Monthly Archives: May 2013

In Search of Sapphires – Gem Mountain, Montana


Pure heaven! Picking sapphires!

If you’re a rockhound like me, you probably usually enjoy rockhounding where you can do it for free. But every once in awhile you’re willing to pay for it. One place that is worth it is Gem Mountain Sapphire Mine.

Located 22 miles outside of the town of Philipsburg, Montana, Gem Mountain lets you have the hands-on experience of loading up a two-pound bucket with dirt, gravel and invisible sapphires. I say, “invisible” because when they are covered with dirt and dust, you can’t see them in the bucket of gravel. Then you take a little shovel and put some of the mix onto a screen, which you then take over to a trough. There you put the screen underwater, shake it around a bit, then take it back to your table where you quickly dump it upside down. There on the top of the pile of gravel, will be beautiful shiny sapphires! Because they are heavier than the gravel, they settle at the bottom of the screen which becomes the top when you turn the screen over on your table. You then use tweezers to pick out the sapphires and put them someplace safe like a baggie or old film canister. After you have picked out all that you can see, it’s a good idea to put the gravel back into the screen and wash it another time or two – you might have missed some sapphires.


David and Josh (age 7) picking sapphires

1-cut sapphire

Heat-treated, faceted sapphire

You can buy one bucket at a time ($20 each) or buy six and get one free. Yes, it’s a little spendy, but if you know you are going you can simply budget for it as you would any other entertainment. After finding all of your sapphires, you can either choose to just take them home that way, or if you have some spectacular ones, you can leave them with the mine office to be sent off to be heat treated and faceted (for an extra charge, of course.) Heat treating is what gives the sapphires that cobalt blue color. Otherwise they are a dull blue, but they can also be yellow or white.

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Pure heaven! Picking sapphires!

Another fun thing you can do if you can’t make it there is have them send you a jug of dirt to screen at home. David did that for me for my birthday after we had been there the first time and had so much fun. He felt a little weird telling people he got me a jug of dirt for my birthday but I was in absolute heaven! Again, if you find some spectacular ones, Gem Mountain includes a return envelope and you can send one or two back to them to be heat treated and faceted. Be ready to practice your patience though – it can take up to six months to get them back.

There is a small store with limited snacks and water and six free first-come, first-served camping sites.


Trough where you wash the gravel

Sifting gravel and picking sapphires is one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. It was like an addiction, very hard to quit. Thank goodness they close at 5pm or I would have gone until I passed out!

We spent the entire day sifting rocks and picking out sapphires. By the time we left I was as worn out as a kid on Christmas day. David was driving and I said, “I’m so tired, I just need to sleep,” and he said, “Go ahead.” I leaned over on the seat and BOOM, I was out! THAT, my fellow rockhounders, is a GREAT day!


Gem Mountain is open through September, from 10am-5pm, seven days a week.

Getting there: Gem Mountain is located at 21 Sapphire Gulch Lane, at mile marker 38 on Highway 38, Skalkaho Pass Road between Hamilton and Philipsburg.

Categories: Montana, Outdoors, Rockhounding/Gold Panning | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Has Anyone Seen My Taste Buds? Great Balls of Fire at Salvador Molly’s!


Adam from Man vs. Food – Pic on wall

1-IMG_1613On David’s 50th birthday we decided to head to Portland, Oregon to celebrate. While waiting for his mom, Sue, to come down to join us, we were watching Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. The host, Adam, was at Salvador Molly’s in Portland taking the Great Balls of Fire Challenge. He was crying – that’s a signal to people who like spicy food that it’s an enjoyable experience. The challenge involves eating 5 habanero chile cheese fritters covered in habanero sauce. So that’s where we decided to go for the birthday dinner.

The other thing that intrigued us about this restaurant is the variety of foods provided. Dishes are offered from Jamaica, New Orleans, Hawaii, Ethiopia, and Thailand. David was very excited for the variety.

Getting there is a bit of a challenge if you aren’t familiar with the area and even though David knows Portland pretty well, we were glad I had my iPhone with GPS and Siri. It’s easy to pass the restaurant. It is just the end part of a very small strip mall. After we went in, we immediately order just the three Great Balls of Fire. The challenge requires a person to eat five of them. Even my spice-loving guys thought that might be a bit much. When they came, first David tried one, then Josh kinda licked at his. After a few seconds, David’s eyes started watering and he was sputtering a little. Josh had finally eaten his in one whole bite and started regretting it. I have to admit Sue ate half of one and just said it was very spicy but no crying from her. She’s no wimp!


Great Balls of Fire!

