“What should we get mom for Mother’s Day?”

That’s the question of the hour. But what’s the answer?

I decided to do a little research and find out. I asked the next 10 moms I saw what they would really like for Mother’s Day. Except for one, who said she wanted a red Porsche, all the others said “jewelry!”

So, jewelry it is.

When it comes to jewelry, you could do what most folks do and simply saunter on down to the local mall. That works, I suppose.

Or you could take a different approach.

What if you could find your own gemstones – you know, amethyst and emeralds and sapphires and such – and turn ‘em into jewelry that you could give as a gift? Or maybe you could take mom to a gemstone mine where you could look for gems together or she could find her own. Maybe you could even camp and make a long weekend of it. Family time and gems – that’s a pretty good combination, don’t you think? Mom would like that, I’ll bet!

As it happens, searching for gems has become a thing these days. It’s called “gem grubbing,” though those in the know drop the last “g” and add an apostrophe in its place, as in, “gem grubbin’.” Adults enjoy it. Kids have a blast. And moms love it, too, especially when the payoff is a gemstone that’s personally found.

I don’t know about you, but gem grubbin’ sounds like a lot more fun than yet another trip to the mall.

Gem grubbin’ is the fine art of washing sand and gravel in search of whatever gemstones might be mixed in. North Georgia offers quite a few places where you can try some gem grubbin’, too. Any of them are great for short excursions into the world of precious stones – and one of them, Gold ‘n Gem Grubbin’ just up the road near Cleveland, Ga., even has on-site camping.

Gold ‘n Gem Grubbin’ is located on property that was once a part of the historic Loud Gold Mine. Operated for years as a commercial gold mine, the site opened to the public in 1984. Today, it offers not only gem grubbin’, which is our present focus, but also some great gold panning (another story for another day). It’s a popular destination and has been visited by folks from across the United States and from several other countries.

There’s no admission fee at Gold ‘n Gem Grubbin’. Instead, gem grubbers purchase buckets of “gem gravel” which they then wash and screen in cold, cold water that flows through wooden troughs at the site’s sluice area. Several different types of buckets are available, ranging from the “standard” one-gallon bucket to the “super” bucket (2.5 gallons) and “paydirt” and “motherlode” buckets (5 gallons).

For a more adventuresome experience, you can even sign on for a half- or full-day “mining adventure” experience down the hill along the creek. A large pile of gem gravel has been dumped there, allowing you to screen through as much as your muscles can handle. A picnic lunch and some folding chairs can turn this streamside experience into a day-long adventure for the whole family.

Whether at the sluicebox or beside the creek, what might you find? Any given load of gravel could contain pieces of amethyst…or emerald…or tigereye…or moonstone…or topaz…or sapphire…or – well, you get the idea. You never know what you might find as you wash and pick through each screenful of gravel, and when you’re prospecting, hope always springs eternal.

I had the opportunity to visit Gold ‘n Gem Grubbin’ recently with my daughter. She loved rock collecting even as a little girl, and judging from the big grin on her face as she picked yet another gemstone from her screen, she was enjoying it still, all these years later.

Our goal, aside from enjoying a unique day together, was to come up with an equally unique Mother’s Day present. Gemstone cutting has long been a hobby of mine, and we were hoping to find just the right gemstone from which I could make a gift for my wife.

But first, we would have to wash some gravel. Mine owner Joey Tamburino spent some time showing us the right technique. You start by dumping a small pile of dirt into your screen (“Not too much,” he said). Then you immerse the screen in the water, shaking it vigorously to wash away the sand. You’ll be left with a screenful of glistening wet gravel, and that’s what you search through to find the gems.

Tamburino explained that a great technique is to shake the washed gravel down into one end of the screen and then sort through the gravel a little bit at a time. It’s a technique, he added, which helps you to find as many of the gemstones as possible.

After washing the gravel and picking out the obvious pieces of “leverite” (that is, those non-gems that you “leave right” there), we got down to some serious gemstone hunting. The first gem that my daughter found was a nice and chunky piece of amethyst. It almost seemed to glow in shades of lilac as she held it in her hand.

The amethyst was first, but it was far from the last. As we continued to work through the bucket of gravel, quite a few other treasures came to light. There was a piece of multicolored fluorite, beautiful in shades of purple and green. Several moonstones announced themselves with the silvery shimmer that gives them their name. Sapphires appeared, too, easily recognizable once you learn to spot their telltale luster. Several pieces of garnet added a touch of red to the growing collection, and a nice piece of amber-colored citrine brought yet another hue to the rainbow that was accumulating on the bench nearby. There were even a number small emeralds, obvious as glints of green that stood out clearly once you learned what to look for.

As my daughter Kathryn and I worked through our bucket of gem gravel, others around us were doing the same thing. A few yards away were Andrea Tu of Johns Creek with daughters Charlotte and Madeline. All three were having a great time searching out gems among the bits of gravel in their screen. And nearby, Lucy Aldridge of Roswell, along with sons Christopher and Adam, were working their way through one of the big buckets of gravel. They were truly excited about what they were finding, and Adam showed me a very large piece of amethyst before returning to his search for whatever the gravel might yield next.

Kathryn and I got back to our search too, and it wasn’t long until (almost at the same instant) we spotted a honey-colored shimmer flickering at us from one end of the screen. Kathryn brushed away the surrounding gravel to reveal a beautiful piece of golden tigereye.

“Dad! Look at this!” she exclaimed, lifting it from the screen and brushing away a few bits of clinging sand. “It’s beautiful!”

And it truly was. Tigereye has always been one of my favorites, and this was a nice piece that would yield a number of nice polished stones.

“That’s the one,” I said. “That’s the piece for the Mother’s Day present! I’ll make Mom a piece of jewelry from it, and I’ll make a matching piece for you!”

Cutting gemstones has long been a hobby of mine, and I looked forward to seeing what that piece of tigereye would yield. I’d cut it cabochon-style and then set a finished stone in a silver pendant setting for each of them.

For folks who don’t cut gems as a hobby, Gold ‘n Gem Grubbin’ also offers jewelry-making services. They’ll cut and polish your gemstones and then set them in sterling silver or gold. That makes it possible for you (or your mom) to turn that one special find into a one-of-a-kind necklace or ring.

“Sure, I like jewelry from the jewelry store,” one gem grubbin’ mom told me. “But how much more special to have a piece made from a gemstone that I found with my kids. That’s about as good as a Mother’s Day present can get.”

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