Did you know that the ruby is actually just a color spectrum of sapphire? What I mean by this is that all rubies are sapphires. They are just a certain spread of colors from orangish pink to the red pigeon blood rubies. Any where that sapphires can be found you have a chance at finding rubies as well. The best place to go in search of these gems is in the state of North Carolina. Some readers may have watched the show on the Travel Chanel called "Cash and Treasures." What you may not know is that not every thing is as it seems at many of the places she went. In the episode where she was emerald hunting in NC she visited a "pay to dig" mine and found several awesome specimens worth thousands.
Say you own a piece of property near an area you know has some type of gem or mineral worth money. You did and dig but nothing is ever found on your property. Seems you just aren't lucky enough to be sitting on what is called the "pay streak." A pay streak is the line where you can find the deposits of what ever mineral it is you are looking for. These are formed by ancient rivers, volcanoes and other such things that leave behind a treasure after they have receded. Now that you know you can't make any money from your land what can you do? Well lots of people start a pay to dig mine in which they sucker tourists to actually pay to dig there. What they do is go to a lapidary or some other source and get "junk gems" which are just gems with fractures or inclusions or something that just makes them worthless. They then "salt" the mine and turn the dirt over and wait for the sucker or tourist to find the gems. After some time of this they may actually buy a few really nice gems to put in the ground and when they get found they make a big deal about it. Take pictures of the happy finder and tell other patrons about the find for years to come in hopes of stirring up a frenzy. While it may not bother some people that this goes on and the fun does actually lay in the experience, I think that finding out later that my gems are just trash would be kind of a disappointment. You have about as much of a chance striking it rich buying a lottery ticket. But the tops of this page isn't entitled "Treasure hunting: Scratch offs." Not all pay to dig mines do this but there are a great deal who do. An old room mate of mine visited the emerald mine depicted in the cash and treasures episode while on a field trip with a college organization he was in at the time and he had found where they had been salting. He had said that they took the host of the show right where she could find emeralds. I'm sure that episode drew in a lot of new suck... er I mean customers.
Another way to scam tourists is that some actual mines dig the dirt for you. They make it seem like they're making the experience easy for you and all you have to do is clean the dirt right off your new treasure. The problem is that with a little knowledge and time working the land you will get a sense of right where the most gems are found. These people avoid those areas like the plague when they are digging your dirt. You are simply there to supplement the income of an actual mine that may (or may not) be having a hard time. They don't want to just give away all their big gems, so they'll dig your dirt elsewhere on the property while they save that pay streak for themselves. This scam isn't quite as bad as salting but they are still robbing you of a chance to get something really good.
Once in a while though you will find a pay to dig site that does neither of these things. One such mine is the Mason ruby and sapphire mine in Franklin NC. I went there for a spring break a few years ago to try my luck. I could tell that they do not salt because as I dug down into the payload bearing material I could see a definite layer of minerals and other deposits in the ground. While there is never a guarantee that you will strike it rich they do say that there is rarely any one to go home empty handed. As in my usual fashion I asked as many questions of the people working there as I could think of in order to gain a working knowledge of how to find sapphires. All the basic tools are already provided for you and they will even pick through your screen to see if you have any sapphires. After a few days of this I no longer needed them to look for me and I was even helping other customers. They jokingly told me that if I was there any longer they'd have to hire me. You should bring with you a hat that shades your face neck and ears though. I learned the hard way after getting sunburn blisters on the back of my ears that standing over the flume for a few days with no protection is not a wise idea.
The price per day is only 30 dollars and with a lot of hard work and some luck you may make that money back. At the end of my spring break I walked out with over 150 karats of sapphire and when I got home and cleaned them off I found that two of them were small pink rubies. My biggest sapphires are between 5 and 6 1/2 karats. I would have had a 15 karat sapphire but some bum started watching me and followed me to my hole and dug a bucket after me finding it. Now I fill my holes back in every time i leave them. (no sense in some one else profiting from my hard work)
The mine has it's own website here. and is open nearly year around. I would highly suggest stopping by the ruby city gem museum and looking around. They can also cut and set any gems you may find. Their link is here.