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Got Crystals? Gem Mining Could Be Your Full-Time Job



Moonstones in Montana, amethyst and emeralds in North Carolina, garnet and quartz in upstate New York. At pay-to-dig mines around the United States, visitors can paw through piles of mine tailings to uncover crystals and gemstones on “finders, keepers” terms for as little as $10 a day.

At Herkimer Diamond Mines in central New York, home to an especially clear and unusually hard type of quartz crystal known as the Herkimer diamond, a $14 admission price includes a day of prospecting and the rental of a rock hammer. (Children under 4 mine for free.)

In a typical year, one-fifth of the mine’s customers are international tourists, so when the coronavirus halted travel and delayed the start of this year’s April-to-November digging season, the mine’s proprietor Renée Scialdo Shevat worried about what the loss in revenue may do to the 40-year-old family business.

By late summer, she was more concerned with how to limit the crowds. Diggers of all ages and degrees of seriousness had begun arriving in droves. “These days, every day is like a Saturday,” Ms. Shevat said in early September.

Even before the pandemic sent people searching for road trip destinations and outdoor adventure, interest in prospecting and rockhounding (or “fossicking,” as it is called in Britain and Australia) was already ticking upward. That has prompted some mines that had long been closed, like the Ruggles Mine in Grafton, N.H., toward new life.

From 1963 to 2016, Ruggles hosted tourists and hobbyists seeking mica, aquamarine, rose quartz and other treasures in its underground chutes and caverns. (It closed in 2016 when its owner, then 90, retired.) Late last year, New York City developers snatched it up with plans to reopen it as a tourist attraction, with major upgrades.

Mine owners aren’t the only ones with bright prospects. Some entrepreneurs are finding ways to carve out new careers in gemstones, too.

For example, after having their jobs and schooling upended by the pandemic in the spring, Frank and Kyndall Stallings, 22 and 27, of Charleston, Mo., pivoted to digging for crystals.

“It all started in February, when Frank took me to the diamond mine in Arkansas for Valentine’s Day,” said Ms. Stallings, of the couple’s visit to a $10-a-day public mine called Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro.

While they didn’t bring home a diamond, they did find a tiny piece of quartz. The experience was a thrill of life-changing proportions. By mid-March, Mr. Stallings’s work as a financial adviser had slowed significantly, Mrs. Stallings’s classes for a bachelor’s degree in horticulture had gone remote, and a job she had recently been offered — data entry at a hospital — never started.

With their newfound time, the Stallingses were mining nearly every day.

By mid-April, the couple had sold everything they owned on Facebook, burned everything they couldn’t sell in a bonfire, packed up their truck and hit the road to work as freelance crystal miners.

“Fifty dollars a day to dig, and if you dig really hard you find $2,000, $3,000, $5,000 worth of crystals,” Mr. Stallings said, referring to Ron Coleman Mining, a crystal mine in Arkansas where the couple recently unearthed a “once in a lifetime” 15-pound clear quartz point, which they later sold for $1,500.

While $5,000 days are extremely rare, the Stallingses do earn a living selling specimens of gold, amazonite, pyrite, quartz, fluorite, shark teeth and obsidian out of the back of their Toyota RAV4 and on eBay.

To keep overhead low, they are camping full-time, but expect this “tent life” phase to be just a rite of passage. Ms. Stallings recently emailed from a campsite on the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, where the couple was hunting iridescent yooperlite by UV flashlight at night. “We are just getting started and foresee huge success with this business we are building,” she wrote.

A dedicated rockhound may, in theory, make up to $10,000 a month selling his or her finds on the internet. A mineral or crystal that is hand-collected at a domestic, noncommercial site may fetch several times the price of one imported from a commercial mine abroad, especially in countries where the gemstone trade is known to finance conflict and genocide. Sellers can sometimes charge even more if they capture their finds on video (and hype them on social media).

One of the kingpins of this business model is Bryan Major, a.k.a. the Crystal Collector, a shaggy-haired prospector who posted his first crystal-digging video to YouTube nine years ago.

Video after video show him brandishing an amethyst cluster the size of his torso or an aquamarine crystal the length of his forearm — not only courting potential buyers, but also luring rockhounding newcomers with what they could achieve.

To make a career of digging crystals and gemstones, a nomadic life isn’t mandatory: Patrick and Samantha Krug, 32 and 30, go rockhounding multiple times a week a stone’s throw from their own backyard in Fonda, N.Y.

“There’s nothing like birthing a crystal that has been in the dark for 500 million years, being the first one to bring it into the light, not knowing what you have until you get it out and clean,” Mr. Krug said. He and his wife fell in love with digging Herkimer diamonds while in college at SUNY Cobleskill. (The couple goes by “Him & Herk” on Instagram.)

