HELENA — Montana's history is rich with stories of mining. In Helena there was gold, and in Butte it was copper.
But just off the banks of the Missouri River and Hauser Lake, there's a different type of mining going on.
"At our mine here you find several different gemstones. Sapphires are the primary gemstone that we're looking for, but you can also find garnets, topaz, and the occasional golden nugget,” said Cass Thompson, owner and operator of the Spokane Bar Sapphire mine just outside of Helena.
Thompson is the third generation owner and operator of the mine and said he grew up playing in the dirt where the mine and shop where rock hounds new and experienced can try to find their motherlode.
"Most folks that come out are buying our concentrate bags and what the concentrates are, as we use our heavy machinery to essentially take out all the hard work without taking out any of the gemstones. So people do really well out of those and we have several different price points of those to match with, you know, what people are after," said Thompson. "We also have a dig option where people can go dig their own material in virgin ground and it's pick and shovel work. It is a bit more difficult. It is hard work and you're not digging concentrate at that point. You're digging raw material. So, it can be hit and miss, but it's a great opportunity and it's great for the experience of actually going out and trying to mine for yourself.
In front of the mining operation stands the Gold Fever Rock Shop, old basins for washing what miners are sifting through, and tables to pick through the rocks in hopes of finding something great to take home.
“We decided when our kids got old enough and we're able to be able to be out here and enjoying a little bit to bring them out here,” said Greg Pate. “I'm hoping for the family heirloom quality stuff, something that's just going to leave an impression on my kids and a great memory.”
“It's the quality, you know? It's just fun. And finding some nice gemstones to add to the collection," said Jacob McKay. "These guys seem to have some of the bigger ones in the area.”
More information about Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine and its opportunities for rockhounds can be found on the mine's website.