The next two days of our trip we spend on script. Tuesday, we drive to the star garnet mine, which takes about two hours of driving to get to, including numerous stops on the side of the road to let all the Idaho drivers pass me.
I spent three full days in Idaho, during which pretty much every resident of the panhandle passed me on the road.
The mine was at the end of a dirt road, and much smaller than I expected. We set about digging and lugging and panning, and generally not finding much. Every so often The Child or I would find something that might be a garnet, and she’d run off to ask the opinion of one of the Forest Service employees, and we’d be informed that no, it wasn’t one.
It’s especially disheartening when the small children who are panning nearby seem to be finding garnets every few minutes. I persuade myself that they have no idea what they’re doing, and just think they’re finding garnets.
I find a few things so I continue with my process: dig up dirt, take it to wash, find maybe one or two star garnet chips … maybe. The Child is frustrated at her lack of success so she decides to go to the dry panning area, where, she says after an hour, she has found nothing.
We eat lunch and The Child announces she’s done. We’ve found enough, she declares.
We’ve found next to nothing, I say, but that’s fine. I’m frustrated too.
A Forest Service employee – a college student on summer break – comes over to chat with us. We haven’t found much, we tell her.
She suggests that we might want to pan the dry mud first, then take it to the washing area. She suggests a spot to dig where the dirt is mostly dry, so it will pan more easily. We decide to try just one more bucket before we go. Mostly, because we don’t want to hurt the girl’s feelings.
I don’t really like panning in the dry dirt. It gets caked under my fingernails and in the cuff of my rolled-up jeans. I feel disgusting but I dry pan through one complete bucket with The Child, and then we lug the muddy pellets that remain to the wet area.
We find a lot of garnets now. We jump up and down like the small children did earlier. We show the Forest Service girl our finds, and she shows us which stone are best for rock tumbling, and which could be cut and mounted into jewelry.
Be careful who you let cut them, she says. Very few people have experience with star garnets. You can only find them here, and in India.
I totally knew that. Idaho and India: Who knew?
The Child spends the rest of the day lugging buckets of dirt between the different stations and gleefully showing off her finds. There’s an area where you are supposed to dump all the rocks that you’ve panned through that aren’t garnets, and she spends quite a bit of time looking through those rocks with the Forest Service girl and finding all the garnets that other people missed. Like those little kids.
That’s the best way, she says. Other people do all the work for you.
She’s got a bright future. I’m sure of it.
We leave after four hours with five ounces of start garnets, including one that is whole, which we’re especially proud of. People came over to look at that one, and the Forest Service girl explained its finer points to everyone, but then it went into our ziploc.
Next year, said The Child, we should try opals. We can mine opals in Idaho, too.
We’re experts now, so we know these things.
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