Bo's Mine Tours
Cell/Text Phone: (904) 708-9186

Mine Tours in Western North Carolina
Spruce Pine Mining District
Last Updated: May 10th, 2017

Bakersville, Spruce Pine and Little Switzerland in Mitchell County
and Burnsville in Yancey County
Along Route 19E northeast of Asheville

Go a step beyond "tourist gem mining"!  Mine real North Carolina rocks and minerals.
Visit and collect at real mine sites that are part of the Spruce Pine Mining District's history.
Enjoy an educational and interesting experience with moderate exercise!

*** Bo's Mine Tours in 2017 ***

Due to loss of our cabin as a base of operations and health factors, I am no longer in the mine tour business. I am in the processs of tansitioning Bo's Mine Tours from a mine tours business in the mountains of western North Carolina to a  Minerals , Pendants and Rings business with a base of operations in Jacksonville, Florida.  I have thoroughly enjoyed giving tours over thae last few years and hope that I have provided enjoyable and educational experiences for my customers. I am leaving my Bo's Mine Tours Website up however, to keep the information on the mines available for those who are planning trips to the area.

  Bo's Minerals, Pendants & Rings

My Background

BA Geology- Cornell University 1963
U.S.Navy 1963-1991; Retired Captain (aircraft carrier pilot, squadron commander, ship's Captain)
Earth/Space Science high school teacher and university Earth Science Lab Instructor; 1991-2007
Program Manager, Protein Crystals in Space in Florida Schools; 1999-2008
Aerospace Education Mentor, Florida Space Research Institute; 2006-2007
Conducted research on geology and history of the Spruce Pine Pegmatite Mining District; 2005-present
Platinum Member, Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association (MAGMA); 2006-present
Member, Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society (Florida); 2009-2011, 2015-present
Martin Feldspar Mine Tourguide for Rock Mine Tours; 2010-2012
Bo's Mine Tours; 2013-present

I recommend reading my article on the Spruce Pine Mining District before touring any of the mines in the area.(just scroll to the bottom of this site)

Select from these Mine Tour Activities 

Most Mine Tours begin with a guided walking tour of the
Bon Ami Feldspar Mine at Emerald Village

Tour of the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine at Emerald Village . Pay your fees at the retail shop next to the mine cave.

Fees; $8.00 adult. $7.00 seniors (60+), $6.00 students through high school, pre school (free))
The Bon Ami Mine is a typical feldspar mine of the 1920s-1940s. This tour features a brief description of Spruce Pine Pegmatite geology and the mining equipment and feldspar processing techniques of that period.  The length of thr tour is about 45 minutes to an hour.

 The Emerald Village complex is located a few miles from the North Carolina Mineral Museum.

Following the Bon Ami walking tour, most groups either stay in Emerald Village and collect from the dumps (tailings) of the McKinney Feldspar Mine or drive to the Sink Hole Mica Mine to collect there!

Collecting at the Emerald Village McKinney Mine Tailings

This is a very nice specimenn of the most common minerals found in the McKinney Mine tailings; green muscovite mica (upper left and lower right), smoky quartz (gray), and cream colored potash feldspar (microcline or orthoclase).
You can collect from the tailings from the McKinney Feldspar Mine onsite at Emerald Village.  The procedure is to check in at the main retail store down McKinney Mine Road from the Bon Ami Mine. You sign  waiver of liability forms and pay the fees there.

Fee Schedule: adults 13 and older-$20,
children 12 and under- $10.00

I will provide tools and help you identify the minerals you find if I lead you during your collecting experience. You can rent tools  from Emerald Village if you go on your own. You will need sturdy shoes and some 5gal strong buckets for the samples you collect.

There is a collection of the minerals found in the McKinney Mine tailings in the Emerald Village office to help you know what to look for when you collect at the tailings.

Lunch after mineral collecting
Most tour groups elect to take a break for a rest, cool drink, and lunch after completing mineral collecting.

