Minerals and Gems in Spruce Pine

Spruce Pine is not known as “The Mineral City” for nothing!  Gems, minerals, and mining of all kinds are a major part of the town’s economy and culture.  From the annual North Carolina Mineral and Gem Festival to find-them-yourself gem mines, Spruce Pine is a rockhound’s dream.

Festival Season

Each year Spruce Pine hosts the North Carolina Mineral and Gem Festival during the last week of July into the first week of August.  Gem and mineral vendors from across the country converge on the town and fill the Pinebridge Coliseum with more rocks than you can see in just one day.  It is a rare year that I do not purchase something unusual at the festival, and I’ve been going for 30 years!

There is also a special vendor-only show held at the Pinebridge Inn (next door); contact the festival for vendor requirements and details.

The 2012 festival will be 55th annual festival, and will be held August 2 until August 5, 2012, at Pinebridge Center.  Pinebridge Center is enclosed, so the festival is indoors.  You can see images from previous festivals here on SprucePine.com in our festival images section.  The festival has it’s own website now at www.ncgemfest.com.

Also each year, running concurrently with the Mineral and Gem Festival is the Grassy Creek Gem Show.  The Grassy Creek Gem Show is outdoors at Parkway Fire Department (in the Grassy Creek area of Spruce Pine), and has almost as many vendors as the Mineral and Gem Festival.  The Gem Show runs all week (the Gem Show starts July 28 and ends August 5 in 2012).  Gems, minerals, jewelry, and other items of interest to rockhounds are all for sale.  And they have great barbecue too!  Spruce Pine in late July can be hot (although not always), so dress appropriately for an outdoor event.

Gem Mines

While you’re in Grassy Creek, why not visit two of Spruce Pine’s best known gemstone mines?

Gem Mountain is just about half a mile from Parkway Fire Department, and is a “you find them, you keep them” gem mine.  Pan for gems in a running flume of water, and keep whatever you find!  Gem Mountain also has professional rock cutters that will can shape your finds into jewelry to keep.  One patron found a 1000 ct ruby while panning at the flume at Gem Mountain (an event chronicled by The Learning Channel, see the web site).

Just 2 miles up the road in Little Switzerland is Emerald Village,  also features panning for gems in their water flume.  You can keep what you find, and rock cutters can make it into jewelry you can keep.  What makes Emerald Village unique is the historic mine feeling, including tours of actual gem mines such as the Bon Ami Mine in Little Switzerland.  In fact, the Village is just that: a real historic mining village that you can explore and enjoy.

Both mines are great fun for both kids and adults!

Museum of North Carolina Minerals

Spruce Pine is also home to the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, maintained by the National Park Service in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development.  The Museum is located just off the Spruce Pine / Mineral Museum exit (milepost 331) from the Blue Ridge Parkway, near the end of the Grassy Creek area of town.  Open since 1956, but completely renovated in 2002, the museum explores the unique geological makeup of Spruce Pine and the surrounding areas.  There are also displays about the history of mining and (my favorite) an excellent relief map of the area mountains.