If you ever find yourself in upstate New York on a beautiful Spring day (or even a ‘not so beautiful’ one), looking for an outdoor adventure but at a loss for what to do, consider taking a leisurely drive to the Herkimer, NY area for a few hours of ‘diamond’ prospecting. While it sounds crazy to think that you could be feasibly digging for diamonds somewhere other than Antwerp, allow me to clarify the type of gem that is found in great abundance in a specific area of this rural community.
While you need not be an expert in geology, you will need a few tools to
make your work a bit easier. Two of the three mines we have frequented, do rent tools, but the items you need may very well already be sitting in your tool shed right now. One item that will serve you well is a decent sledge hammer; either a smaller hand held size or a traditional heavier weight model reminiscent of the chain gang. Other smaller tools that you may never even think of are very useful, such as a paintbrush (for dusting off your sparkly treasures as you diligently work to extract them intact), tweezers (for those small dazzlers you won’t want to miss), a chisel or two (a larger one for big rocks and a small one for tapping around the cavities in the rock), a pair of gloves; gardening gloves are suitable, just something to protect your hands. Bring a bucket and some heavy duty Ziplocs or Rubbermaid containers for your take homes. One item I had previously underestimated the power of but was so glad I tried using, was a Leatherman. The various tools were great for picking around the softer rock inside the little ‘caves’ or pockets, where you’ll find the crystals. Lastly, it goes without saying that you’ll want to be wearing your ‘play clothes’ with extra clothing at the ready. This is a dirty undertaking and depending on the mine you choose to work in, the terrain can vary between very wet and muddy, to dusty clay. Undoubtedly, as you work on cracking rocks you will eventually be covered in fine rock dust. Having an extra set of clothes in the car, or a towel to sit on as you drive home will save your car from diamond-hunting shrapnel. And a must have for this endeavor is a decent pair of safety glasses as small rock chips can fly at you from all directions.
So once you are all outfitted for your day of pounding rocks, the question of how to start looms overhead…
‘Herkimer diamonds’ were believed to have been formed over 500 million years ago and are embedded in hard rock ledge. Looking at the face of the ledge, small holes can be seen all along the face of the rock, indicating a good place to start your excavating. The glimmering, glistening glass-like gems you’ll see peeking through these holes are the treasure you seek; some will be mere flecks resembling no more than a shard of glass, while the ‘mother lode’ could mean a cluster of quartz-like stones joined together to form an awe-inspiring matrix. Other ‘ultimate finds’ have even been in the form of a single multi-faceted stone weighing anywhere from a few ounces to over twenty pounds! Naturally, a find like this will not come easy, so expect to get your hands dirty! ( I didn’t say prospecting was a neat, clean venture) It’s all really a matter of preference as far as what you’ll prefer to find. While I myself love the tiniest clusters of baguette shaped crystals still attached to the dark rock, I mine with friends that prefer to persevere until they find something of substantial size. Depending upon your desires, you may use small rock picks to hammers and wedges designed to move substantial amounts of rock in order to find the pockets holding crystals. But for the casual family outing, you can find more than enough crystals to make it enjoyable for all by picking through the piles of debris left by the hardcore diggers. Some stones emerge with a yellow or orange-like hue with black veins running through them, while others are literally crystal clear and nicely faceted. The important thing to remember is that this is a day out in nature, discovering one of our Earth’s wonders while simultaneously enjoying time with family and friends, young and old alike. Keep in mind it’s not always the destination, but the journey that makes things like this worthwhile.