Some people never stop playing in the dirt.
Digging can be hot, dusty, tedious and filthy.
And a whole lot of fun, even if the only souvenirs people take home are grimy fingernails and a thick coating of dust and sweat that would prompt any mother to stand at the front door and exclaim “Not in my house!”
Fun is the whole point, according to Gina Clary, owner of Diamond Hill Mine.
Just to clear up any misconceptions: No diamonds have been found at Diamond Hill Mine. Clary said the name arose in the 1800s when people saw minerals sparkling in the sun after rain fell.
What Diamond Hill does have is skeletal quartz, garnets, amethysts and aquamarines, she said. The site is part of the Antreville Shear Zone that runs from North Carolina to Georgia, she said. The result is two veins of minerals running through the area.
Visitors come from many places, Clary said. The mine has had visitors from all 50 states, and people from England, Germany, Australia and Japan.
To find gems, people have to get down and dirty. It’s not a hobby for the fastidious. During recent visits, diggers could be seen kneeling, squatting and sitting on small hills of dirt, digging with their hands, shovels and rakes, and examining small clods of dirt that might contain an interesting stone.
Many people visit the mine after watching shows about gem mining, Clary said.
That was the case with Chad Monroe of Greer, who visited the site recently with his two sons. A newly minted rock hound, Monroe said he had watched YouTube videos featuring “The Crystal Collector.” One of several shows focused on Diamond Hill Mine.
“My kids love to look for rocks, so I figured it would be a good place to visit,” he said. It gets everyone out of the house and away from the phone.
His sons wandered around, occasionally pecking at small hills of dirt. Monroe, however, went to work with a hand shovel and a small three-pronged rake, clearing out a hole he could almost fit into. His perseverance paid off. He displayed a small specimen of terminated point quartz.
“The best part is it is an adventure; you see what you can get,” Monroe said. It’s worth the one-hour trip.
That statement might bring a smile to Clary’s face. That’s the thing about rock hounds, she said. “It’s about pulling out rocks no one has seen or touched. It’s brand new and as old as time.”
Clary has owned the mine since 2010. She has a background in the tourism industry, including booking musical acts, and has been a rock hound since her youth. Clary said she learned of Diamond Hill Mine while attending a show. She visited the site and participated in machine digging operations.
“It’s a good thing I didn’t know about the place when I was a student; I would have been here every day,” she said.
When the previous owner wanted to sell the property, he did so with one caveat: that Clary would keep the mine open to the public.
She has followed that wish, with the mine open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, including major holidays.
Her goal is to keep the experience as natural as possible. Diamond Hill Mine is not a tourist trap. It has no air-conditioned shelters. Picnic tables under the trees are the food stations, assuming visitors bring their own food and water (which is strongly advised, especially in the summer), and Port-O-Lets and an outhouse are the only facilities.
Diamond Hill doesn’t sell buckets of dirt and has no flumes where people can separate dirt and grime from stones. People should bring their own tools, such as shovels, rakes, hoes, long screwdrivers and buckets. No power equipment is allowed, nor are systems that use water to blast away dirt from the hills. Clary said such systems are not environmentally friendly. Success is achieved through sweat.
It’s all about piquing people’s interest, especially children, she said.
Three busloads of youths from Belton-Honea Path High School made for a lot of “piquing.” Students in earth sciences classes explored the mine as an alternative to final exams, which were canceled because of COVID-19, according to teacher Craig Joyner.
“Instead, we had time to do something to get your hands dirty; they are getting very dirty, but I think the students are excited. They run to find me every time they find something,” he said, while showing off a garnet, a dirty stone with red points.
Joyner seemed to spend as much time evaluating finds presented by students as he did digging. In one case, a student brought a two-hand-sized mass of stone found by someone in another group.
Joyner went into full teacher mode, declared it likely was a geode, and then offered a brief description of a geode, what it is and how it forms.
After the group walked away with its find, Joyner admitted he is not an expert; he just knows slightly more than the crowd.
“I think it’s great that we have the opportunity to get the kids outdoors in this crazy year, and go mask free; that’s kind of nice,” he said.
Most students were interested in amethysts. Joyner said he was interested in transition zones where mica and aquamarine are present and a person can see the stages in between.
Interest in amethysts wouldn’t surprise Clary. They are popular stones, especially for engagement rings. She said some diggers have sent pictures of stones they found that were fashioned into rings.
Several people admitted not knowing what they were looking for and having no idea what they found. One digger shouted: “Is mica valuable at all?”
Others had a sense of humor about the experience. One member of a Newcomers Club from Seneca said: “This is what my guidance counselor said I’d be doing — breaking rocks.”
Diamond Hill Mine gets a mix of diggers, most amateurs, some professionals. For some, it’s a hobby. Clary admits she sees digging as something more.
“People get outside, they get exercise, they climb hills and work as a team,” she said. “In my view, it’s competitive sport.”
You also have to know how to handle specimens. Clary said a wrong move with a hammer or chisel can turn a $20,000 specimen into pieces worth a couple of hundred dollars. “We’ve had a lot of heartbreaks.”
“When you get that perfect one, you want to take your time with it and get it out slowly,” she said. “It’s a lot of of time and a lot of work, but a lot of reward.”
Up to 70 vehicles can be accommodated at the property. Clary recalled the biggest crowd on the property was three years ago for the solar eclipse.
Diamond Hill Mine was the perfect site to view the event and the property was packed for up to three days. Clary said more than 100 vehicles were on site and all the camp sites were full.
In additional to rock hounds, the site gets a lot of traffic from people interested in metaphysics, such as crystal healing and similar beliefs.
Clary admitted not being a believer in such things, but admitted that crystals can be a healing device in the same way music is.
Toward lunch time, several picnic tables were full of students from Belton-Honea Path relaxing and cooling off after a few hours of digging. Between sips of cold drinks and picnic lunches, some of them sang along with Johnny Cash on “Walk the Line.”
Sophomore Brock Turner summed up the visit: “It’s way better than being in the classroom.”