The states of the West are rich in precious gemstones, and there's no need to stake a claim to unearth some yourself. At fee mining sites, you pony up a bit of cash and some sweat equity for the chance of a priceless payback.
DUST DEVIL MINING CO. Plush, Ore. Use a pick, shovel, and screen—all provided on-site—to prospect for the state gem, the sunstone, in south central Oregon's lava flows. (503) 965-7707, www.dustdevilmining.com.
EMERALD CREEK GARNET AREA Idaho Panhandle National Forests, St. Maries, Idaho. Screen stockpiled gravel in a sluice to search for star garnet, the Gem State stone. (208) 245-2531, www.fs.fed.us/ipnf/rec/activities.html.
OCEANVIEW MINE Pala, Calif. In the late 1800s, the empress dowager of China began obsessively buying up pink tourmaline from Pala's mines. She didn't get it all; the remaining gems include tourmaline, garnet, and aquamarine. (760) 489-1566, www.digforgems.com.
RAINBOW RIDGE OPAL MINE Denio, Nev. This is one of several opal mines that dot the arid Virgin Valley, where fire opals formed some 15 million years ago in cavities left by trees buried under volcanic ash. (775) 941-0270.
SPOKANE BAR SAPPHIRE MINE Helena, Mont. Dig for sapphires of varying colors in a gravel bar above the Missouri River. (406) 227-8989, www.sapphiremine.com.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in July 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.