Saturday, July 5, 2008

Family Vacation, Lake Henshaw, Day 3

Tourmaline digging was to be the activity of the day. The Himalaya Mines are not, in fact, here (nor are they in the Himalaya's), but are instead somewhere across the valley from Mount Palomar.

The kids were both very excited about the prospect of digging in the dirt to find fancy rocks, so I thought this would be a shoo-in for a fun way to spend the day. After a leisurely breakfast and showers for the kids (yes I know, what's the sense of bathing children who are about to go dig in the dirt—but out here, they're always about to go dig in the dirt, so at some point you just have to give up on the concept of 'clean'). I packed a picnic lunch and off we went.

The dig-site isn't far from the campgrounds; in fact, as I mentioned before, it's just at the end of a road inside of the RV park. It's actually just past the tent campgrounds, and so we drove down that way (too hot to walk the distance), parked in the shade and headed to the dig.

The way this works is the mining company takes truckloads of un-sifted dirt and literally dumps it in a pile for people to dig through. At a charge of $75 per adult (young kids free; older kids half-price), you can dig through tons of dirt from 10a–3p looking for all the jewels you can find. I'd heard a story the night before of someone finding a stone that once set was valued at several thousand dollars, so while my hopes weren't set on paying for the kids' educations, I thought we'd stand a chance at finding something memorable on the dig.

(photo from Himalaya Mine website—in the heat and excitement, I forgot to take photos. Oops.)

Upon arrival I realized this was going to be a short-lived experience. The dig is in the full sun, with the only shade provided by an awning the caretakers had set up for themselves. I chatted with Nick, who was managing the site, and he explained the fee structure but also offered that what might be better for the kids is to buy a $50 bag of "high quality dirt", which would have a much higher yield of stones in it, and to quickly get through that instead of planning to spend the whole day in the sun—something he already knew wasn't going to work for the kids. He even offered that if we got through that and still wanted to dig, he'd throw in an hour of digging in the big pile for free. Smart guy, that Nick. I bought a bag of dirt and we set off to sifting.

Nicks sister Becky showed us the ropes. She set up a lower stand to put the water tray on for the kids, and showed us how to dump some of the bag into the tray, sift the small stones and dirt out, leaving behind only the larger rocks. We had to diligently go through the smaller dirt and stones as well, looking for any tiny gems that may have fallen through. From there, we took the sifting tray to the water and washed the stones, throwing away the granite and looking for the jewels.

Immediately we were rewarded with a few small stones and some very pretty ones at that. We even managed to find one very nice specimen on only the second or third pan, which was very encouraging. Unfortunately though, after about 10 minutes of this, both kids were overheated and retreating to the shade of the awning. I only managed to get them back into the sun a few more times for a few minutes at a time, which meant I was the one who did most of the sifting. So much for an event for the kids! Oh well, we got through the rest of the bag quickly and hightailed it back to the cabin for our picnic lunch. It was simply too hot out in the sun.

After lunch and a brief nap for the little one, we decided to try out the pool. As expected it was a bit rough, but trust kids to not care what a pool looks like. It's not exactly the glorious oceanside pool of the Sheraton with attentive waitresses offering $12 margaritas from the hotel bar, but the water was cool and clean and refreshing. Instead of bronzed bikini'd hotel patrons, our company was mostly 8-1/2 month pregnant men with Keystone Lite's in one hand and lit cigarettes in the other. Plus one kindly former swim instructor who delighted in playing with the children in the water, as her own kids had long ago grown and swam away.

As the sun dropped to the horizon, we headed back to the cabin for dinner. While the kids played outside I prepared a dinner of chicken, rice and green beans, which they enjoyed immensely. Behind the cabin, which the kitchen faces, is a great grouping of shaded boulders that the kids have enjoyed climbing on since our arrival. It's nice to be able to let the play outside with minimal supervision; something you aren't often able to do.

This is a private photo gallery; please email me for the login and password (same gallery linked on all Family Vacation posts)