Bo's Mine Tours
& Consulting

Mine Tours and research for the Western North Carolina Spruce Pine Mining District

Last Updated: July 9th, 2023


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; 2006-present
Platinum Member, Mountain Area Gem and Mineral Association (MAGMA); 2006-2019
Member, Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society (Florida); 2009-2011, 2015
Martin Feldspar Mine Tour guide for Rock Mine Tours; 2010-2012
Bo's Mine Tours; 2011-2016

*** Bo's Mine Tours History ***

2006 and 2007

I began my study of the pegmatite mines in Mitchell, Avery, and Yancey counties in summers of 2006 and 2007 the school year (I was a high school educator teaching Earth/Space Science). I used two references; "Rock, Gem, and Mineral Collecting Sites in Western North Carolina" authored by Richard James Jacquot and Lowwell Presnell's "Mines, Miners, and Minerals of Western Carolina. I visited as many mines as I could in June both summers.

The Richmond Inn
My base of operations was The Richmond Inn, a bed and breakfast located at 51 Pine Ave in Spruce Pine.

The owner, Maggie Haskins, was a great host. She sent me off each morning with a great breakfast and had many suggestions on people I should meet to help in my research. She didn't even object when I spread out all the rocks I had collected on her patio.

Maggie insisted that I meet Bud Phillips, owner of
the Mitchell Lumber Company in Spruce Pine. She knew that Bud would be of significant help in my research of the mines.

Maggie continues to be a friend. My wife and I stay with her at the Richmond Inn for a couple of weeks each year.

Bud Phillips
Bud Phillips was a large land owner and forester who had numerous mines on his properties. He took an interest in me and was helpful in my research.

I met with him as often as I could. Bud introduced me to important contacts such as Lud Liner, owner of "Rock Mine Tours" and Ed Silver, co-owner of the Sink Hole Mine,.

In addition, he provided me with details about numerous mines such as his gold mine and the McBee Mica Mine.

Bud passed away on March 1st, 2014. To learn more details about Bud's life check out  my Obituary of Bud Phillips

Ed Silver

Bud Phillips made a call to Ed Silver, co-owner of the Sinkhole Mica Mine, that resulted in many years of cooperation with my research, access to the mine for Bo's Mine Tours, and my Native American Mica Mining Project.

He not only was helpful in supporting Bo's Mine Tours but we also spent many hours talking about the Silver Family history in the vicinity of Bandana and the town of KONA from the late 18th Century to the present.

Note KONA: Potassium Oxygen, Sodium


I was not able to visit the mountains in the summer of 2008. I was busy getting married to my wonderful wife Diana in August. Our wedding was followed by a road trip honey moon. During the end of our road trip , we stayed at a cabin at Pipestem in West Virginia. We enjoyed that experience so much that we altered our itinerary back to Jacksonville to include Spruce Pine where we stayed at the Richmond Inn.  While there in December, we bought a cabin off Rice Road just a bit east of Micaville between Burnesville and Spruce Pine.

View of Black Mountains and Mt Celo from our cabin porch deck

Our cabin was a rebuild from a mobile home.

Me on the left with Chris Wyatt
Chris helped me with cabin landscape maintenance as well as with Bo's Mine Tours

2009 and 2010

During these two years I continued my research of area mines and was a tour guide of the Martin Feldspar Mine for Lud Leiner's Rock Mine Tours. Helping out Lud gave me valuable experience in giving tours for small family groups of three to five to school field trips with thirty or so participants. After the two years of working for Lud, I was ready to set up Bo's Mine Tours in 2011. I continued my friendship with Lud and his wife Joyce.

Don Wyatt lives on Pine Avenue in Spruce Pine not far from the Richmond Inn. Don is representative of the typical mountain family; hardworking and never retiring.

In the picture on the left, Don is with Lud Leiner during a visit to the Goog Rock Mine. I was introduced to Lud by Bud Phillips.

Lud has several mines on his property. The Martin Feldspar Mine features a beautiful trail along the bank of the Toe River. Lud established a mine tour business called Rock Mine Tours ad asked me to be one of his tour guides.

The Goog Rock Feldspar Mine

Lud Leiner had a key to the Goog Rock Mine gate.  We visited the mine in 2010.  Don Wyatt went along. He had an uncle who had worked the mine. The mine was located on the Toe River adjacent to Lud's property. The trail to the mine was challenging. The trail was mostly along on a contour along the steep slope to the river. The last hundred yards or so was up the slope to the mine. You knew when you were close to the mine because there was a cool breeze coming from the mine.