If you decide to collect at Emerald Vilage, the place to go is the Little Switzerland Cafe just a few minutes from Emerald Village

Collecting at the Sink Hole Mica Mine

Spruce Pine Pegmatite from Sink Hole Mica Mine
Beautiful muscovite mica (rum mica) in smoky quartz (gray) and postassium feldspar (creamy white) matrix

The Sink Hole Mica Mine is about a 45 minute drive from Emerald Village off of Stae Road 80N near Bakersville, NC.
We will need a vehicle with good ground clearance to drive up the road to the mine tailings. A 6cylinder SUV with AWD is preferred but not essential.  My Isuzu Rodeo, 6 cyl rear wheel drive with high profle rear tires works great if I have it available.

There are no fees to collect at this mine. I know the owners well and will get permission for our tour.

You will need sturdy closed toe shoes or tennis shoes. I will provide the mine tools but you will need one 5 gal sturdy bucket per tour member for the samples you collect.

The Sink Hole Mica Mine provides an excellent mineral collecting experience at one of the area's most historic mines. The Sink Hole Mine offers a consistent opportunity to find excellent samples of the Spruce Pine pegmatite with small "gemmy" garnets in a mica/feldspar/smoky quartz matrix. The owners of the mine have removed quite a bit of material from the upper tailings the past four years for road fill.  Although there is less material up there, the remaining material has been turned over and new rocks are exposed. This has resulted in some great discoveries. 

  Classic Spruce Pine Pegmatite Minerals
Feldspar (cream), Smoky Quartz (gray), Muscovite Mica

Nice Spruce Pine Pegmatite specimen with Muscovite Mica
from Sink Hole Mica Mine

Nice Gem Feldspar (upper right) from Sink Hole Mine with "gemmy" garnets found in August 2015

You can begin with a short hike to see one of the shafts and the location of the Native American mine works.

Next, you can collect samples from the "tailings"
of the minerals found at the Sink Hole Mine.

Middle school aged students particularly enjoy the "hands on experience"

More Examples of Minerals Commonly Found at the Sink Hole Mica Mine

There is plenty of typical Spruce PIne Pegmatite at the Sink Hole Mine.
This one has some pink feldspar.

Green Apatite crystal in Feldspar.
(fluoresces bright yellow)

Top left- If you look carefully at the Feldspar you colllect, you might find some "gem feldspar"

Small "gemmy" Garnet crystals are commonly found in the pegmatite at the Sink Hole Mine

Lunch after mineral collecting

Most tour groups elect to take a break for a rest, cool drink, and lunch after completing mineral collecting.

If you decide to collect at the Sink Hole Mica Mine, the place to go is Helen's Restauraunt about a ten minute drive to Bakersville. Helen's has great sandwiches /burgers, sweet potato fries , and milk shakes!

Closed Tuesdays!

"Tourist" Gem Mining (sluicing):

I began Bo's Mine Tours to give tourists and local inhabitants an option in addition to typical "tourist" gem mining attractions. "Tourist" gem mining normally involves separating colorful semi-precious gem stones from North Carolina gravel through "sluicing".  This is fun for all generations and especially small children.  However, the colorful stones found in these places generally do not come from North Carolina. The "tourist gem mine" operators purchase these gems from suppliers especially from Brazil and then mix them with local gravel. 
Bo's Mine Tours offers the oppportunity to collect North Carolina rocks and minerals from a real mine.

However, my experience over the past few years with Bo's Mine Tours is that there are two situations when it is beneficial to include "tourist gem mining" as part of my tours.

Tour modified for elementary aged children accompanied by parents/grand parents:
 Emerald Village/Sinkhole Mine Tour

For tour groups which include young children who have never been gem "sluicing"  and have selected to do the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine tour might want to consider having the kids do some "gem mining" at the Emerald Village facility (bucket prices vary from $15 up).  Emerald Village is an attractive, well run facility. 
This takes about and hour or so.
After the Emerald Village actvities, you might want to move on to a shorter (about 1-2 hours) collecting experience either at the McKinney Feldspar Mine tailings onsite at Emerald Village or at the Sink Hole Mica Mine.  I have found that elementary age children are very enthusiastic about collecting at "real mine" tailings but their attention span is such that they begin to wear out and get a bit "figity" after an hour or two.

