minerals commonly found at the Ray Mica Mine

Aquamarine in Feldspar

Muscovite Mica (Rum Mica) in Feldspar

Black tourmaline crystals in matrix

lf you hike up toward the ridge line from the Ray Mine shaft area you might find some blue Kyanite in Quartzite.

Sink Hole Mica Mine- Location: Mitchell County, Property Owner; Private- Ed Silver
Minerals to collect: potash feldspars (orthoclase, microcline, moonstone), smoky quartz, muscovite "Rum" mica, gemmy red almandine garnet, flourescent apatite, (no aquamarine)

The Sink Hole Mica provides one of the best opportunities to collect the primary and associated minerals of Spruce Pine pegmatites. It also provides the opportunity with a short hike to view one of the mine shafts used to mine mica in the 19th and 20th centuries and a ravine which was the site of Native American mica mining during the Hopewell Era (2,000 years ago)  See my Bo's Mine Tours website for more details and restrictions.

Sink Hole Mine lower tailings. I only visited the lower tailings the first couple of times I visited the mine.
More on the Sink Hole Mine later.

It is just a short hike to see one of the shafts used by 19th and 20th Century miners at the Sink Hole Mine.

Or view the 2000 year old mine works of Hopewell Era Native Americans. 

Minerals commonly found at the Sink Hole Mica Mine

Muscovite Mica and garnet in quartz

Almandine Garnet in pegmatite matrix (quartz, feldspar, mica)

Very high quality gem fdeldspar
with garnets, mica and quartz

A not so common find, an Apatite crystal in feldspar and mica schist matrix

The Abernathy/McBee Mica Mine- Location: Mitchell County, Property Owner; Private (sort of)
Minerals to collect: muscovite mica, red almandine garnet (larger ones than at the Sink Hole Mine, pegmatite matrix, black and green tourmaline, Richard Jaquot's book says apatite crystals (but I never found any "transparent green apatite crystals" there)

Our first approach to find the Abernathy mine was to follow the Richard's directions and walk along the tracks from parking at the railroad tracks off Roses Branch Road. This is a hike of about a mile with the Toe River on the right and the hillside on the left. Be aware that a train passes on these tracks every once in awhile so be prepared to clear the tracks. Also, remember that you have to haul whatever you collect back to your car.  Once you arrive at the tailings along the track, find the cool breeze coming from the tunnel at the base of the hill. This is the McBee Mica Mine (more on this later.). The Abernathy Mine is at the top of the hill. I never attempted to climb it. But you can access it from Abernathy Mine Road off of State Road 80 North south of Bandana. You can use the cool breeze from the tunnel to cool off or you can have a swim in the Toe River below the tailings. The mine has two owners. I never met the The Abernathy Mine owners. The McBee Mica Mine is owned by the survivors of Bud Phillips. More on this a bit later.

Abernathy/McBee Mica Mine Images

Railroad tracks leading to and from the Abernathy Mine. These women from a Bo's Mine Tour in 2013 figured a good way to transport their buck of rock samples.

Look out for CSX trains on te tracks. Always know where you will go to avoid the train.

Look out for the tailings on the Toe River side of the tracks. When you see the tailings, you are opposite the mine entrance.

This is the mine entrance of the McBee Mica Mine. The Abernathy mine entrance is at the top of the hill. Sit in front of the entrance and enjoy the cool breeze coming from the cool water inside the mine.

Or, if you are adventurous, grab a flash light and take a look inside of the mine.
I will describe how we opened up the mine entrance and show you some pictures from inside the mine later on this website.

The beautiful Toe River is along side of the tracks. You can slide down the hill from the tailings and enjoy a swim if you want to cool off.

Minerals commonly found at the Abernathy/McBee Mica Mine Tailings

(The large garnet crystal with the green tourmaline on the right is not commonly found. But, you might get lucky)

Abernathy pegmatite consisting of quartz, feldspar, mica, and garnet.

Abernathy pegmatite with nice muscovite mica and almandine  garnet.

Abernathy pegmatite with nice muscovite mica.

A large garnet crystal with a nice inclusion of green tourmaline.

