What an experience this trip was. I left straight after work with all the gear I'd need packed into the car. Driving up to this mine in itself was 287 miles taking 5 hours 42 minutes to get there. While it was a long drive, it was beautiful. I still enjoy looking at the landscapes on long drives, tasting the local flavor, and meeting new people. Unfortunately this only lasted a couple hours. About midway through the weather turned for the worse. There was heavy rain blocking visibility and a landslide had collapsed one of the paths on the way up. Thankfully modern GPS got me around that before I even knew it was a thing! I only found out about the landslide the next day when talking with some of the other hotel guests.
The next morning is when Dave Stuck, Marc Brown, and I met up at the California State Gem Mine. We were first taken to the shop where there were plenty of wonderful benitoites on display and for sale. They were WAY too pricy in my opinion and were well out of my price range. Compound this with the fact that I've seen better specimens sell for less on eBay and I left with nothing but pictures. I think Rick Kennedy still has some of the best benitoites I've seen ever. One picture that I forgot to take was of me fluorescing a large benitoite they had on display. It was beautifully red under my LW light.
Afterwards we were shown how to collect the benitoites. It consisted of us scooping a pile of dirt from a large pile, sifting through it in troughs, and looking for reflections or checking for fluorescence in the dark room. We were shown how to find them in the daylight but by the end we were all just checking them under UV. Much quicker and didn't require a trained eye. Luckily there was only one other couple there so we got plenty of hands on time and plenty of material to ourselves. If I remember correctly their names were Yvonne and Raymond. They had a cute story as Yvonne wanted a benitoite ring but had a huge sticker shock when she priced out a single carat. Therefore she and Raymond decided to mine their own!
The benefit of being a fluorescent collector in this trip? We all had our own UV lights. It was much easier and quicker to use my own light to check for fluorescence underneath the tarp I brought than to walk all the way back to the room and use their dim lights. Side note: the owner's dogs had a ball sniffing and touching all the supplies I brought. For the first couple 30 minutes or so they were either looking at me, sniffing my things, or doing some combination of those when I wasn't looking.
About an hour before our time was up I had the idea of just lamping the piles rather than sifting through everything. I found some of my best benitoites this way. It was much more efficient presumably because it had just rained revealing fresh material. Also I didn't have to waste time sifting.
After all of this the mine owners came by and checked out what we had found for the day. Unfortunately the only other couple that showed up beat seasoned collectors like us! Oh well. It went to a great cause because last I checked they were engaged with a benitoite ring.
And here are the fruits of my labor. Not quite worth the cost of admission but I now have more respect for the specimens that are being sold. There doesn't seem to be much of the material left - at least not here!