SinkHole Mine Tour or Spruce Pine Mining District tour modified to include those who are interested
in doing "gem sluicing" with the goal of obtaining a faceted gemstone or cabochon

Rio Doce Gem Mine

After a bit of "marketing research" of the local "tourist gem mines",
I have determined the best place to get reliable high quality gem stones along with the demonstrated ability of cutting the stones by experienced professionals is the Rio Doce Gem Mine. Rio Doce has a broad choice of buckets available to suit the needs of each customer. The most popular choice of my recent customers is the $65 bucket which is large enough for two people to share and includes many fecetable gemstones and other minerals suitable for cabechons. The $65 price includes faceting one gemstone or one cabochon.  Additional faceted stones are $50 each and cabochons are $30.

Rock Collecting Tools and equipment

In addition to some kind of appropriate containers
(I recommend Lowes or Home Depot sturdy 5 gal buckets),
you will need proper rock hammers to process the material.
I recommend that each collector have a regular rock hammer (brick hammer) with a chisel end (shown in my left hand in the picture) ($30 at Homer Depot or Lowes and a 2 1/2 lb to 4 lb mason hammer with a chizel end (shown in my right hand). A 12 lb sledge hammer would be helpful to break up larger boulders.

The picture demonstrates how to use these hammers to break rocks in a controlled manner.
Safety Notes: Each colllector should wear sturdy shoes/boots/athletic shoes (no sandals). I always wear jeans to provide protection in case of a fall.
But, many of my customers have worn shorts.  Everyone should wear some type of light weight gloves (garden gloves) to protect against cuts from a fall or contact with sharp edges of the minerals. Always wear eye protection when breaking rocks with hammers!

The Crabtree Emerald Mine

We also have had several excellent tours to the Crabtree Emerald Mine.   Crabtreee provides a more difficult challenge than the Sink Hole Mine in finding good specimens but it can be done and our Crabtree tours were successful in that almost everyone found some emerald.

can sign the required forms, pay the fees,  and get directions to the mine from either the MAGMA (Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association) websie which manages collecting at the mine or at the Emerald Village shop next to the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine. I can provide the forms and forward your check to MAGMA if I take you to the mine.

Minerals Commonly Found at the Crabtree Emerald Mine

Common grassy green Beryl crystals in Feldspar matrix

Emerald in Crabtree matrix

Black tourmaline crystals and pink Thulite in Feldspar

Black tourmaline and golden beryl in Feldspar matrix

Special Finds at the Crabtree Emerald Mine

Above- Nice Emerald crystals in Feldspar matrix; found August 2014
Right- Beautiful Emerald crystal found in the gravel at Crabtree; August 2015

Ray Mica Mine
The Ray Mine is one of the oldest and most famous of the old mica mines. Excellent examples of spuce pine pegmatite material can be found there. Especially fine examples of "rum" mica some with black tourmaline inclusions can be found.  The Ray Mine is one of the best sites in the area to find Aquamarine.  It can be found by searching through surface material or by the digging and sifting technique. In 2012, the US Forrest service instituted digging restrictions for the Ray MIne area and avoidance policies for shafts due to bat preservation issues.  I have found nice samples of mica and black tournaline in the quartz/feldspar matrix the creek alongside the trail up the mountain. No digging in the creek! Up the hill in the vacinity of the mine shafts is a large mine dump area (tailings). Surface collecting using hand tools is permitted in this area.  There is an approved digging area above the mine shafts. I suggest you check with the US Forrest Service before collecting at the Ray Mine area.
I suggest you call Matthew McCombs, District Ranger, Appalachian Ranger District at (828) 689- 9694 (office) oe (970) 309-0367 (cell) for the latest information before collecting at the Ray Mica Mine.

The parking area at the Ray Mica Mine trailhead
Directions to the parking area at the Ray Mica Mine trailhead:

From Burnsville take Rt 197 South (The Pensacola Road) for .7 miles
Turn Left on Bolens Creek Road for 1.4 miles
Turn Left on Ray Mine Road to the top of the hill

GPS Coordinates:
N 35 deg. 53.241 min.
W 082 deg. 16.733 min.

The Pisgah National Forest land begins at the post with the yellow and black poster on the right in the picture. You may park on National Forest land in front of the post is private land.  I have had prmission from the owner in the past to park on his land. He does not want any payment; just do not block his mail box on th right!

