Gem Mining in Madison County, North Carolina

at Sandy Bottom Trail Rides

Photo by Tom Winslow courtesy of

1459 Caney Fork Road
Marshall, NC 28753
(828) 649-3464

Tucked away on a secluded property between Marshall and Mars Hill and just minutes from Asheville is one of the literal gems of Madison County. Little Pine Garnet Mine had been mined before current owner Jackie Ball’s grandfather Logan Ball purchased the mine and the property in 1913. Logan and his son Jack continued to mine it until the early 1950s. Jackie remembers spending time with his grandfather as a small boy, but he himself never worked in the mines. His favorite story is about how Tiffany had a contract in the 1940s and got all the good garnet stones out to ship to their stores in New York City.

If you talk to the “oldtimers” in the county, they can still remember the Talc Mill in Marshall where Jackie’s father used to take the soapstone (that’s one of the stones that garnets can be found in) to that Talc Mill for it to be ground up for use in pencils. The talc pencils were what steel mill workers used to mark steel for cutting before newer equipment took their place.

Jackie bought the property in 1961 and allowed people to dig in the “spoil piles” from the old mine. But it wasn’t until 1998 that Jackie and his wife started to promote it as a tourist attraction with his Sandy Bottom Trail Rides. Whether you are a serious rockhound or a casual, curious amateur, you can spend a few hours or a day digging in those spoil piles at the mouth of the old mine or venture into the mine itself. At one time the mine went all the way through the mountain but a cave-in closed off a large portion.

Photo by Tom Winslow courtesy of

Of course you get to keep whatever you find. Bring your own shovels and picks and check in at the Sandy Bottom office to start your day of prospecting. You may be as lucky as the man who traveled from Colorado for the chance to find a garnet and came away with one that (after cutting) measured 433 carats and 86.6 grams. If you want to combine your day with horseback riding, a three-hour ride involves one hour out and one hour back through some of the most beautiful property in the county with equally beautiful views. The guide will provide picks and shovels for an hour of digging for your treasure! However you choose to dig for treasure, check in at Sandy Bottom Trail Rides, 1459 Caney Fork Road, Marshall.