Thursday, August 24, 2017

We Become Paid Miners

My Three Biggest Finds. The Purple Stone is Amethyst.
After the eclipse Rena and I decided to visit one of the many sapphire and ruby mines in the Franklin area. I mean, why not spend a few dollars and a few minutes and walk away a millionaire? It would be better, if dirtier, than playing the lottery. I ran a search on my phone, selected a mine more or less at random, and we were off.

"Do we want Upper Burningtown Road or Middle Burningtown Road?"
The GPS on my phone took us past the Franklin airport and continued deep, deep into the boonies. The terrain was rugged, but the roads were paved, which met Rena’s minimum requirements.

The directions kept on coming long after I lost the signal. I’m not sure how or why that works, but it somehow does. I was just congratulating myself when the phone, having drained its battery, died. Rena had no signal, either.

We kept going, blind, hoping for the best. The winding road and the many mountains were beautiful, but all signs were beginning to point toward Deliverance. We passed Clampit Cove Road. Named for Jed? Possibly. Deliberately misspelled? Probably. Note the bear sign.

Next was a dead end sign. Why are dead end signs ominous? I’m not sure, but they are. Certainly this one was, as it was followed immediately by a sign that read “Wrong turn. Thieves vandals and other trash will be shot." A full-sized Confederate flag backed up the threat. Tiny signs, however, kept beckoning us to the mine. Rena somehow didn’t see them, and I think she thought I was making them up.

Just as the road ended we found the mine. Signs warned us “Indian miners only beyond this point.” “Paid miners only.” Was it a private club?

“I’m getting a bad feeling about this,” I said to Rena. “Must be the banjo music.”

We considered leaving, but dragged ourselves out of the car and approached a ramshackle shed. Near the door, a man who looked like Santa Claus was talking to a man who looked rather like the grim reaper—about gems, of course. We stood there patiently, and they ignored us. We walked around them and went inside.

There we learned Indian miners were customers who pay to fill pails of dirt at the mine itself. Paid miners buy buckets already gathered and certainly seeded by mine personnel. We paid $25 for a two-gallon bucket of dirt and then we were paid miners and we were allowed in. We asked to be Indian miners, but were told it was too late in the day. My heart will forever be broken because I was not allowed to be an Indian miner.

At $25, $50, and $100 per bucket (for 1, 2.5, or 5 gallons sizes), it was certainly the most expensive dirt ever.

We were led to a trough, where we more or less played patty cake with the dirt, putting several handsful into a sieve and making and kneading mud cakes, hoping the sticky clay-based soil would wash away and reveal our fortunes. We were soon filthy.

What we saw when the mud was gone was rocks of assorted sizes; some of the rocks, though, were not rocks at all, but gemstones. The rocks that were clearly gemstones were in fact rocks and the rocks that looked like gemstones turned out to be rocks. Once past that confusion we had a good time playing in the mud. Rena liked the experience so much she bought a second bucket of dirt and we started all over again.

When the last of the mud was gone we each found ourselves with several handsful of gemstones of varied and assorted types and sizes. I think each of us thought the other had gotten the better deal and semi-seriously thought about drygulching one another, but all the mudslinging had left us weary, so we never got around to it—although what do I know about what Rena might have done in our hotel room in the dead of the night?

We made our way back to civilization and headed for our hotel, and immediately managed to find the most treacherous road in North Carolina. For some reason Rena was not enamored of steep heavily forested one-lane gravel roads with 200-foot drop offs and no guard rails. When we were a quarter mile in she stopped and refused to go any further until I told her the alternatives to proceeding were to back up or turn around, which would entail hanging either the front wheels or the back wheels over the edge of the cliff.

“Just 1.3 miles to go, Rena. You can do it. 1.2 miles. One mile! Just one mile!”

"What if a car comes the other way?"

"It won't happen." But of course, it did.

Happily, we reached pavement earlier than anticipated and were on our way to our motel in Maggie Valley.

The room was fine except for a pool of water on the bathroom floor. Rena swore she wasn’t responsible, but of the two of us only she had been in the bathroom. That made me suspicious.

We were soon cleaned up and sitting in big rocking chairs on the balcony, looking out on a rushing mountain stream and telling lies with our thumbs.

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