When traveling between the Sink Hole Mica Mine to the Roses Branch Road access to the Abernathy/McBee Mine tailings, Michael and I noticed a road to the left called Marble Mine Road (about 300 yards after the bend in the road from the Sink Hole Mine). We had noted that there was an entry in Jacquot's book about Mitchell Marble but did not see any as we walked along the train tracks to the Abernathy/McBee mine tailings. After we returned to the Richmond Inn from our Abernathy/McBee mine trip, we asked Maggie about the Marble Mine. She told us that it was owned by Bud Phillips. She also told that Bud Phillips was the largest land owner in North Carolina after the federal government and the State of North Carolina. Bud Phillips was in the lumber business. Maggie recommended that we look up Bud and tell him that Maggie sent us. His Mitchell Lumber Company was located in Spruce Pine only a few blocks from the Richmond Inn. We decided to go find Bud Phillips the next morning.

Bud Phillips
This is what Bud Phillips looked like when this picture was taken in 2014 which is what he looked like in 2006 when I first met him.
Michael and I had to wait outside his office for over an hour as a steady stream of visitors preceded us in to Bud's office. Finally, Bud's secretary motioned us to go on in. The first thing Bud asked is whether we were veterans. I was , Michael wasn't. Bud asked for my card (for his
Rolodex file). He then gave each if us a sprig seeding foe a pine tree he expected us to plant. Then he asked to know what we wanted. We told him that we were interested in getting his permission to visit his Marble Mine. After a lengthy discussion, he not only gave us permission, but he gave us a key to the gate and told us all we needed to know to safely go to his Marble Mine. Before we left, Bud gave each of us a small knife for our key chains.

Bud Phillip's Marble Mine

As soon as we left Bud's office, Mike and I took Rte 19E west from Spruce Pine. We took a right on State Rte 226 North and headed north past the Pine Mountain Feldspar Mine (quarry) pictured here.

That's my daughter Jessica pictured here during one of her visits to Spruce Pine.

We continued north on State Rte 226N until we came to the Sink Hole Mica Mine pictured here at the intersection of Rte 226 N and 226A. We turned left and followed 226A (AKA Mine Road) until we arrived at the intersection where Rte 80N terminated at 226A. We turned left on what was now Rte 80 South until we experienced a windy "S" section of the road. Marble Mine Road was on the right. We followed Marble Mine Road until we saw the gate the the Marble Mine on the right.

Bud had warned us not to try to drive down the road after the gate unless we had a four wheel drive vehicle.
He also warned us that if we encountered any difficulty with the lock (such as "yellow jackets" to give him a call on his cell and he would come out and fix it.

The Marble Mine Gate. The road was in fact very poor. We walked from the gate to the marble deposit and back carrying only a 5 gal bucket, few tools and a few small samples of the marble.

The marble mass. The marble at one time was limestone, a sedimentary rock which was altered by extreme heat and pressure to form the metamorphic rick marble.

The marble was a very high quality white marble.  But the deposit was small and not commercially viable except to make a few headstones and other small items.

You might wonder how a sedimentary limestone deposit got in the middle of an igneous rock mass. I have not researched this. But, before the the Spruce Pine Pegmatite igneous deposit took place about 350 million years ago during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains, the area was an ocean with a flat sedimentary floor consisting of shales, limestones, and sandstones. These sedimentary deposits would have been altered during the mountain building process. Many shell fossils can be found at the tops of Appalachian peaks documenting this possibility. With Bud's support, I did a lot of work developing the Marble Mine as a base of operations for some of my mine tours in subsequent years.. During some of our discussions, Bud told me that he had traced the marble formation across the Toe River. As marble is soluble in water, the marble is dissolved (weathered) much faster that the surrounding pegmatite rock resulting in the Toe River being very deep at the crossing point.

Our visit to the Marble Mine was the final vistt we made to on the summer of 2006 trip to Spruce Pine. Our time was up. But Mike and I vowed to return the next summer.

The summer of 2007
- I had some challenging medical issues during 2007. I decided to only teach part time again that year to try to resolve those issues. It turned out that Michael was unable to go on a trip that summer and it looked doubtful for me as I had a pacemaker implanted in May and it was probematic that I could handle the trip alone. But, I was motivated to do so. So, I went for about six weeks this time. I began the trip in mid June and stayed through he first week in August. The grassy Creek Gem and Mineral Show (outdoor for a week) preceded the Spruce Pine Gem and Mineral Show (indoor) the first weekend in August.

