Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ruby Reservoir: Garnets & Sapphires

      We love Montana. We come back whenever we can, which since retirement is working out just fine. Montana is the 'Treasure State', which provides Barb and I with plenty of opportunities to rockhound in a setting of pristine western wilderness. This trip we wanted to try our hand at something new in an area we had not previously visited.
      We arrived at Ruby Reservoir averaging a very nice 14.1 mpg towing through the valleys between mountains. The reservoir is located about 50 miles south of Whitehall, Montana between Dillon and Virginia City. Nine miles north of the reservoir lies the little village of Alder Junction which has a bar, RV park, and a small store that has a pretty decent supply of just about anything we'd need including food, water, firewood, diesel, and propane. We watered up the RV for free. This area is known for a good supply of the gemstone Garnet, a cousin of the Ruby. In fact one of the largest Garnet mines in the world is located near here.
      On the east side of Ruby Reservoir is an area of BLM land that is set aside for primitive camping. There is a very nice, clean vault toilet and an abundant area to camp, including some rock style firepits and areas to launch boats or canoes. There is no water supply. We camped on a fairly level piece of gravel near the boat launch area behind some shoreline trees that gave us protection from North winds. We set up our boondocking protocol, positioned the portable solar for the onboard battery, gathered some more rocks to reinforce our firepit, as well as some firewood left by prior campers. The next morning I positioned the truck and tilted up the big solar panel.
      The first day we worked the cut banks of the east shoreline, checking the fallen material as well as working the side bank with our rock hammers. The reservoir was built to provide the local farmer and ranchers with water for hay fields and livestock so the lake levels fluctuate throughout the year. The lake was high due to spring time so checking further out wasn't an option. Barb did find a few Garnets near the waterline, but all were of a small flake, BB, and sliver size. As a bonus we found some Sapphires which were larger, but not much.
      We did talk to a couple of fisherman who were doing a very fine job on the local Rainbow Trout. They told us the size of our Garnets were about average and that the largest they had seen was only about the size of a pea. They also told us that the best area for prospecting was currently underwater and that most folks employ a shovel gravel, sift twice, and pan or tweezer method to find gems. This is very much the same method used for Sapphire mining we have done in the past. From then on this is method we used.
      I had absolutely no luck with the Garnets, but did find a few Sapphires. Barb's 2nd day went better and she began to fill her little vile. That evening we sifted gravel from washed waves at the local boat ramp as this is where Barb found her first stones. Our total bounty was not anywhere near what we had hoped for, but the time was relaxing and well spent. The Ruby River Valley is beautiful and even Dharma and Bodhi seemed to enjoy the area. The next two days Barb searched out small coves that had lots of exposed gravel and this strategy worked very well as she began to find larger stones. In the end Barb had collected about 3/4 ounce of Garnets.
      Our total stay was 5 days. The days were pretty fair with temps in the 50s, but the nights were very cold with temps in the 20s & 30s with the battery bank, propane, and RV heater working overtime. Except for our first night where battery bank useage approached 40% and required some generator time for battery bank top off, the solar panels kept us in good shape the rest of the time. There was no signal for phone or Internet of any type so this blog was updated at our next stop. Our plan was to move on to the Yellowstone River from Livingston to Sidney in search of our favorite: Moss Agates.  However, as plans often do.......we were in for a change. 
WiFi courtesy of our Sunrise RV Park
Bozeman, MT

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