Two years ago, the Krugs were granted a rare privilege by a local landowner: their own Herkimer land claim, a fraction of the size of a public mine, but one they have all to themselves. They use traditional mining techniques, not power tools, the way their mentors taught them and pay a small fee — $5 per day that they dig — to use the claim exclusively, carting their 16-pound hammers, flat steel, rakes, hoes, safety goggles and other crystal digging gear on a little wagon.

Herkimer diamonds often form in free-floating, double-terminated crystals, which means they have a point on both ends, causing them to resemble a cut diamond.

After a rain, searchers may find them sparkling all over the ground, the size of a poppy seed or a pencil eraser. Or, they may need to bust through walls of dolomitic limestone to find a pocket — an air chamber in the rock where crystals form — where one might find a “palmer” (a palm-sized Herk), or maybe one even bigger.

The clearer and cleaner edged they are, the more value Herkimer diamonds have, and good specimens are increasingly popular both for their use in healing rituals and in jewelry. (Meghan Markle wore Herkimer diamond rings, stud earrings and a bracelet to Princess Eugenie’s wedding last October.)

Despite the Herkimer diamond’s cachet, the Krugs haven’t fully cashed in. They are keeping their operation small and holding onto most of what they find. “We’re trying to collect every formation Herkimers make,” Mr. Krug said. “If it speaks to us, we’re going to keep it.”

“Right now, we mainly only sell on social media,” Ms. Krug added. “I’d like to have a stronger personal collection before really selling them.”

In recent years, crystals — once relegated to the New Age fringes — have formed the bedrock of a mainstream market. As celebrities including Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian West and others espoused the healing properties of crystals and gemstones, the price of small specimens rose fivefold over the past decade. Between 2017 and 2019, U.S. demand doubled.

Some stars, like Gwyneth Paltrow and the former “Hills” stars Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, have spun the crystal craze into business opportunity. Mr. Pratt, in a recent interview, said the couple’s home is filled with “at least 1,000” crystals. Ms. Montag had $27,000 worth of them placed at her bedside during the birth of the couple’s first child. In 2018, they started a web store, Pratt Daddy, which peddled hundreds of healing gemstones per week for as much as $300 apiece.

And just as many people are asking more questions about the origins of their food, there are growing questions about the origins and ethics of mining crystals and semiprecious gemstones — the mine-to-market journey, which has been clouded with social and environmental concerns.

In a 2019 report from The Guardian on the rising popularity of crystals and their ethically dubious sources mused , “Would crystal consumers really be willing to pay more to guarantee safer, child labor-free mines, or a fair wage for miners?”

Brianna Cannon, a jewelry designer on Long Island, said her customers find added value in the fact that, “for the most part, we know who pulled the stone out of the ground, from where, and when.” She said items made with Herkimer diamonds are far and away her best seller for this reason. “People love to hear that we mine them ourselves, and that they naturally form so nearby,” Ms. Cannon said.

Ally Sands, the founder of Aquarian Soul, which makes crystal-infused bath and beauty products (available at stores including Urban Outfitters), also sells crystals on an individual basis, with a marketing emphasis on ethical sourcing.

“We have strong ties to each of our mineral and crystal suppliers, many of whom are small family-run businesses that gather material from their own land,” Ms. Sands, 33, wrote in a blog post last year. Her quartz, for instance, comes from a family that has been collecting on their Arkansas property for five generations. The family that provides her kunzite were her neighbors in San Diego until they moved to their native Afghanistan.

Ms. Cannon and Ms. Sands both regularly attend gem shows, including the country’s largest, in Tucson, Ariz., in order to make connections with freelance miners and rockhounds from whom they can source whatever they don’t dig on their own.

Among those freelancers is Ron Murray, 58, an osteopath in Seattle who mined quartz at Herkimer Diamond Mines from Memorial Day to Labor Day this year.

For his first six years digging crystals, Mr. Murray said he was “too attached” to part with anything he found. But this year, upon returning home to Seattle, he planned to keep the top 5 percent of his harvest, and sell everything else.

“Very few people can do this,” he said. “It takes stamina. It takes knowledge. It takes masochism.”

Like many others who share his passion for crystal hunting, he calls it an addiction — one propelled by the unshakable thought that the next pocket of untold treasure may open up on the next swing.

He recalled the legend of a Herkimer Mines regular who once found a flawless, water-clear, perfectly terminated Herkimer point worth $50,000 and traded it for a $35,000 sports car. Then there is the story of “Diamond Jim,” the retired fifth grade schoolteacher who, upon his passing, left his children with a collection of Herks worth an estimated $1 million.

These stories just fuel the obsession, Mr. Murray said. “There are a lot of broke prospectors out there.”

By: Alexandra Marvar
Title: Got Crystals? Gem Mining Could Be Your Full-Time Job
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Published Date: Mon, 19 Oct 2020 09:00:18 +0000

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What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?




People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
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Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?




The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
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Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?




There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.

Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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