Adventures in Mining: Real Beauty is Under The Surface

A few months ago, I ventured out to the Oceanview Mine in Pala, California, to search for my own buried treasure. This adventure has been on my bucket list dating back to my years studying jewelry and gemology at The Gemological Institute Of America.

The Oceanview Mine is one of the last open mines located in the world famous Pala Gem mining district. So obviously, I had to go explore. During my visit I unearthed so many amazing specimens including black, pink, green, and blue tourmaline, as well as a few other San Diego native stones: kunzite, quartz, lepidolite, aquamarine and morganite.

It was such a rewarding hands-on experience discovering untouched natural gemstones amongst the dirt. It was the perfect way to spend the day and I got to bring back some beautiful stones to share with you. The staff at the Oceanview Mine are well educated in everything you need to know about what you are finding as well as the formation process of different kinds of native gemstones.

If you’re interested in finding your own crystals and stones, I definitely recommend the Oceanview Mine for your next outdoor adventure. You can mine for various stones including tourmaline, kunzite, triphane, morganite, aquamarine, quartz, cleavelandite and lepidolite.

The Many Colors of Tourmaline: The Chameleon Gem

After my trip I had to dig a little deeper and research more about the scientific formation process, history and spiritual metaphysical properties of Tourmaline. Tourmaline is one of Earth’s most mystical and colorful semi-precious stones. It is known for being the gemstone that comes in the most colors amongst all others, giving it the nickname “the chameleon gem.” The name Tourmaline is derived from the words tourmali, meaning “a precious mixed-color stone,” and turamali, meaning “something small taken from the earth” in the Sinhalese language of Sri Lanka.

The most spectacular tourmaline crystals are formed by hydrothermal activity. These crystals form when hot waters and vapors carry the elements needed to form tourmaline into pockets, voids, and fractures, which offer an open space for crystal growth. The tourmaline crystals formed in these cavities range in size from tiny millimeter crystals to massive prisms weighing over 200 pounds. Tourmaline is composed of a variety of different minerals. It can be found in virtually thousands of colors and color combinations. One of its most unique characteristics is that tourmaline gems are often dichroic. This means, when held at different angles, the color in a single gemstone can vary in intensity, change to a different color, or even change to several separate colors. These naturally occurring phenomena produce a group of Tourmaline gems in every color of the spectrum.

The Tales of Tourmaline: Legends and Mythology

In Egypt, legend says that during Tourmaline’s formation, it made a journey from the earth’s core to its surface, passing through a rainbow that gave the gem its colors. During the medieval ages, Tourmaline was thought to cure patients of physical and emotional ailments. India believed in the metaphysical, spiritual powers of the gem and used it as an instrument to gain insight into “all that is good.” Various African tribes, Native Americans and Australian Aborigines viewed Tourmaline a totem of protection.
Tourmaline’s metaphysical properties are thought to radiate peace, help relieve stress, remove toxins, and improve the immune and circulatory systems. Wearing this stone is believed to encourage connection between the conscious and subconscious mind, heightening mental awareness and clarity. It is also said to provide more self-confidence and a better understanding that can help resolve issues within oneself and in life.

Tourmaline is one of October’s birthstones (the other is Opal). It is also the gemstone of Luna Norte’s home state of California, where it can be found in abundance.

History of Tourmaline: The Gemstone of the Golden State

When green tourmaline was first discovered by Dutch traders off the coast of Italy some time within the 1600s-1700s, it was assumed to be emerald. Finally in the 1800s, scientists discovered that tourmaline was its own kind of gemstone. Before the late 1800s, colored gemstone jewelry was extremely uncommon in the United States. However, even though Tourmaline had been discovered centuries ago in different countries, it only became popular after its discovery in the United States. Modern technology allowed gemologists to look back at stones used throughout history and realized that the Russian Crown Jewels that were believed to be rubies were in fact tourmaline!

It is not clear when the first tourmaline was found in California. However, Native Americans have used pink and green tourmaline as funeral gifts for centuries. The first documented case in California was in 1890 when Charles Russel Orcutt found pink tourmaline at what later became the Stewart Mine at Pala, San Diego County. Pala is home to plenty of discoveries including when Dr. George Kunz discovered and named the Kunzite crystal in 1902. Pegmatite deposits in Riverside and San Diego County have produced the most gem-quality tourmaline than any other deposits in the Northern Hemisphere – all the more reason to visit the Oceanview Mine and make your own discoveries!

How to Find Your Own Gems: Get Dirty

Here is what to expect if you take a trip out to the Oceanview Mine. When you arrive, you will be set up at a table and be given three sifting trays, each with various sized holes. You will use these screens to sift through the dirt taken from the mines starting with the tray with the biggest holes first. The dirt falls through and stones and crystals get left on your screen. The gems often need a bit of water to get the excess dirt off and reveal their beautiful colors. If they offer a 4-wheel drive tour, TAKE IT! That was the best (and scariest, most thrilling) part.

Discovering gemstones is easy but dirty work, so make sure to dress accordingly. Be prepared to be outside getting pretty dirty and a little wet. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. It’s a good idea to bring gloves if you want to protect your hands, the stones can be sharp. You’ll be out in the sun for a few hours so remember to apply a generous amount of sunscreen and wear a hat to keep the sun off your face. Pack yourself a big lunch and bring a bunch of water to keep you hydrated while you dig. Southern California is beautiful year round, but the best time to visit the Oceanview Mine is during spring or winter (this area gets hot in the summer and early fall). You’ll need to make a reservation in advance and bring cash for entry. The dig starts at 11:00am but they ask guests to arrive by 10:30am to give time for check in. Happy mining!

Jessica B.
Graduate Gemologist

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