We spent some time collecting samples from the mine tailings. Lud and I basically stayed in one location on the tailings while Don moved easily around the steep slope bringing samples to us.

The sample to the left features large garnet crystals in very high quality feldspar.

           The Martin Feldspar Mine

Updated May 16th, 2023

2011 to 2015 (Bo's Mine Tours)

During the five years that I operated Bo's Mine Tours, I lead tours to the following mines. Just click on the links below:

Updated May 15th, 2023

Ray Mica Mine

Updated May 10th, 2023

Crabtree Emerald Mine

Updated May 14th, 2023

Abernathy/McBee Mica Mine

Updated May 14th, 2023

Mckinny/Bon Ami Feldspar Mines

Updated May 18th, 2023

Thermal City Gold Mine

Updated May 18th, 2023

Due to loss of our cabin as a base of operations and health factors, I am no longer giving personal mine tours in North Carolina. I thoroughly enjoyed giving tours 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. I am gratified that I continue to get requests for mine tours and have provided advice and recommendations for those who have contacted me. As a result. I am including a section in the website covering the most frequently asked questions and my recommendations.

Bo's Mine Tours Jacksonville, Florida

I brought a large amount of North Carolina pegmatite samples back with me to Florida over the years. Using these materials, I set up a miniature mine tailings for my family and friends to explore.

The large section on the right contains samples from North Carolina mines. The section on the left in front of the miner has samples of zinc minerals from the Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensburg, New Jersey

My granddaughter, Eliza, helped out by giving my miner a new paint job!

My daughter Lindsay and her family recently enjoyed a trip to my mine during a visit from California

I particularly enjoy working one on one with children of elementary and middle school age explaining some aspect of the mining experience.

Bo's Mine Tours Consulting

I receive emails occasionally  from people requesting information about a mine they have discovered on their property. I do my best in doing some research and give them whatever information I can. I enjoy doing this research as it adds to my knowledge of mines in Yancey, Mitchell, and Avery counties and the minerals found at the various mines.

Frequently Asked Questions and Recommendations

Is there anyone in the Spruce Pine/Burnsville area who gives mine tours?
To my knowledge, there is no one who offers personally guided mine tours like I used to do. 

Are there any other opportunities for tours to collect rocks and minerals?
The following facilities make mine dump collecting available to the general public. The prices quoted here may have changed since 2020.

Gem Mountain- Gem Mountain is a very popular tourist oriented facility which operates a sluice mine. retail store, and mine tours.  Gem Mountain's address is 13780 NC Route 226N, Spruce Pine, North Carolina 28777 (take the Rout 226/NC Mineral Museum exit off the Blue Ridge Parkway) phone number is:
(828) 765- 6130. General website is:

Gem Mountain offers group tours to two mines, the Brushy Creek Aquamarine Mine and the Hoot Owl Mine


These are both real mines. I have taken the Brushy Creek Aquamarine Tour and have collected at the Hoot Owl Feldspar Mine.   Both mines are genuine mine sites and involve moderate physical exercise in an actual mine location.

Emerald Village- Emerald Village is a large tourist complex consisting of three large feldspar mines.
The Bob Ami Mine has a self guided tour, sluice collecting, museums, retail store, and a collecting opportunity. Open every day from March 24th through October 31st. (Closed November through March).  There are also night tours of the Bon Ami Mine on selected dates featuring fluorescent light displays of the opal surface coating if exposed cave mine surfaces. See websites below for more details.Emerald Village also offers an opportunity to collect minerals from the McKinney/Bon Ami Mine dumps. The fee is $20/adults and $10/children under 10. You can either use your own tools or rent them from Emerald Village. See the website below for more details.

Emerald Village's address is:
331 McKinney Mine Road, Spruce Pine, NC 28777; Phone Number is (828) 765-6463. Email:

General website:
Bon Ami Mine Tour/Museum Mine Tour website:
Black Light Tours website:
McKinney/Bon Ami Mine dump collecting website:

Emerald Village offers numerous opportunities. I strongly recommend taking the Bon Ami Feldspar Mine self guided tour as the first step in your mining experience. This tour offers an opportunity to learn about the history of feldspar mining in the Spruce Pine Mining District, a chance to see mineral samples from various area mines, and then a walk through the mine opening cave looking at mining equipment and viewing the fluorescent opal surface coating of the mine minerals.  I also recommend doing the collecting activity available at Emerald Village.  It is less expensive than the tours at Gem Mountain and you will be collecting from the actual minerals mined (no salting). It is also very convenient as it across the street from the Bon Ami Tour site.  I suggest you bring one heavy duty 5gal bucket per person (Home Depot/Lowes/Ace) and invest in one 3 lb mason hammer per adult and a smaller rock hammer for children (See more details below)

