This Montana Town is Full of Gems and You Can Keep What You Find
If you've never been to the little town of Philipsburg, MT you should make a point to visit the charming, western Montana village before winter hits. I've visited a handful of times, most recently in mid August during a trip to Missoula, and once again I had so much fun exploring the town.
It's kind of like a tiny version of Red Lodge.
Philipsburg reminds me somewhat of Red Lodge, only the town is much smaller (less than 1,000 residents) and more compact. You easily stroll the entire six blocks or so of the downtown area in a few minutes. However, we were in no rush and we ended up spending a couple hours in Philipsburg.
Buy your bag of dirt and start looking!
Most of our time in Philipsburg was spent looking for gems. Mines in the area are known for producing thousands of carats of gemstones, primarily sapphires, and there are two shops on the main street that offer bags of ore for purchase. My wife and I both bought a "big bag" for $35 in the gift shop, then walked outside to an area that has a number of picnic tables set up surrounding a long sluice box.
Shake, shake, shake and dump it on the table.
Staff will offer some basic instructions; how to dump about a 1/3 of your bag into a screen, then shake it off in the sluice box water. This process removes most of the silt, dirt, clay, etc. and leaves you with a nice little pile of wet gravel. After you're done screening it, you flip it over quickly on the table, then grab your tweezers (provided) and start poking through the pile to find the gems. It's really quite easy and kids and rock hounds of all ages were enjoying the hunt during our visit.
We both found about 20 gemstones.
My treasure hunting started off a little slowly, but by the third dump of gravel on the table, my wife and I were both finding a bunch of sapphires. We each ended up with around 20 of the Coke-bottle-green gemstones. Most of them are small and probably contain imperfections that prohibit "firing" them (to bring out the color) or cutting them for jewelry. Even though we didn't find any massive 10 carat stones, it was still so much fun and honestly, it's fairly addicting. If we would have had more time, I'm certain we would have bought additional bags of ore. I'm kicking myself now for not grabbing one to-go.
Even if you aren't into rocks, Philipsburg is fun.
There is a really nice Montana police museum in Philipsburg. It wasn't there last time I visited. Admission is free (donations accepted) and it was well worth checking out. We couldn't pass up the horse-drawn wagon tour and there are a number of good restaurants in town, as well as an excellent brewery. Find out more about Philipsburg HERE.
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