This a map of the Ray Mine area.  The hatched area above the shafts is the authorized digging area. 

The old road which is adjacent to the digging area leads up to the rigeline where there is an old Kyanite Mine.

Hike up the hill toward the tailings.
You may suface collectalong the trail but no digging!

You may suface collect in the stream;
 but no digging!

 You may suface collect from the tailings near the shafts but no digging. Digging is permitted only in the approved digging area above the shafts!
Minerals that can be found at the Ray Mica Mine

Partial Common Beryl crystal
 in Quartzite matrix

Aquamarine in Feldspar

Muscovite Mica (Rum Mica) in Feldspar

Black tourmaline crystals in Muscovite mica on Feldspar

lIf you hike up toward the ridgeline from the Ray Mine shaft area you might find some blue Kayanite in Quartzite.

Interested in Gold Mining?

I met the owner of of the Thermal City Gold Mine at the Grassy Creek Gem and Mineral Show late in July 2015.
His family has owned the mine for five generations.  The area between here and Charlotte was mined for gold for about 20 years beginning about 1830 and was the primary source of America's gold until the big gold strike in California.
You can pan the unsalted stream gravel that produced the gold for $10/person and they will provide the pan; what a deal! You have a good chance to find a flake or two of gold by panning  You can also reserve a piece of gold mining equipment called a trommel for four hours for $60.

Our first tour was for a family who decided to try panning for $10 a person

They were also given an explination of the operation of the trommel by the owner.
Our second tour group opted to operate the trommel for $60

Loading the trommel

Cleaning the sluice

Panning the concentrate

The Objective
Small nuggets and flakes from the trommel operation

Additional Activities

A Good Place to Start Any Tour

The North Carolina Mineral Museum

At Rte 226 and the Blue Ridgre Parkway

Pine Mountain Mining Facility

You can take a route to the Sinkhole Mine that includes a brief roadside stop along Rte. 226N with a view of the  Quartz Corporation's Pine Mountain Mining Facility.

Take Route 226 N from Rt 19E north towards Bakersville.  Stop along the right side of the road and take a look at this operating feldspar mine, the largest in North America.

After this stop, continue on towards Bakersville and take a left at Rte 223 (Mine Creek Road) at the Sink Hole Mine road sign.

The History of Bandana Settlement

The Sink Hole Mice Mine mine is located in the town of Bandana southeast of Bakersville in Mitchell County. mine is currently owned by Ed and Sam Silver.  The Bandana area and the valley to its south, Kona, have been continuously occupied by the Silver family since the mid-1750s.  My research into the geology of the area has resulted in getting to know many of the local folks so I have learned quite a bit about the history of the area. This cabin, built by one of sons of the area's first resident of European decent, George Silver Jr.was built between 1809 and 1816 can be found in the village of KONA.  If you drive south on Rte 80S from Bandana, you will find KONA. Take the Old Kona Road down to the village to find this cabin.

The history of Native American MIca Mining

During the years that I have devoted to the study of the geology and history of the  Spruce Mining District, I became very interested in the history of  North Carolina mica mining by Hopewell era Native Americans. I have published my research online at:
    Native American Sink Hole Mica Mining Website

If you are interested in this subject, be sure to search for revine at the Sink Hole Mine, the site of Native merican aboriginal mining 2000 years ago.

I commissioned the oil and natural materials painting on the left which is currently on loan to the Yancey County Visitor's Center in Burnsville. A stone mine tool used in this mining over 2000 years ago is on display at thre museum up the hill from the Visitor's Center.

Dellinger's Grist Mill

The tour takes about 45 minutes to an hour. There is no fee for the tour but you might want to purchase some of Jack's corn meal, grits, or polenta.