My recommendation for a day long mining experience is:

1. Invest in a good field guide of rocks and minerals. I suggest Walter Schumann's "Rocks, Minerals & Gemstones" ISBN 0-395-51137-2

2. Start between 9:00-10:00 with the Bon Ami Tour at Emerald Village (allow about an hour there).  Spend some time looking at the minerals in the mineral/video room to see what the Spruce Pine Mining District minerals look like. Skip buying anything at the store at this time except your tour tickets and perhaps some fish food for the large rainbow trout which inhabit the water in the mine.

3. Next, do a couple hours or so of collecting at the McKinney/Bon Ami Mine Dump.  Before collecting, check out the display of minerals that have been found at these mines that is in the same building that you pay your fees and sign your waver forms. During collecting, look for the Smoky Quartz (gray), cream colored Feldsar (Orthoclase and Microcline) and dark green Muscovite Mica. You should also be able to find some Almandine Garnet with the green mica. There is an outside chance you may find some green Felsdpar (Amazonite- "Amazon Stone"). After you do your collecting, if you decide that you want to buy a sample, buy one at the retail store where you paid you fee!

 Take a break and go to the Switzerland Cafe for a sandwich and drink (a short drive).

Address: 9440 Hwy 226A, Little Switzerland, NC 28749      Hours: 10:30 am-4:30 pm March through November   Phone: (828) 765- 5289

4. I recommend that you finish your day gem sluicing the the Rio Doce Gem Mine.  After lunch, get back on the parkway and head north through the Little Switzerland tunnel and get off at the North Carolina Mineral Museum exit, milepost 331. Take NC 226N past the mineral museum and you will find Rio Doce on the left.

Address: 14622 Hwy 226S, Spruce Pine, NC 28777 Phone (828) 765-2099 Hours 9am-5:00 pm most of the year (they usually close in December but check their website). 
The owners, Bob and Elaine, are experienced professionals who not only produce high quality cabochons or facets at a reasonable price but also conduct classes on cabochoning and faceting in addition to their retail gem sluicing business. Rio Doce Gem Mine

Rio Doce has a broad choice of buckets available to suit the needs of each customer. My personal choice is the $65 bucket which is large enough for two people to share and includes several facetable gemstones and many other minerals suitable for cabochons. The $65 price includes faceting one gemstone or one cabochon.  I still maintain my relationship with the owners Bob and Elaine and Sarah who works the retail side of the store. Bob and Elaine conduct classes in faceting and making cabochons so you can be confident in the quality of their work.

6. The North Carolina Mineral Museum. After finishing your gem collecting at the Rio Doce Gem Mine, if you have time, you might want to stop by the North Carolina Mineral Museum which is just up the road to the north at the intersection of the Hwy 226 and the parkway.  It would provide an educational review of your activities with it's excellent free exhibits. Address: 79 Parkway Maintenance Rd, Spruce Pine, NC 28777   Phone: (828) 765-2761
Hours: 9:00 am- 5:00 pm all year.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email me at or text me at (904) 708-9186


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. You should plan for the self guided tour to last 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 specimen 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 Village, the place to go is the Little Switzerland Cafe just a few minutes from Emerald Village

"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 activities, 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.

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 several fecetable gemstones and many 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 collector 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!

Additional Activities

A Good Place to Start Any Tour

The North Carolina Mineral Museum

At Rte 226 and the Blue Ridge 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 the ravine at the Sink Hole Mine, the site of Native American aboriginal mining 2000 years ago.

I commissioned the oil and natural materials painting on the left which I donated to the Yancey County Visitor's Center in Burnsville. It is on display there in the visitor's center office.

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 great grandpa'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 became 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 Haskins. Nice period rooms. Friendly atmosphere. Family style breakfast. (82) 765-6993
Spruce Pine Motel
(no website)
Located at 379 Oak Avenue (end of "upper street") downtown Spruce Pine. Economy type motel, under new ownership, offers clean inexpensive rooms. (828)-765-9344
Terrell House B & B
Located in Burnsville, NC. Run by 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.

Website and photographs by Robert S. 'Bo' Smith