I went straight to the Richmond Inn arriving a few days before my birthday on June 23rd.  Maggie helped me celebrate with a glass (or two) of champagne which became a tradition for the next fifteen years.

Maggie was concerned about my medical condition so she kept track of things while I was there. I had very little problem except for some shortness of breath which I took care of by not exceeding my reduced capabilities.

I started every day about 8:00 for breakfast, took a sandwich for lunch and ended my mine excursions between 2:00 and 3:00 pm

However one difference the second year was that I went straight from my mid afternoon mine trip to the Mountain View Inn which was located at the intersection of Rte 226 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
I arrived and got a seat on the porch, ordered a beer, smoked a cigar, and read a book. The beer part was cool because both Mitchell and Yancey counties were dry. The Mountain View Inn was in Macumbe County. Mountain folks are big on not interfering with personal liberties so there was no issue with smoking my cigar on the porch. There was good cell phone coverage on the ridge line; another plus. I ordered my dinner around 5:00 and was gone by 6:00 when most of the customers arrived. I had that beautiful view to myself for most of the afternoon.

After dinner, I would return to the Richmond Inn, check in with Maggie, meet some of the new customers and be on the porch at dark with the minerals collected that day spread out on one of the large metal porch tables. I checked all of my minerals with a short wave fluorescent light for apatite (orange) and some of the feldspars had trace elements that were fluorescent especially if the feldspar had some uranium minerals as trace compounds. Quite often one or two of the customers would observe this and found it very interesting providing some good conversation the next morning at breakfast.

The first day back I went to see Bud Phillips to let him know I was back in town for about six weeks.

Under Construction

Bud gave me another small knife and another sprig to plant.

I don't have room here to tell all my stories about Bud Phillips. If you want to read more about him, click HERE.


Ignore the following images and text (website under construction) !

Jack Dellinger was helpful in providing information about the Hawk and Clarissa mines which were near his mill along Cane Creek.  During a visit to the Clarissa Mine, he rediscovered the gravestones of his maternal grandfather and grandmother which he had last visited when he was a teenager.

The Hopewell Native American Clarissa Mineworks were similar to the ones at the SinkHole Mine.
I conducted a great deal of research into Hopewell mica mining in the Spruce PIne Mining District which has been published online.

I liked to start my mine tours by explaining history of the the Spruce Pine Mining District durina a tour of the Bon Ami Feldspar Mina at  Emerald Village 

Tour customers could collect at the McKinny Feldspar Mine tailings at Emerald Village. High quality specimens of green Muscovite Mica can be found there.

   began my mine tour experience by giving tours of the Martin Feldspar Mine which was owned by a friend, Lud Leiner., I enjoyed  taking a break by the South Toe River on these tour.

I would not been able to conduct my mine tours business without the help of Bud Phillips. Bud introduced me to Lud Leiner and to Ed Silver, one of the owners of the Sinkhole MIca Mine. Bud also gave me access to the Marble Mine and the McBee Mine.

Ed Silver (in the middle), co-owner of the SinkHole Mica Mine, not only gave me access to take tours to the SinkHole Mica Mine, but he was also exceptionally helpful in our research into the history of the Hopewell mining of the SinkHole, Robinsn, and Clarissa mines 2000 years ago.

George Silver a jewish German immigrant (original surname Silbur), fought in the revolution and was the first to settle in the SinkHole MIca Mine valley. One of his sons built this cabin in the early 1800s in another valley near by in what is now the small town called KONA (Potassium, Oxygen, Sodium).

One of these most rewarding aspects of Bo's Mine Tours was working with kids from the ages of 10 through teenagers. It was like being back in the classroom except we were oudoors in the mountains and collecting in real mines.

I don't think I ever had a young tour customer who didn't really enjoy the hands on aspect of the tours. I had one who wasn't that interested in the rocks but really liked learning how railroads enabled the mining of feldspar.

Bo's Mine Tours at the Crabtree Emerald Mine.
Patience was usually required when collecting at Crabtree.  But, one of my customers found this 4 ct Emerald (on the right) in the gravel before I got my Rodeo unpacked.