The Dellinger Grist Mill has been at it's Cane Creek location (a few miles east of Bakersville) since the mid 1800s. Four generations of the Dellinger family have operated the mill. It is the only iron wheel grist mill still in operation in North Carolina. The mill is currently operated by Jack Dellinger. Jack was born in the hills near the mill, watched his daddy operate the mill and learned the stories of his grandpa and greatgrandpa's experiences with the mill which he relates to those who visit the mill.  Jack is an amazing person who started in the corn field,was  educated in a one room school house, eventually bacame an Electrical Engineer and as one of an IBM  team of computer programmers was involved in designing the computer program that controlled the Saturn V Rocket for the Apollo 11 Lunar mission. Check hours of operation at the Dellinger Mill Website

Nearby Accommodations
Richmond Inn B & B
Located in Spruce Pine, NC. Run by our friend Maggie. Nice period rooms. Friendly atmosphere. Family style breakfast. Pet friendly. 
Spruce Pine Motel
(no website)
Located at 379 Oak Avenue (end of "upper streeet") downtown Spruce Pine. Economy type motel, under new ownership, offers clean inexpensive rooms.($50 one queen. $55 two double beds) 828-765-9344
Terrell House B & B
Located in Burnsville, NC. Run by our friends Laura and Mike Hoskins. Nice period atmosphere. 
Switzerland Inn
Located on Blue Ridge Parkway. Luxurious chalet atmosphere. 
Beautiful view. Excellent restaurant. Rates-moderate to expensive.
Big Lynn Lodge
Located on Blue Ridge Parkway. Comfortable. 
Beautiful view. Reasonable rates.
Alpine Inn
Located on Blue Ridge Parkway. Beautiful view.Rustic atmosphere. Optional breakfast served on the lodge's balcony. Reasonable rates.
Vance Toe River Lodge
Located on Route 19E about 14 miles northeast of Spruce Pine in Plumb Tree, Avery County. The Vance Toe River Lodge offers inexpensive accommodations in the lodge and cabins, camping, and a Zipline attraction.

The Spruce Pine Pegmatite Mining District
by Robert S. "Bo" Smith

Reviewed by Alex Glover, PG- former Chief Geologist for the Feldspar Corporation

Spruce Pine Pegmatite 
(smokey quartz, feldspar, and mica)

  The Spruce Pine Pegmatite consists of a valuable source of high quality quartz, feldspar, and mica as well as associated gem minerals. The district covers an area of approximately ten miles east/west and twenty miles north/south in Yancey, Mitchell, and Avery Counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina.

Geologic History: The Spruce Pine Pegmatite formed as the result of the intrusion of granitic magma into the Ashe Metamorphic Suite (metamorphosed sedimentary rocks about 800 million years old).  The intrusion of the magma occurred during the Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era (about 380 million years ago). The cooling rate of the magma deep inside the Earth was very slow resulting very large sized crystals of the primary minerals in the granite rocks. This was a time in geologic history where the North American Plate collided with other plates of the Earth's crust resulting in the formation of The Appalachian Mountains. This mountain range was very high; higher than the American Rockies and perhaps even higher than the Himalayas. Subsequent cycles of metamorphism produced additional minerals in the pegmatite body. Cycles of weathering and erosion of the mountains removed tens of thousands of feet of rock material creating the piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain and reducing the present Blue Ridge Mountains exposing the Spruce Pine Pegmatite.

Economic Uses:  The Spruce Mine Pegmatite has been a major factor in the economic development in the area which is currently the world's primary producer of high quality silica (quartz) for use in the manufacture of semi conductors, fiber optics, and solar panel components. Feldspar is used in china, sanitary ware, and glass making. Mica was used by Native Americans in the area for thousands of years for ornamental purposes and as a trading item. Early colonists used mica for windows in their cabins.  In the late 1890s, mica began to be used for furnace windows due to its transparency and high heat resistance.  Due to its flexibility, it was used for curtain material which could be "rolled up" for coaches. Mica was an important mineral resource in the first half of the 20th century. Inventors of the first electrical equipment such as telephones, telegraph transmitters, and other electrical equipment used mica as an insulator.  During World War II and in the 1950s, mica was used in artillery and aircraft gun sights and for use in vacuum tubes.  During this period, mica was considered a strategic material and the price was supported by the federal government. Mica mining boomed until the mica was removed from the strategic materials list in 1958.  Mica is still used in highly technical circuit boards for use in equipment such as electron microscopes and by NASA.  It is also used as scrap or flake mica for a functional filler in joint compound mud where it serves as an anti-shrinking material. Mica is also currently used in cosmetics. Other minerals associated with the pegmatite; such as emerald, aquamarine, golden beryl, and garnet are of high interest to gem dealers and mineral collectors.

