“strike it rich!”
Welcome to the Pala Chief Mine! Located in beautiful Pala, California the Pala Chief is one of the oldest gem mines in San Diego County, and is one of the only historic mines still being actively worked in the hunt for American gemstones. The deposits here were discovered in May 1903, and the mine produced large amounts of tourmaline, most of which was shipped to China for the carving trade. It was also the primary discovery site of the purple gem variety of spodumene known as kunzite, and the first true source of gem-quality kunzite. Significant quantities of kunizte were mined from the Pala Chief and much of it went to Tiffany's to be cut into fine gemstones. Even today, the kunzite from Chief Mountain is considered by many to be the finest in the world. Currently the mine is being assessed and updated with plans to fully develop it in the search for gemstones and mineral specimens for the collector. The Pala Chief Mine is owned by Oceanview Mines, LLC and is not open to the general public except for special fee digs held in the cooler fall, winter and spring months. You can see what dates are open and sign up for a Pala Chief Dig by selecting the "Sign up to Dig!" item in the Pala Chief Digs drop-down menu. If you want to screen for gems, Oceanview Mines has a regular fee dig that allows the public to screen through the dump material from the Oceanview Mine. You can learn more about that fee dig at www.digforgems.com.
There's something that, to this day, is super alluring about the idea of finding buried treasure... but what if you could go to a place where you were almost guaranteed to dig up something of value? Welcome to Pala Chief Mine in California, where you're welcome to dig up and take home as much world-class kunzite, tourmaline, and aquamarine (among other precious and semi-precious gems) as you can carry... and these aren't just little chips of stone; they're massive hunks of gem!
It'll cost you an up-front fee of $75 to get in, you'll have to sign up for a scheduled tour which requires some hiking to reach the hillside, and you'll need to bring your own equipment, but once you reach the mines, it's a free-for-all on the stones. If you're lucky, you'll be able to find kunzite, which is usually a pale pinkish violet that was originally discovered here at Pala Chief (the mine used to provide Tiffany's with their kunzite), pink and green tourmaline (much of which was shipped to China for carving) and even aquamarine and giant chunks of quartz. So pretty! You're allowed two 5-gallon buckets to fill up and take with you, so get ready for some heavy lifting.
The Pala Chief Mine opened in 1903, shortly after the gem deposits were discovered, and cranked out jewels until the collapse of the gemstone market in 1914. After that, it was only sporadically mined, and many smaller (but still good sized) specimens were overlooked by old-timey miners... so the odds of finding something are pretty good! Plus, they're actually expanding the mines, always digging up new gems for visitors to take home. The tours run on assorted weekends from the fall through the late spring, so keep your eyes peeled on their website for dates!
It's more "advanced" since you have to bring your own equipment and hike, and you can only go as part of a tour group, but the quality and size of the stones in unbeatable!
Another local 'gemming' place is Gems of Pala. My contact was a Mr. Sheppard. If my memory serves it wasn't quite so pricey. There was a slag heap near a tent w/o sides. You scooped your own pail and proceeded to sort at a personal sifter tray. VERY hot work! Bring Water!! 2+ hours of work and I had nothing to show for it -- but somehow the kids found plenty! It was fun to watch them run around and show off their finds to everyone. The area IS in the back of beyond.
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Pala Chief Mine
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Credit Cards not Accepted
Not Wheelchair Accessible
No Public Restrooms