Pink Tourmaline & Aquamarine: Oceanview Gems in the Pala Mines District, San Diego, CA
Temecula or Bust
On a vacation to California by way of Temecula in 2010, it was hard to believe that only minutes away lay an area with green rolling hills and citrus groves. Winding dirt roads make their way through nearby agricultural areas, but one will take you to a spot where there are a number of gem mines, nearly all of which are no longer working. But one is still being worked and is the site of a wonderful activity for vacationers and locals alike. It is the Oceanview Mine of Pala, California.
The mine produces matrix specimens, a term referring to the type of gems produced. Among the gems are tourmaline (pink, green, watermelon), aquamarine, citrine, morganite, schorl, and more I don't know the names of.
In addition to producing these fine gems, the Oceanview Mine Pala Mining District, San Diego County, CA, allows visitors the opportunity of looking through new tailings for precious gems.
Entering the Processing Area
Prior to entering the classifying area, as we drove up, a gentleman collected our fees and a waiver of liability sheet that was mandatory to fill out. Once you have parked your car, you walk toward a clearing where tables are set up in a horseshoe arrangement. The tables each hold a large tub of water and two 2'X4' frames. These frames are stacked one on top of the other. The larger quarter-inch mesh frame is on the top. The smaller one eighth inch mesh frame is on the bottom.
In the center of the clearing is a large pile of tailings brought up from the mine. The pile is where the fun begins. After an introduction to the most efficient classifying (separating) technique for the new tailings (from here on referred to as "tailings"), guests go to the tailing pile in the center of the clearing to retrieve buckets of tailings to bring back to their respective tables. I would say the walk to the pile was maybe 15 feet.
The bucket is emptied in the 1/4" mesh frame and worked with a trowel. Moving the material back and forth over the mesh, dirt, and clay, and very small pieces work their way to the bottom screen. When all that is left in the large mesh screen is rock (minus very large rocks which are picked out and hand washed), the screen is placed in the water tub. The material submerged is washed by hand side to side and brought out for inspection. If you are lucky enough to find a gemstone, terrific!
Many of the rocks are beautiful, and a rock hound will want to bring a large container or pail just to hold those. Tailing buckets, shovels, trowels, screens, and toothbrushes are all supplied by the Oceanview Mine personnel. Any crystals you find will glisten in the sun!
One Grand Day
Starting at about 11 a.m. under a beautiful blue California sky with a few cotton puff clouds, the instruction about gems and minerals and classifying techniques made our time at Oceanview Mine profitable. The participants were courteous and energetic, chatting as they worked. At about 1 a.m., we took a break to have some lunch (email instructions outlined what should be brought the day of our adventure). Under an overhang with picnic tables provided for guests, we were able to see orange and grapefruit groves winding along the hillsides as we ate.
Back again to the screening tables, we proceeded to sift and find our treasures. We found Kunzite, Tourmaline, Smokey Quartz, and Quartz crystal. The mid-70's degree temperatures were perfect for a day full of fun, exercise, and socializing. The setting could not have been more perfect. The activity is not a race. You can work as fast as you want. Working steadily, I think, will give you good results based on my observations of how frequently people found something to yell out about. An optional tour in a big ATV let visitors see where the old Pala mines were. The activities wrapped up at about 3:00 p.m. when we, at least, had had a full day!
I encourage you if, by now, you're interested in participating to go to http://www.digforgems.com/ for more information. The $60 per person fee was well within reason for the great time provided. Once registered, a password is emailed to you, which gives you access to a PDF with information and a MAP to the mine. The road can be traversed by car or truck—in our group, vehicles driven by guests were about split 50–50 'tween car and truck.
The Truth About the Bounty
All of the gems you find are yours to keep. In addition, you can bring a 5-gallon bucketful of rocks (there are nice-looking stones up there). At the same time, I have heard folks complain that they worked the whole time and found nothing. I seriously doubt that. There were about 40–50 people in our group and all found gems. You can see our haul in the photo above. One fellow found a Kunzite worth a lot of money and was going to have a necklace made for his wife. It was his third trip there.
The Oceanview Mine also gives a jeep tour of Chief Mountain with all the mining activity, dump and tailing piles, etc. From there, you can see several of the other mined mountains, including Pala Chief and Tourmaline Queen.
Pala Pegmatite District
The Pala Gem District, also known as the Pala Pegmatite District, is in northwest San Diego County, CA. The area has been mined since the 1870s. Tourmaline Queen Mountain and Chief Mountain are actively mined today. There are eight federal general mineral patents. The rest of the land in the district is organized to benefit the Mission Indians.
Exotic Historical Aside
China's Dowager Empress Cixi of the Qing Dynasty highly prized the pink tourmaline mined in Pala. Under her influence, China's demand for this gem created a boom in the California tourmaline industry after 1902, particularly at the Himalaya mine. Demand fell off about 1911, declining after the Empress died in 1908.
The dig still lasts for four hours; however (unless my memory fails), you are also now allowed to take a five-gallon bucket of screened and washed rocks home to further investigate on your own time. An included jeep tour of Chief Mountain lets you see the mine that produced the tailings. You can also get an eyeshot of the Pala Chief, Tourmaline Queen, and other famous historic mines.
Some things don't change. The activities start at 11 a.m. You are asked to be at the gate at 10:30 a.m.
One thing that is now stressed is for people to fill their buckets and return to their station to work material. Some people will sit on the pile of sand and rock and just scrape material until they find a gem. The experience is to screen for gems - the big pile is for everyone.
The adult fee is now $75, and children under 11 are $60. If you go to http://oceanviewmine.com/, you will find a very comprehensive website with nine web pages to choose from, which will help you in planning your trip. This includes a sign-up and pay area for the dig, and a calendar.
What is your favorite semi-precious gemstone?
Questions & Answers
© 2011 John R Wilsdon