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Down All The Days

by Jay Bates

The mist hung on the hills, wafting in a cold wind blowing down the Diablo Range. We four huddled around our screens and kept moving to hold the in-creeping cold at abeyance. We were screening for that mythical gemstone, benitoite. We were washing the dirt off tailings at the Gem Mine in hopes of a facetable stone.

Benitoite in matrix

Some weeks before we had been there on a warm and sunny day, basking in the warmth and the aroma of the surrounding incense cedars. It seemed much easier then to find those little electric blue crystals. Now it seemed they had all disappeared. Still, we soldiered on, for we knew not when we may be able to return to this remote location or whether we could even return to the land of Happy Meals over the sodden dozed tracks laughingly called roads on the maps.

The wash water ran out, so Dave and I put his hitch on the back of my Jeep and trailed the water tank trailer down to the creek bottom to pump it full from an underground tank placed there to collect water during the oncoming threatening winter rains. Now in four wheel, I crept back up the pit tracks to the top pulling a ton and half of wash water. All for a tiny blue speck that resembled a bit of blue glass, you would not think twice about picking up on the street.

Benitoite crystal

But we had a bit of good luck! While busy getting the wash water, Bob had done a little sniping around a tailings pile and found some undamaged included crystals of pinky nail size. Not gem quality, but what awesome specimens they are! Maybe Big Ernie was going to be kind after all as a glint of sunlight pierced the mist. No, it wasn't going to happen, as the mist again closed in and we returned to our dreary screens. Slowly moving with buckets from the coyote hole to the screens on the slippery slopes. Dump, wash, swirl with numb fingers, and now squint with a hopeful eye for that electric blue vision. No, none there. Keep moving. Maybe the next bucketful will reward us for our efforts. Harry and Mary had given up on their singular efforts of moving large amounts of material looking for larger gems and had joined us manning the washing screens looking for any stone justifying our insane efforts. Mary, with an eye of an eagle, was having no more luck than the rest of us. All for naught, on a cold misty drizzly slope.

These hills, wrought from the earth on sliding tectonic plates, have always been realm of the desperado and wild beast; and a man there is always alone. Once it was where bears the size of kodiaks roamed. It is still the home of giant condors, wild boar, and lion; and a man there is always alone. The wild-land firefighters hate the hot burning impenetrable chaparral. The EPA has banned man from the largest asbestos areas known to exist. But there still are those that find solitude in the Elfin Forest and Serpentine Barrens and the hot dry slopes of pines and cedars. Maybe, with a little luck, a glint of electric blue, on some future warm summers day. Not today, anyway, you miserable fool!


Since writing the above bit of prose, I have been back to the Benitoite Gem Mine and had better luck including a couple stones that cut at about a quarter carat each. The mine is now open for business and you can go there and screen the tailings for $100 per person per day. It requires a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle and a couple hours of hard rough driving on miserable roads, sometimes in four wheel, after you leave the pavement.

Benitoite gem

There are a couple of articles slated for publishing soon in the Rock and Gem magazine, one on mining there and most importantly on how to get there, and the other article provides information on a large stone found there and recently cut. Detailed directions are needed to get to the mine.

The mine was bought in the last year or so by Dave Schreiner, who I talked to recently and he is eager to get some information out there to potential miners. His phone number is: 559-935-5909.

The San Francisco Gem & Mineral Society, Inc.

4134 Judah Street

San Francisco, CA 94122


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