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Where to Go, What to Know

Pete Civitello, owner of Mason's Sapphire and Ruby Mine, inspects a visitor's screen for gems.
Pete Civitello, owner of Mason's Sapphire and Ruby Mine, inspects a visitor's screen for gems.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Writer Gaston Lacombe recently went gem hunting in North Carolina. Here is his reporter's notebook.

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DRIVE TIME

About 10 hours

COST

Mining fees: $90 Gem-cutting fees: $150 | Lodging: $89 per night

GETTING THERE

Franklin, N.C., is about a 10-hour drive from Washington. From the Beltway, I took a scenic route, taking Interstate 66 to Strasburg, Va., then I-81 down the length of Virginia, then I-40 west in Tennessee. On I-40, I turned south onto Route 66 at Exit 407, toward Sevierville, Tenn., then turned onto U.S. 441 south. This last road goes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and all the way to Franklin. I took local roads northeast to Spruce Pine.

WHERE TO STAY

In Franklin, there's a Days Inn (1320 E. Main St., routes 441 and 23 N., 828-524-6491, http://www.daysinn.com), from $49 per night. The Hampton Inn Franklin (244 Cunningham Rd., 828-369-0600, http://www.hamptoninn.com) has rooms starting at $74. The Carolina Motel (2601 Georgia Hwy., Highway 441, 828-524-3380, http://www.carolinamotel.com) has rooms from $49, a one-bedroom log cabin from $110 and a two-bedroom from $135.

In Spruce Pine, the Pinebridge Inn (207 Pinebridge Ave., 800-356-5059 or 828-765-5543), in the refurbished Harris School, offers rooms from $55.99 per night.

MINING OPPORTUNITIES

Mason's Sapphire and Ruby Mine (6961 Upper Burningtown Rd., Franklin, 828-369-9742, http://www.masonsrubyandsapphiremine.com) is open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m. except Christmas and New Year's Day, weather permitting. (The road can get icy.) Daily mining fee is $30 adults, $15 ages 6-11; children younger than 6 free.

Gem Mountain Gemstone Mine (Highway 226, between Spruce Pine and the Blue Ridge Parkway, 888-817-5829, http://www.gemmountain.com) is open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. March 1-Dec. 31. Trips to the mine (adults $65, children younger than 12 $30) are by reservation only; the price includes use of a pick to break apart the rocks.

TIPS

Be sure to wear old clothes, since you will get dirty. Except for small snacks, there is no food available at the mines. Take lunch and drinks if you plan to stay all day. Also, check out the Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum (25 Phillips St., Franklin, 828-369-7831, http://fgmm.org), housed in the former Macon County jail. The museum displays eight rooms of gems from North Carolina and around the world.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Go to http:// http://www.franklin-chamber.com, and click on "Gem Mines." Also, see http://www.gemmountain.com.

-- G.L.


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