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panning - hillary stein

Want to come back from vacation with more money in your pocket than when you left? Vegas, thankfully, isn’t your only option. In a few mining destinations across the U.S., finders are keepers. Plan a visit around these cities where you can hunt for treasure — and take home what you find.


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Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro, Arkansas
The only diamond-producing site in the entire world where the public can hunt for diamonds is located in – believe it or not — a state park. A mere $8 entrance ticket to the 37.5-acre plowed field is all that’s between you and a diamond that could pay for a new car. Equipment can be rented on site, but you don’t need it. Diamonds are often found on the surface, especially after heavy rains. Let a staff member cast an appraising eye on your finds before you leave to determine if you’ve really struck it rich. Either way, a trip to the on-site Diamond Springs Water Park ($6) is a great way to cool off after a dirty day of digging.


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Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area, Libby, Montana
Imagine yourself as a part of the Gold Rush in this remote section of Kootenai National Forest in Montana. Yes, Montana. California gets all the fame, but Big Sky Country still has plenty of gold lurking in “them there hills.” Once the site of several mining operations, the Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area is estimated to still have 10 to 15 percent of the original gold remaining. Panning is free.

Emerald Hollow Mine, Hiddenite, North Carolina
Emerald Hollow Mine, the world’s only emerald mine open to the public for prospecting, is located in a tiny town called Hiddenite just an hour from the North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway. But you can find more than green glories there — the mine is home to 63 different types of gems and minerals. There are a few ways to participate: sluicing for gems in a pre-filled bucket ($5), searching through the creek bed ($10), or digging into the ground ($20 for combination of all three). Tools can be rented at additional costs.

Bonanza Opal Mines, Denio, Nevada
Opals have been mined in Virgin Valley, Nevada for just over a century. Geologically speaking, that’s not a lot of time that has passed, so the coffers could still be full of fire opals waiting for you to bring them home. At Bonanza Opal Mines, $60 a day allows you to root through earthen material with a hand-held rake searching for a high-priced find. Didn’t find anything? At least the camping is free nearby.

Cherokee Ruby and Sapphire Mine, Franklin, NC
North Carolina’s Cowee Vallye is one of only two places in the world to where premier Pigeon Blood rubies has been found (the other is Burma). The dirt here can reveal not only rubies, but also garnets, sapphires, and other gemstones too. Fun fact: The region was once owned by jewelry powerhouse Tiffany’s. Mining fees start at $20 for adults.

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