Mining for gems and minerals has become one of my favorite hobbies. It is so grounding to dig into the Earth with bare hands and uncover different colors, textures and shapes. And the thrill when you find a perfect specimen or little piece of the Earth that just speaks to your heart is unlike any other to me.
My most recent mining trip was to the Pala Chief Mine in Pala, California, just about a 45 minute drive outside of San Diego. I brought a whole Moon Body Squad & family with me. There were 7 of us and yes we had matching aprons, not just for looks but read more to know why they are so important to bring! We dug the mountainside in search of gems like Kunzite, Morganite, Tourmaline, Aquamarine, Garnet, Lepidolite and even some Crystal Quartz.
If you live in Southern California, the Pala Chief Mine is open to the public two Sundays per month. Here's everything you need to know before going!
Cost & Registration
The Pala Chief Mine costs $75 per person to dig for 4 hours from 9am to 1pm, with an 8 am arrival time. Reservations are required and they recommend to book 48 hours in advance / the earlier the better. Book your dig here.
The entry fee gives you access to many mine dumps, some dating back to the early 1900s, and deposit-rich sites on the mountainside.
What You Can Find
The gem deposits in this area were first discovered in 1903 and it is home to some of the best quality Kunzite in the world. There's a variety of Tourmalines, Quartz, Aquamarine, Morganite, Feldspar, Garnet, Lepidolite and more.
What To Bring
This is considered a freestyle dig, which means you bring your own tools and dig your own way. We came armed with quite a bit of tools that we had from other digs that we didn't end up really using. I recommend bringing a hand shovel and hand rake, and something to pry with (we used screwdrivers).
We also found our 97 cent aprons handy for holding onto pieces we wanted to keep without having to get out of the hole or off the mountainside.
Gloves are recommended, however, they do take away from your ability to grip, so we suggest using garden gloves or kitchen gloves that have a nice gripping ability.
You can fill two 5-gallon buckets of leftover dump to take with you and sort through on your own too.
What To Expect
You are digging in a somewhat vast mountain area for tiny gemstones. While there are tons of colorful rocks and mineral-rich soil creating an awesome earthy environment, know that it's tough to uncover larger quality specimens here.
Our group went after a good rain, which was definitely helpful as it washes stones toward the surface and they stand out better in mud than dirt.
The host Steve provided a little direction in where to find Tourmaline, and they dug up a promising spot for us toward the end of the dig which was nice. If you need any help or have questions, just ask!
What We Found
Jacobie, who helps me in the kitchen making our products, must have the grounding touch when it comes to working with her hands because she had the best finds of the day, scoring a super large rare Morganite with tourmaline inclusions.
My sister also found quite a variety of stones! This is her loot after giving them a nice rinse.
Overall, know that you will need to be patient in searching, don't be afraid to ask for help in what you're looking to mine, and I encourage you to go for the experience and with non-attachment to what you want to find.
We found one of the best ways to find great pieces was to simply walk the area looking for something sparkly to catch your eye on the surface. Again, we had the help of a good rain. But be mindful that there is a lot of Mica in the area, so sometime it tricks you & you end up picking up just tiny little flecks of foil like mica.
I overheard someone say "it's like fishing, you can be in the right conditions but some days there's just nothing biting".