Shine Bright at Herkimer Diamond Mines While Digging for Your Own Treasure
There’s a small town in Upstate New York that has become world famous for one very unique reason – diamonds! Herkimer, like much of New York State, has a landscape that was formed by the glaciers millions of years ago. Because of this, we have some of the most beautiful scenery among unique natural formations. Located halfway between Syracuse and Albany, Herkimer Diamond Mines welcomes visitors to spend their days mining for their own stones – and so much more.
The History of the Herkimer Diamond Mines
Renee Scialdo Shevat is one of the most passionate business owners I have ever met. She is so incredibly knowledgeable about the mines and their history, and her enthusiasm overflows! Her family has owned the mines – and hundreds of acres of land in the area – since 1970.
The family’s mission with the mines is truly unique. While they could easily open up all of their land for miners to go rockhounding, they strongly believe in sustainability. Since the crystals are millions of years old, there isn’t an endless supply of them! So Renee and her family only open up small parts of the land at one time, extending the longevity of the mines and preserving as much of the natural landscape as possible.
Are Herkimer diamonds really diamonds?
This is the question that is on everyone’s minds. And the real answer is no. Herkimer diamonds are technically not diamonds – they are ‘double-terminated quartz crystals’.
Like diamonds, the crystals are a naturally-formed glass-like stone with high clarity. But unlike diamonds, which are shaped and polished by manpower, these quartz crystals form naturally with 18 facets and two endpoints. Finding them in the rocks is incredible – you’d never expected to find such perfect stones naturally!
What makes Herkimer diamonds so special?
Another important thing to note is that Herkimer diamonds – these particular quartz crystals – can only be found in Herkimer. They are truly unique! Plus, they are about half a BILLION years old. Seriously!
During the Ice Age, glaciers shaved off parts of the Adirondack Mountains, which then formed layer of sediment. The layers of dolomite rock continually gained pressure over time. The melting water from the glaciers made its way into the pores and crevices of the rock and formed “vugs”. These vugs are the holes created by dissolving rock. It’s inside these vugs that the crystals were formed.
While mining in Herkimer, you’ll find more than crystals. One of my favorite parts was the ‘drusy’ – this is when the rock is covered in tiny black quartz that sparkles! It’s so pretty. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but drusy is a close second.
While you’re in Herkimer, be sure to check out all the fun activities in neighboring Oneida County!
What you need to know before you go mining
Rockhounding at Herkimer Diamond Mines is a very budget-friendly activity for the family. For just $14, you can spend the entire day at the mines. (Admission is $12 for ages 5-12, and free for kids 4 and under. Military discounts are available.)
Keep in mind that you’ll be on the ground. Hitting rocks with hammers. It’s rugged! So be sure to wear closed-toe shoes and durable clothing. Wear sunscreen during the hot days!
Upon arrival you can rent or buy goggles, gloves, hammers, and buckets to use during your visit. That’s if you don’t have your own of course! But no power tools are allowed in the mines.
Here’s the best part…
You can keep whatever you find! Seriously. There are miners who have made a career out of finding and selling Herkimer diamonds. They go every day, 9 to 5, and collect as much as they can find. There are stories of one miner finding a crystal worth $50,000 – and another who left his children $1 million in diamonds to his children when he died.
For the average visitor, you’re likely to come away with a few small gems and, most commonly, rocks with pockets of drusy. Guests can go to the Artisan’s Corner outside the main building to turn their diamonds into jewelry!
The dolomite crystals are world famous
Even though they aren’t true diamonds, Herkimer diamonds are so unique that they’ve become world-famous. Due to their uniqueness, the crystals are often more valuable than amethyst.
Proof? Duchess Megan wore a set of Herkimer diamonds to Princess Eugenie’s wedding in 2018. Herkimer diamonds are also regularly showcased at the Tokyo International Jewelry and Gem Show, and several other trade shows around the world.
Do Herkimer diamonds have healing powers?
For those who believe in the healing powers of crystals, Herkimer diamonds are said to be very powerful. These unique crystals are said to not only transmit their own powers, but amplify those around it. Additionally, some people believe that the diamonds can mend relationships, aid in meditation, and help you remember your dreams.
For more unique adventures in New York, travel a little south to Secret Caverns and Howe Caverns.
Explore the rest of the KOA Resort
Herkimer Diamond Mines is proud to be an official KOA resort, with some pretty unique amenities. Across the street from the mines is a large campground with a variety of sites available. Choose from a basic tent site, an RV site, one of the glamping pods, a themed cabin, or a specialty lodge!
I can’t wait to make my reservation for next summer. I’ve already got my eye on the treehouse – but the astronomy lodge and it’s telescope are also calling my name!
The resort also has other activities to fill your time, whether you plan for a weekend or an entire week-long family vacation. Disc golf, multiple playgrounds, basketball, sluice mining, beach volleyball, and more are spread out through the property. Don’t forget to check out the Miner’s Table Restaurant for dinner!
Book your Herkimer Diamond Mines trip for next summer!
Now that the secret is out, start planning your trip to the diamond mines next summer! The mines reopen on April 15th, 2021 and the staff can’t wait to see you.