Geology Weekend: Rockin’ North Idaho

Good morning, all y’all, and a belated happy Independence Day!


I hope your Independence Day celebrations were to your satisfaction. It wasn’t really much different than any other day for me except that I spent most of the latter half of the day assuring my dogs that we were not under attack. This town doesn’t really do anything special for the Fourth of July; there are just a LOT of personal fireworks.

The last couple of weeks have been fairly routine for me. I’m feeling better every day, and I’m back to doing some kind of exercise most days, including light weights and some fast walks/slow jogs. As for Soultainted, I’m plugging away at it, adding words on most days. I think the first sixteen or so chapters are basically drafted, which puts me almost halfway through. I’ve set a goal of adding 20,000 words to the novel this month, and I think I’m at least a quarter of the way there.

Since there’s not a ton of other stuff going on, I thought I’d share a short travelogue from our last weekend in June. Our younger son came up for the weekend, and because he’s majoring in geology (and math, of all things), we had a sort of geology weekend. Idaho is, after all, the Gem State. I thought I’d share a bit of our little adventure.


How It Started

A few months ago, I learned about the Emerald Creek Garnet Area and texted my son to see if he’d be interested in coming up for a weekend if I could get tickets. He said he would, so I endeavored to figure out the site and finally managed to snag four tickets for June 30. It was not a simple task, lemme tell ya’, but after a couple of false starts and fails, I figured it out, and my son confirmed he’d reserve the weekend to come up.

Well, as long as he was coming up here, we decided we’d make it a geology weekend of sorts. It’s entirely possible that we are trying to lure him to North Idaho when he’s finished his degree.


I picked him up in Spokane on Friday night, and we proceeded to make a day of it on Saturday.


Luchadores, Miners, and the Center of the Universe

We drove up to Wallace, Idaho, and started our Saturday with excellent Mexican food at Muchacos Tacos, a fantastic little hole-in-the-wall place with a lucha libre theme. They take their luchadores seriously there, y’all. This was the mural on one wall:

Do you see the masks and the cape on the wall, too? Nacho Libre approves from the small TV next to the mural.


After lunch, we reserved three spots on the Sierra Silver Mine tour and then visited the Mining Heritage Exhibition at the river front park and wandered around town until our reservation time. While we were waiting for the trolley to pick us up, we read the official proclamation the mayor issued in 2004, declaring Wallace to be the official Center of the Universe.


Wallace has a bit of a legacy of messing with the government. When the government decided to route Interstate 90 directly through the heart of town, the citizenry worked together to get every single building in town listed as part of the National Historic Register.

Every. Single. One.

When it came time to start construction, the government was forced to route I-90 over the town.



I gotta say–I’m a little tempted to write a book about this town.

Our trolley arrived and departed at the appointed time, taking us out of town and up into the hills to the Sierra Silver Mine, where we were met by our tour guide, Fast Freddie. Fast Freddie worked as a miner for over twenty years, and he gave us a very informative tour of this now-defunct mine.

I would like to say, too, that Fast Freddie was exactly the person you might picture if you found yourself humming “My Darling Clementine” and got to the “Miner Forty-Niner” bit.


Garnet Hunting

As fun as our Wallace adventure was, our son was really here for the garnet adventure. We got up bright and early on Sunday morning and headed out into the woods for our 8:45 reservation. Thankfully, it was cool and cloudy, but not rainy–perfect weather for the hard work that awaited us.

The whole process at this site is very interesting. While we did get tickets, those were only for our reservations. Once we were at the site, we each had to present ID and fill out a permit to mine the site. I can honestly say this was the first time I’ve ever filled out a permit to mine.

The ranger in charge of the site was terrific. He had several garnets in his pocket to show us what to look for. “When they’re wet, they’ll have a purple kind of merlot color,” he said.

“I’m very familiar with that color,” I said.

“It’s a great color,” said a man in the group.


We grabbed our buckets and filled them from a mountain of dirt provided by the Forest Service. Apparently, they used to let people dig straight from the creek, but that was doing too much damage to the waterway. To preserve the attraction, the Forest Service now digs the dirt and leaves it in a pile for tourists to gather from.

Once we filled our buckets about halfway, we sifted the dirt at the sifting station, then took the rocks to the sluices to rinse and look for garnets. I confess–at first, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for, but as soon as the rocks were wet, the garnets just popped out, clear as day.

I think I managed to do about six rotations of digging, sifting, and sluicing by the end of our three hour reservation. The Man probably did about the same, because I gathered .48 pounds of garnets, and he gathered .52 pounds. The ranger said most people gather about half a pound, so yay! We’re average!

Our son, being barely 21 years old and in pretty good shape, dug, sifted, and sluiced a lot more than we did. He found almost a full pound of garnets.

Here are some of my best garnets:

You can see that a few of them have that perfect 12-sided shape. They’re a little brittle, so they don’t lend themselves to being tumbled. They can be professionally cut, but I’m not sure I want to bother with that.

It turns out that star garnets are the official state gem of Idaho, and they are only found in two places in the world, India being the second. The name comes from the unique four- or six-pointed “star” that’s visible in a cut garnet. I don’t want to use someone else’s picture in my post, but I encourage you to just Google images of the cut star garnets. They’re quite striking.

We made it back to the car right around noon and set out to one of the few eateries open on a Sunday in that neck of the woods for juicy burgers and home fries. While we were eating, our son was texting his girlfriend to say he couldn’t wait to show her the garnets he found.

I suppose that means it was a fairly successful day.

The kid headed back to Portland on Monday, and The Man and I attempted to recover from work that we are clearly not cut out for anymore. It was a fun adventure, though, and I am hoping to do it again next summer.

The next couple of weeks are going to be pretty busy for me–the older son and his family are going to visit, and I have quite a bit of client work to manage throughout the month–so that means I may be reposting some old content or sharing some short excerpts. Should the fresh content be a little thin for a couple of weeks, rest assured that I’ll be back shortly–just as soon as I get through this peak busy season.

Have a great week, y’all!


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