There is no greater treasure than the Sapphires in Montana
Many people might be surprised to find out that Montana actually has some of the best sapphires in the world. While they rarely come out of the ground huge, they’re quite often gem-quality as soon as they’re in the hands of eager miners and prospectors and don’t require the heat treatments that you’ll find common in commercial sapphires from areas more traditionally associated with the stones.
Overview of Montana’s Sapphire Deposits
Montana has some of the most abundant sapphire deposits in the world, including the only known hard rock deposits which are located in Yogo Gulch. The amateur prospector will find that many of the mines will sell gravel to you that you can sift and wash either on-site or later depending on the location itself.
These rich deposits tend to lend themselves to a lot of amateurs coming out and trying their hand at finding “the big one” only to give up rather quickly. It’s not a quick process, and it can be rather labor-intensive but for those with the dedication and time it can make for both an exciting time and has the chance of a real pay-out.
If you’re not local to the area, you might be surprised to find that many sites will also mail out gravel so nearly anyone can get a chance at finding some of the stones.
Locations to Find Sapphires in Montana
For most visitors to Western Montana, you are going to have your best luck with mining for sapphires by visiting one of the pay-to-dig operations. These places let you sift through paydirt that is known to have sapphires and other gems. Of course, this might not be of interest if you are a prospector who wants to find your own undiscovered mineral deposits, but for a fun family activity these are some places you might want to check out.
While it might seem like something of a kitschy tourist attraction, many people find that a day spent at Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine in Phillipsburg is worthwhile. You probably shouldn’t expect to strike it rich, but if your goal is just to get a couple of stones out of the ground then you’re probably in the right place.
The establishment itself has a unique set-up, you can show up, buy some dirt, and use their equipment in order to sift through it and find gems. The primary finds here are sapphires and garnets, and they’re not always of suitably high-quality for cutting but it can make a fun day trip for the family.
You’ll find that Gem Mountain really is something of a tourist attraction, but if you’re new to the art of gem prospecting you might find it easily accessible and a good way to spend an afternoon.
Yogo Gulch was originally famous for its gold deposits, but the early gold seekers didn’t give them much attention. The presence of the little crystals was noted but not really thought about until one enterprising individual sent some off to an appraiser. The appraiser sent them to Tiffany’s. Tiffany’s declared them the “finest gemstones found in the United States” and the rest is history.
The major mines in the area are inactive for the most part, but it’s still a hot-spot for hobbyist prospectors looking for gem-quality sapphires in Montana. Yogo sapphires are considered some of the finest in the world, coming in a deep azure color.
The gulch itself is in Judith Basin County, about twelve miles to the southwest of Utica. The streambeds here are filled with gravel that comes from a unique, low-silica form of igneous rock and contained within it are the gems named for the area.
Because of the quality of the stones in the area, you’ll likely have to find someone with mineral rights who will let you work some of their piece of land as most of the areas that produce these valuable gems have been claimed for decades. It’s mostly noteworthy as a place where some of the best sapphires in the world are still found regularly, and most of the mining is in hard rock deposits.
Montana Gems offers one of the better opportunities to dig for sapphires in Montana. They are located in Phillipsburg and have a nice setup for treasure hunters to search for sapphires and a variety of other gems.
They also have a shop where you can purchase popular gemstones from the local area, including not only sapphires but also agates, garnets, and opals from Western Montana and Idaho.
Located near Missoula, this site isn’t primarily operated as a mine in and of itself, but they do have sapphire paydirt available for prospectors and have a shop in Hamilton. They do require you to call ahead for reservations in the summer, especially if you’re planning on doing your “wash” at the site itself. Their website claims it’s really no hassle to come and get “gravel-to-go” however, which may be the better option depending on your proximity to the deposit.
Also Read: Montana Gold Mining History & Locations
Montana is absolutely brimming with sapphires, and these are some of the best places open for the public to go in order to get a chance at them. As with any kind of prospecting, the best spots are invariably owned by people with mineral rights to the land already, but you might be able to get access if you make the right contacts.
While you shouldn’t expect to get rich, it can be a rewarding hobby and many of the above places offer on-site cutting and even setting if what you’re after is a piece of jewelry made from genuine Montana sapphire.