The Capman Emerald

 The Ray Mica Mine involved a nice hike to the collecting area.

The Ray Mica Mine was the best place to find Aquamarine.

The SinkHole Mica Mine produced the best collecting of pegmatite minerals for my tours.

I led tours of large and small groups at the SinkHole Mica Mine.

It was just a short hike to see one of the shafts used by 19th and 20th Century miners at the SinkHole Mine.

Or view the 2000 year old mineworks of Hopewell Era Native Americans.
I published a paper on this subject. See
SinkHoleNative American Mica Mining

Mixed Media 36" X 36" painting of a Hopewell Era
Native Amrican mining mica from a tunnel at the SinkHole Mine

The painted was painted by Jerry Newton,
a well known artist who lives off Highway 80Spouth in Celo, NC.  Jedrry worked on the painting for many minth using real mica and clay from the SinkHole Mica Mine.

Jerry Newton's Website

One of my first tours to Bud Phillip's McBee Mica Mine was with three adventurous sisters.

One of the sisters collecting at the Abernathy/McBee Mine tailings.

It was a one mile hike from the McBee Mica Mine to our campsite at Bud Phillip's Marble Mine.

Swimming in the Toe River at the McBee Mica Mine.

McBee Mica Mine after a weekend of work with the Groover family

We were able to enter the McBee Mica Mine and after a few steps in water were able to inspect the mine tunnel

Our Campsite at Bud Phillip's Marble Mine

Marble Mine Campsite Cooking fire

As members of the Mountain Area Gem and Mineral association (MAGMA), Diana and I were invited todo some collecting at the North American Mica Mine near Hiddentite, NC.

This is one of the samples we found there. It has several varieties of gem quality Beryl including Aquamarine at the top and right edge and Golden Beryl (Heliotrope) in the center

I always recommended the Rio Doce Gem Mine for customers who wanted to go sluice mining. The owners Bob and Elaine are great people and are excellent gem cutters.

In my opinion, the best deal at the Rio Doce Gem Mine is the $65 bucket.  It has enough material for two opeople and includes one faceted stone or one cabochon. Here are a selection of facetable stones I have on hand from the Rio Doce Gem Mine.

Tam is an annual outdoor Grassy Creek Gem and Mineral Show the first week end in August at Spruce Pine. Vendors from all over the country are there.
I met many people at these shows who were helpful in the developement of my Bo's Mine Tours business, some of which  I still work with today in my Bo's Jewelry hobby.

I met Lloyd Nanny, the owner of The Thermal Gold Mine there one summer when I had this table of SinkHole Mine specimens in a display in Mable Bengamin's tent at the show.

The Thermal City God Mine. We even did a little research into North Carolina Gold mining in the 1830s. It turned out that there was quite a bit of gold found and distributed even including the manufacture of gold coins. which resulted in the

I met the forth generation current owner/operator  of the Thermal City Gold Mine, Lloyd Nanny, at the Grassy Creek Germ and Mineral Show in August, 2013. He not only gave me a lot of information on the history of gold mining in the area but also personally met each of the tours that I brought to his mine.

Unfortunately, I have had to suspend my mine tours business in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. Instead, I have begun a hobby involving  selling some of my minerals minerals and designing custom made pendants and rings from my home in Jacksonville.

I will continue working with the contacts I established during my days in Spruce Pine. But, I have also rejoined the Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society and look forward to the opportunity to take classes in making cabochons and wire wrapping.

Currently, all my minerals and supplies are in my garage in Jacksonville.  I have accomplished a lot of processing in the garage and at the desk shown below. I look forward to moving in to my proper mineral office which this fall and winter.

I have moved some of my rocks from the garage to a simulated mine dump (tailings) in my backyard so that visitors can do some mining.

The rocks (on the right) are western North Carolina  Spruce Pine Pegmatite specimens from the McKinney/Bon Ami Feldspar Mines or from the Sink Hole Mica Mine.

The rocks on the left are mostly fluorescent zinc minerals from the Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensberg, NJ. I have more zinc minerals in the garage that I will move to the tailings.

Website Created and Maintained by
Robert S. "Bo" Smith