Minerals found in the Spruce Pine Pegmatite Mining District: The primary minerals of the pegmatite are feldspar, quartz, and mica.  These three minerals are the most commercially important Spruce Pine Pegmatite minerals because of the purity and abundance of the minerals and because they occur in large crystalline masses (due to the very slow cooling rate of the magma).  Several types of feldspar can be found in the pegmatites in the area; two types of potash feldspar; orthoclase and microcline (potassium aluminum silicate), sodium feldspar; albite (sodium aluminum silicate), and oligoclase (a type of plagioclase feldspar which is mostly a sodium feldspar with some calcium). Amazonite, a relatively rare green variety of microcline feldspar and Moonstone, a gemstone variety of orthoclase is found here but they are rare. The quartz, SiO2, is sometimes clear and colorless (var. rock crystal). But normally, it is translucent and usually has a gray color (var. smoky quartz) or white (milky quartz). The mica is a variety called Muscovite which is normally a silver to light brown color but is sometimes green and even a rum or ruby color but can appear almost black in book form. The percentage of the primary minerals in the Spruce Pine Pegmatite are 65% feldspar (35% plagioclase; albite and oligoclase and 30% potasium feldspar; mostly microcline and  some orthoclase), 25% smoky quartz, and 10% muscovite mica.  The order of crystallization of these minerals from the magma was; first plgioclase feldspar, next potasium feldspar (first microcline then orthoclase), muscovite mica, and lastly quartz.  There are numerous other minerals found in association with the pegmatite which are of interest to mineral collectors. The most common of these minerals is garnet which is usually found as almandine.  Another variety of garnet, rhodolite, is less common but is a pale rose to red ruby color is sought by gem and mineral collectors.  Tourmaline, a complex silicate rock forming mineral is sometimes found as crystals of the black variety (Schorl) but is occasionally found in the dark green variety highly prized by collectors.  Kyanite, a blue bladed mineral is sometimes found associated with tourmaline.   Beryllium minerals; beryl and the mineral apatite are sometimes found as accessory minerals in the more alkaline pegmatite rocks.  Beryl (hardness 71/2-8) is sought by collectors as a gemstone in several varieties; aquamarine (pale green to blue), goshenite (colorless), heliodore (yellow/gold color), and emerald (dark green).  Apatite occurs as a pale beige to green color.  The green variety of apatite can distinguished from varieties of beryl (although both occur as hexagonal crystals) due to its lesser hardness (5) and because it produces an orange color under short wave fluorescent light.  Zoisite, the pink gemmy variety called Thulite, also occurs in the pegmatite and can be confused with garnet.  Other accessory minerals found with the feldspar are blue and green Hyalite Opal, and Autunite as well as other uranium minerals.  Several metallic minerals occur but are rare in the pegmatite. The Titanium minerals ilmenite and rutile and molybdenite (MoS2) have been found in association with quartz.

Other Interesting minerals found near but not part of the Spruce Pine Pegmatite:
  An iron mineral, magnetite was mined in the Cranberry area of Avery County from the Civil War days (used for rifle barrels) and during the early days of automobile manufacturing until the mines were closed in the 1930s .  Sulfide metallic minerals; galena (lead sulfide), pyrite (iron sulfide), chalcopyrite (copper iron sulfide) and possibly argentite (silver sulfide) can be found in Avery and Caldwell counties. There are also stories of gold and platinum being found associated with these minerals.  Early Spanish explorers came to the Spruce Pine area in the early 1600s and spent over a hundred years in the area looking for gold and gem minerals but did not find any. The first American gold rush took place in the 1830s-1850s in North Carolina from the Charlotte area to an area south of Marion. You can pan for gold in the once gold bearing gravel at two locations on Route 221S; the Lucky Strike Mine and the Thermal Valley Mine.

I would like to thank Alex Glover, former Head Geologist of the Feldspar Corporation of America for editing and making suggestions for this essay. (May, 2012)

Website and photographs by Robert S "Bo" Smith