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On the Road to the Esmeralda Mine

August 24, 2011 in Esmeralda Mine

In late August, the staff of Pala International visited the newly acquired Esmeralda Mine in the Mesa Grande District of San Diego County. John McLean, Jason Stephenson, and Bill and Will Larson (who all contributed to this report) drove to the U.S. Forestry Service gate about a mile and a half from the mine, only to find they’d been given the wrong key. In 95-degree heat in the middle of the day, they trudged uphill, arriving at the mine an hour later. After recovering from the heat, they started to inspect the pegmatite and surrounding area, seeking shade at every opportunity.

The pictures below tell the story, but for a written description, be sure to see the Sinkankas Notebook from 1956. And check back for more information as progress begins on opening the mine.

Driving to Esmeralda Mine photo image

In the SUV on the road to the Esmeralda Mine.


SUV At Gate photo image

At the forestry service gate.


Jason & John photo image

Jason, left, and John require provender for strength to open the gate.


Forest Path photo image

Walking in the valley below the mine, Bill points the way.


Sign photo image

“All hope abandon, ye high graders who enter in.”


John photo image

John walking on the mine property.


Jason On Earth Mover photo image

Jason mows the lawn.


Will photo image

Will stands in an old main drift (tunnel). This is said to be the main “glory hole,” or series of pockets from the original discovery. To Will’s right is the continuation of the tunnel.


Pegmatite photo image

This shows the strike and dip at the hanging wall of the pegmatite. Overburden (lighter material) can be seen on the left; pegmatite (orangey-red material) is on the right.


Jason, Will, John Digging photo image

Jason, Will and John uncovering specimens.


Will photo image

Will reaches into a small tourmaline pocket, or tourmaline vug.


Crystal photo image

Will holds a schorl crystal that displays a deep purple skin under intense light.


Schorls photo image

Two fine schorls; the best of our first day out at the Esmeralda Mine. A promising sign at the surface of what lies beneath. Larger crystal on the left is about 6 cm. (Photo: Jason Stephenson)


Sinkankas Notebook

August 23, 2011 in Esmeralda Mine

Sinkankas diagram image

Pocket at the Esmeralda Mine, North Main Workings, September 22–23, 1956. Click to enlarge. From the collection of Bill Larson.

In 95-degree heat in August, the Pala staff experienced more than they might have cared to of the terrain leading to the Esmeralda Mine in the Mesa Grande district. Forty-five years ago, John Sinkankas traveled the same terrain—but got the right keys to the forestry service gate!

Following two visits in March and September of 1956, Sinkankas wrote up informal reports, complete with hand-sketched maps. See them in Sinkankas Notebook, the first of a series of stand-alone articles you can access from the horizontal menu at the top of each page on the blog.


Empress Dowager: Passion for Pink

August 22, 2011 in Esmeralda Mine

The Smithsonian has mounted an exhibit of interest to enthusiasts of Southern California tourmaline, but you won’t find it at the National Museum of Natural Sciences. Through a series of black-and-white photographs, the exhibit at the Institution’s Asian museums, titled “Power | Play,” looks at a pivotal time in the life of China’s Empress Dowager, Cixi (aka Tzu Hsi), whose passion for pink kept tourmaline flowing from San Diego County.

Empress Dowager photo image

China’s Empress Dowager was wild about San Diego’s tourmalines. Her love of this gem triggered the California boom in the early 1900s. According to the Smithsonian, this photograph actually was taken by a diplomat’s son, Xunling, who was in his early 20s. (Library of Congress)

Students Mourning Empress Dowager photo image

Two Imperial University students wearing white arm bands on left arm of military uniform; mourning death of the Empress Dowager, 1908?, Peking. San Diego County producers of pink tourmaline had much to mourn as well. (Library of Congress)

At the turn of the 20th century following the Boxer Rebellion—a complex struggle that involved issues of imperialism, religion, nationalism, hubris, and more—Cixi felt it was time for a makeover. Just at the time when her lust ripened for the rosey-hued stone, she posed for a series of photographs in 1903 and 1904 that have been mined for clues to her designs, as outlined in this month’ Smithsonian magazine. Show curator David Hogge told the magazine’s writer Owen Edwards that the images, on display at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries until January 29, owe more to Cixi’s emulation of Queen Victoria than they do to any tradition in Chinese art. In an online introduction to the exhibit, Hogge discusses the visual hints dropped, which would have spoken to recipients of the photographs: American and European diplomats.

As David Federman wrote in his article, “California Gem Mining: Chronicle of a Comeback,” the Empress Dowager’s yen for the pink gem translated into 120 tons of gem-grade material being mined between 1902 and 1910—in Mesa Grande, the site of Pala’ newly acquired mine. This statistic originally was reported by Peter Bancroft in his classic, Gem and Crystal Treasures.

Tourmaline Bottle photo image

Early 20th century tourmaline snuff bottle, from the Tourmaline Queen Mine, Pala, CA.