North Carolina has been affectionately called “the treasure chest of the States”, and rightfully so, considering the Old North State is home to over 300 varieties of gemstones and minerals, the most of any in the nation. And these days, you don’t have to suit up in prospector’s equipment to search for gems of your own- you can go right down the road to Doc’s Rock Gem Mine.
Doc’s Rocks opened in 2007 next door another beloved High Country attraction, Mystery Hill. The eponymous “Doc”, Randy McCoy, is a medical doctor as well as a holder of degrees in geology and recreational management, has a passion for geology and gem cutting, and is willing to share his extensive knowledge with anyone interested.
So how does it work? It’s easy!
You simply purchase your preferred size of ore bucket from the gift shop. Buckets come in small, medium, and large, and are reasonably priced. One of the friendly staff members will go over the process with you: you scoop a spade full of dirt into your screen, then you submerge the dirt into the running water of the flume and gently shake it back and forth to reveal the rocks hiding inside. Once the dirt is washed out of the screen, you can look through the remaining rocks and see if anything looks interesting, which you can pluck out and store in a small metal pail. Doc’s staff will look through the remaining rocks in your screen to see if you’ve overlooked something valuable or interesting, which is possible given how boring beautiful gems can appear in their uncut form. This will prevent you from accidentally tossing out something valuable, as can be the case at other gem mines in the region. And if it’s cold and windy outside, you can take a seat at the heated indoor flume, which is also handicap accessible on one end.
A general rule of thumb for sorting through rocks in the screen is that if it’s shiny, has geometric sides, see-through, or seems heavier than an average rock its size should be, go ahead and pull it out. Stones like corundum, which is sapphires & rubies, are heavier than some of their peers. For example, on my last visit to Doc’s, I found a marble-sized corundum that turned out to be a ruby. Had I not been tipped off by its heavy weight, I could have been fooled by its rusty brown appearance. It’s the high iron content in the stone’s chemical makeup that makes it so heavy, and also why the stone appeared rusty. On the flipside, though, had Doc’s awesome staff not been there to identify for me, I could have easily thrown out tourmalines, because in their uncut form, they look like linear pieces of coal!
When you’ve sorted through your entire bucket, take your pail inside and one of the staff geologists will sort through it with you, pulling out anything of value and identifying it for you and recommending stone(s) that would cut well. It’s important to listen up here, because the staff really knows what they’re talking about and can guide you to a lovely, truly unique gem. It’s perfectly normal to come away with beautiful stones such as tourmaline, rubies, sapphires, quartzes, howlite, agates, moonstone, unakites, and even the occasional emerald. The ore is shipped in by the ton from local mines in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, and Doc’s staff does not seed the buckets, so it’s always a mystery what you will find!
If you find something large enough for cutting, Doc can do it there on site for you, with a 1-3 day turnaround for local picup (longer for shipping). On my last visit, I had him cut my corundum, which turned out to be a lovely 1.5 carat ruby with a milky purplish-red color, and I also took a chance on a tourmaline. I say took a chance on it, because there’s no way Doc and his staff can guarantee what a tourmaline will look like when it’s cut, as tourmaline can range from green to yellow to pink to purple. I was thrilled with my cut stone, though, as it turned out to be the most beautiful shade of purple, and I’m considering taking in more of the tourmalines I found to see what colors they turn out to be! Cutting prices were extremely reasonable- just $30 for my tourmaline and $40 for my ruby, and I was able to pick them up a few days later. Doc’s can also mount and set the gems for you into beautiful jewelry pieces. Also, if you find a rose quartz stone and have Doc cut and mount it for you, Doc will donate the entire proceeds from that to causes that fight breast cancer and support survivors, in loving memory of his sister who passed away in 2007 from that awful disease.
Besides the gem mine, there is a fascinating fossil museum on site, estate jewelry for sale, a bead store, large raw stones for sale, as well as a coffee shop operated by Doc’s wife Trina. Besides being a fun way to play in the mud, Doc’s Rock’s mission is to educate the general public on the historical geology of the Appalachian Mountains, and to that end they promise to give you the best educational experience that money can by. They also happen to be certified by the State Board of Education for that very purpose.
Doc’s Rocks is the perfect way to spend an afternoon and is fun- and educational- for the entire family!
Where Is It?
129 Mystery Hill Lane, Blowing Rock NC 28605
Next door to Mystery Hill, near Tweetsie Railroad, between Boone and Blowing Rock
Call them at 828-264-4499 or visit their website HERE for more info.
Rates & Hours:
Pricing of the buckets depends on size. Pricing at time of this writing was $20 for a small bucket, $30 for a medium bucket, and $55 for a large bucket. Intentionally seeded buckets were available as well for a larger fee. Cutting gemstones is optional and cost depends on what you find that can be cut.
Off-season hours begin August 11 this year, and are 9:30-5:00 Mon-Th and 9:30-6:00 Fri-Sun. During the summer, Doc’s stays open til 7pm.
All ages- who doesn’t love playing in the mud? Young children can easily be helped by their parent/guardian. Doc’s has an inside flume that is handicap accessible, although more able-bodied disabled persons may be able to use the outside flume as well.
All text and photos copyright 2014 Cassandra Hartley, Blue Ridge NC Guide. No portion of this article is to be copied, saved, or otherwise distributed without express written consent. Sharing is encouraged using the designated social media sharing buttons at the bottom of this article. Author received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this article.