The Himalaya Mine
A Tourmaline Mine
Note: The Himalaya Mine is a privately-owned mine and is not open to the public. It is accessible only through OTHER privately-owned property. Owners will have any trespassers prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Two of DesertUSA's staff were invited on a rare tour of the privately-owned Himalaya Mine to learn first-hand how the beautiful, gem-quality tourmaline is located and extracted from the mine.
On the morning of the tour, our group met at Dudley's Bakery, located at the foot of Julian Mountain in Santa Isabel, CA. After friendly introductions were made, our caravan of six cars, headed north toward Mesa Grande. The drive from Dudley's to Gem Hill, where the Himalaya Mine is located, took about 30 minutes. We had to pass through a series of private roads with gates, which ended in a long, graded road that wound up to the home of our gracious hosts, Maryann and Bob, the current owners of the Himalaya Mine.
As we piled out of our cars, a sense of excitement and adventure started to build. We all gathered around Bob and Maryann as they began to give us an overview of the mine and what we would see during our tour. Apparently, there are three mining claims associated with the Himalaya Mine and its surrounding dumps. One of the claims, located in the dumps directly in the portal of the mine, had expired, and another group of miners seized the opportunity to register it before the last claimant could refile. Because of this new situation, we were not allowed to rockhound in many of the dumps surrounding the mine.
The road from the house on Gem Hill up to the Himalaya required a 4WD vehicle, so many of us walked the 1/2-mile uphill road to the mine entrance. When we arrived at the entrance to the mine, we were advised to put on the knee-high rubber boots which were provided. As I stood near the entrance to the mine, I felt cold air extruding from the opening, which was refreshing compared to the 80 degree temperature outside. Flashlights and hard hats were handed out to the group, as Bob continued to tell us about the history of the Himalaya Mine.
The famous Himalaya Mine in Mesa Grande is known for the abundance and quality of green and pink tourmaline gemstones that it has produced since 1898. Tourmaline production began at the mine when an Asian Empress influenced the demand for opaque pink tourmaline stone in the Chinese market. Tons of opaque tourmaline were shipped to China and used to carve figurines and other decorative ornaments. The Chinese market continued to motivate production at the Himalaya Mine until 1912, when the Chinese market collapsed.
The Himalaya Mine has been operating sporadically since 1912, and continues to actively produce gem-quality tourmaline. The brilliant , transparent crystals that were once tossed aside by miners in search of the opaque tourmaline, are now considered the most prized. After 1912, rockhounders returned to the dumps, left behind by the miners who supplied the Chinese market with the opaque stones, to find a wealth of gem-quality pink, green and watermelon tourmalines.
The historic overview of the mine continued as the tour group slowly entered the dark, damp entrance tunnel that would take us deep into the heart of the Himalaya. The air in the mine was very cold compared to the temperature outside. One of the guides told me that the temperature in the mine was always the opposite of the outside air. During the winter months the mine would be warmer than the icy air on the outside.
As I entered the mine, I noticed an In and Out board where mine workers and visitors are required to place their markers as they enter and exit the mine. It was a safety measure I had not thought of. It was easy to imagine how someone could get lost within the dark tunnels of the mine. Without a flashlight, it would have been impossible for a visitor to find their way back to the main entrance of the tunnel.
A few feet into the tunnel our feet became submerged in ankle- deep muddy water. As we waded deeper into the mine, a sense of mystery and danger came over the group. The pitch-black tunnel was endless as our flashlights only penetrated a few feet ahead. The ceiling of the tunnel was secured with wood support beams, which were so low in areas we had to duck down to avoid bumping our heads. As we sloshed through the water, thoughts of earthquakes and cave-ins entered our minds. This tour was definitely an adventure.
After about five minutes of wading through the main tunnel, we reached an intersection where tunnels headed right and left. The tunnel to the right lead to the current production area where three production workers worked daily to produce tourmaline. The mine foreman offered to take us down that tunnel, but he said it was a long walk with many rocks and debris. We chose to take the tunnel to the left, which would take us to a huge pocket that had already been excavated, producing tons of tourmaline gems.
As we worked our way through the rocky tunnel, we saw huge veins of Pegmatite running through the walls of the mine. The veins contained areas called pockets, where tourmaline crystals had been removed. Brilliant fragments of pink, green and black tourmaline are all that remain in the empty pockets which were once filled with beautiful gem quality tourmalines. Shades of lavender mica shimmered against the pinks and greens creating a stunning sight.
Similar to tourmaline, quartz crystals are also common to pegmatite veins. In one area of the tunnel, a huge smoky quartz crystal was still intact in the ceiling of the mine. The miners left the crystal in place to demonstrate how crystals are formed and how they look before they are removed from the walls of the mine.
A few yards beyond the quartz crystal was a huge pocket where a vast amount of tourmaline had been found. The pocket was dug out from the left wall of the tunnel at a steep uphill slant. The workers had carefully removed all of the valuable gem-quality tourmaline by hand. To fit in the narrow sections of the pocket the workers had to lay on their sides and crawl to reach the deepest areas of the vein.
We returned to the main intersection of the tunnel where we learned about some of the shafts that had been successfully worked before they were flooded by underground springs. With our flash lights, we peered through a hole in the tunnel wall that opened into one of the shafts. We were able to see the clear, still water that filled the deep shaft and thought of the tourmaline that lay beneath its cool surface.
Some of the group stayed behind to ask the foreman more questions, but I was anxious to scavenger the mine dump for tourmaline gems, so I headed back toward the main tunnel carefully following the bright exit signs.
Outside in the mine dumps, I found some unique samples of pegmatite containing crystals of black, green and pink tourmaline. The black tourmaline is called Schorl and is not as valuable as the colorful pink- and green-colored tourmaline. One of the large samples we found contained a nice display of lavender-colored mica called Lepidolite, which is commonly found in pegmatite veins.
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