Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine & Gold Fever Rock Shop, Helena

#29 of 33 in Things to do in Helena
Mine · Hidden Gem · Tourist Spot
In the late 1800's this portion of the Missouri River was dredge mined for gold. Samuel T. Hauser Montana's 7th territorial governor oversaw the mining operation.

After hearing complaints from the miners about blue stones clogging the sluices he decided to collect some samples, and sent them to England. They were identified as sapphires, and were deemed worthless.

During the Civil War (1861-1865) the miners were able to continue dredging on the condition they were contributing to the war effort. They did this by collecting rounded sapphires, and hematite which were used as ammo.

The mining operation was eventually halted due to the decline of gold recovery.

It wasn't until the 1950's that the sapphires were unearthed once more. A supreme court judge by the name of Wesley Castles had purchased the land for recreational use for his family, and it was his youngest daughter Deb Castles who rediscovered the sapphires in the shallows on the Missouri River.

Wesley Castles opened Castles Sapphire Mine to the public shortly after.

The Montana sapphire started to gain in popularity during the 1970's, and in 1981 a rumor had spread about princess Diana's engagement ring being a Montana sapphire. People from around the world flocked to Montana in search of their own fortunes.

In the 1980's Castles Sapphire Mine was renamed Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine after the gravel bar where the sapphires were deposited 30-40 million years ago.

Today visitors can either mine their own sapphires from virgin banks, or buy concentrated gravel which has been run through a trommel and jig that classifies down the rocks by weight, and size which tends to have a higher yield than digging by hand.
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Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine & Gold Fever Rock Shop reviews

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64 reviews
  • I read mix reviews on this place, and mine will be all thumbs up. Crystal and Tye are AMAZING. We had already been to a mine but learned new skills from these two. We pulled BIG sapphires and even a.....  more »
  • It was Enjoyable if it wasn't so dang Hot we Dug gravel and sorted and decided too take the rest home  more »
  • Went as family adventure. Knowledgeable staff. Went thru a lot of rock
  • The Staff is very knowledgeable, and not only is this educational, it's very fun! They do tend to be extremely busy in the summer, and prior to coming out I would suggest calling a week ahead of time. This is an alluvial gravel pit which means at one point it was an ancient river so you can find all sorts of amazing minerals and different kind of gemstones including Missouri River Sapphire, Missouri River Garnet, Missouri River topaz, moss agate, root beer agate, various colors of moonstone which can be gem-quality, turquoise, jade, gold nuggets, fossils, and on rare occasions bits of Mammoth teeth. Sapphire from the Missouri River come in every color imaginable and will vary from pale icy blues to vibrant yellows, and the darkest blues. The most common color is a green-blue. Very rarely do the stones need heat treating. This Mine does not salt their bags so it's a gamble, and you have to go in with an understanding that sapphires are in fact a very rare gemstone in this world and finding even one nice one can make it worthwhile. Sapphires from the Spokane bar Sapphire Mine also tend get high appraisals with GIA.

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