Little Pine Garnet Mine
Madison County, North Carolina
May 20, 2006
Report by Mike Streeter
Field photos by Tom Winslow

As field trip coordinator for the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society (SAMS), I scheduled a field trip to the Little Pine garnet mine. Since Chrissy and I are also members of the Catawba Valley Gem & Mineral Club (CVGMC) and the Western Piedmont Mineral & Gem Society (WPMGS), I invited these clubs to join us.

After meeting at the Little Pine Road BP Gas station near the French Broad River, where we signed in and paid our collecting fees, we caravaned a few miles to the mine. We forded Roberts Branch and parked. Those who were new to the Little Pine gathered with their buckets and tools for some collecting advice and a tour from me while the experienced ones went ahead to collect.

Robert's Branch

Partial group at Little Pine parking area

Collecting at the Little Pine can done underground or outside in the spoil piles. We walked about 200 yards to the underground portion of the mine that can be entered by an adit that had long-ago been dug into the side of a steep hill.

Road to the adit

Outside adit

Entering adit

The underground workings extend approximately 200 feet into the side of the hill. The roof on the mine is partially supported by several large pillars that are strictly off limits to collecting.

The mine floor
can be quite slippery

That's me pointing out potential
collecting spots in the drift

After the brief tour of the drift, I led those who were interested back down the road and up to the main spoil pile area. Most would spend the remainder of the day digging outside, although there were several hearty souls who went underground to try their hands at recovering garnets from the very hard chlorite-schist walls.

Digging outside at the
foot of the spoil piles

That's me offering more advice
while Harry Polly burrows

"Mr. Polly, is this one?"
The refrain of the day!

One of the day's best finds!

Despite nearly contant and frustrating slumping caused by a saturated overburden, I managed to dig my own deep hole down and into fresh spoil pile material. But, it seemed that every time I got my hole to where I could pick at the margins for matrix pieces and loose garnets, one of the sides would collapse and I'd have to quickly scurry out of the way. Having dug at the Little Pine many times before, I knew that there is a greater frequency of collapse when the overburden is especially wet, so I was very careful to not put myself at risk of being buried. After each collapse, I'd have to muck out the hole AGAIN in order to be able to collect. As is often the case there, it was time to call it a day when, after a final major collapse, I didn't have the energy or will to re-dig that rotten hole.

One of the best single garnets of the day
was found by Dave and young Zach
Bottom, new SAMS members.

Zenon Alonzo and Roger Grinell recovered
excellent matrix pieces from the spoil
piles, including the one shown above.

Before quitting to head home, those who had chosen to dig next to the two-track road made sure to fill their holes and grade the area to ensure proper access by the owner to the upper pasture. Success at the Little Pine can be measured by the weight of your bucket and I saw just about everyone straining to carry theirs back down the hill to their waiting vehicles.

The following picture shows some of the cleaned up specimens that Chrissy and I collected.

(12" ruler for scale)

A big thank you to Tom Winslow with the CVGMC for his excellent photography!