Of course, I just watched and recorded their reactions on my phone. I’m no fool plus I don’t like much of anything. I asked the waiter, “What do you have for people who don’t like anything?” and he looked at me kinda funny. Sue said, “She’s not kidding, she doesn’t like anything.” So I ordered pulled-pork sliders with the BBQ sauce on the side. When it came, I just sniffed the BBQ sauce and my eyes started watering. I said to the waiter, “I know this is probably bad to ask here, but do you have just plain ‘ol ketchup?” They did.

David and Josh ordered Jambalaya. When it came, they took a few bites and David said, “I can’t taste anything yet.” But after a few more minutes, it finally went away, and he said the food was delicious. At one point we saw a baby outside on the deck waving his arms around. David said he must have tasted the Great Balls of Fire and was waving his arms, crying, and asking if anyone had seen his taste buds that had ran off down the street.

1-IMG_1628Fast forward a few months. We told my daughter, Brandy, and her fiancé, Jason, about Salvador Molly’s and she loves spicy food and he likes some of it, so they wanted to try it. This time we ordered five Great Balls of Fire, expecting everyone (except me, of course) to eat one. David and Jason each ate one. Brandy ate ½ of one, Josh ate the other half. After about a minute Brandy’s eyes started watering, then she started feeling hot all over, then her sinuses cleared. Jason did pretty good for a guy who doesn’t like very spicy things. He was disgusted though when he took a drink of his beer and said, “Now I can’t taste my Corona!” We laughed and told him that would pass.


Our meals came and everyone was pleased with their meals which were flavorful and spiced just right. Or maybe they just seemed that way in comparison to the Great Balls of Fire. This time I ordered the Chickidee Do Dah (chicken breast with mashed potatoes and carrots) off the kids menu. Yes, I most certainly am a wienie – that’s about as brave as I get.

Salvador Molly’s is a small restaurant, but has interesting, vibrant décor from around the world. The service is excellent and the ambiance is fun. Most of all, it’s just entertaining to watch other people eat the Great Balls of Fire!

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Getting there: Located at 1523 SW Sunset Blvd., Portland, OR, 97239. Rather than give directions, if you don’t know the area, I recommend using your GPS. It is very confusing to get to.

Categories: Food, Wine, Cider, Oregon | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

1-102_2122Crater Lake. One of the most beautiful and well-known lakes in the world. The unbelievable deep blue of the lake, the dark green of the surrounding forest, the lighter blue of the sky – all combine for an eye-pleasing scene. Plus if you are into geology, you have to love the story of Crater Lake. Located in southern Oregon, it is the deepest lake in the United States, second deepest in the western hemisphere and 7th deepest in the world. It is 1932 feet deep and 6 miles wide. The lake was formed when a volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted 7,700 years ago and then collapsed. The water in the lake is from rainfall and melted snow.

1-102_2136Crater Lake National Park is 183,224 acres in size. It was established in 1902 and is the 5th national park to be created. You can drive completely around the lake. The rim drive is 33 miles long. There are over 20 scenic viewpoints. And you’ll want to stop at all of them. Each offers just a little different view of the lake.

There are two campgrounds and two lodges in the park – Crater Lake Lodge and Mazama Village Motor Inn. Crater Lake Lodge is located at Rim Village and has 71 rooms. Mazama Village Motor Inn is seven miles south of the lake and has 40 rooms. Lost Creek Campground is pretty rustic and only has 16 campsites which are tent-only. Mazama Campground has 200 sites and has a dump station, laundry, showers, (but no hookups), a store and a service station.1-102_2139

Hike down to the lake by way of the Cleetwood Trail and you can catch a boat ride that will take you out to Wizard Island. There, you can get off the boat and spend a little time on the island before heading back for the long, steep hike (700 ft. elevation over 1.1 miles) back up to the top of the rim. Or while down at the lake you can fish without a fishing license.


Stretch your legs on some of the over 90 miles of hiking trails and get up close and personal with some of the little critters and colorful wildlife. Part of the Pacific Crest Trail also passes through the park.


Of course you will want to stop at the visitor center and gift shop at Rim Village. While there, take the time to treat yourself to a snack and a drink at the lodge which opened in 1915. Hopefully, it won’t be too busy, and you will be able to grab a seat on one of the wooden rocking chairs out on the porch overlooking the lake. Once seated there you can relax and drink in the amazing view of the lake.

1-102_2130Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes you will ever see. Whatever you do, do NOT forget your camera! You simply can’t imagine a lake so blue it almost looks like it has been enhanced through a computer program – it is something you have probably never encountered anywhere else. There is truly no other place like it.

Getting there: From I-5 southbound, take Exit 188 towards Oakridge/Klamath Falls (OR-58). OR-58 turns into US-97. Go south to OR-138, turn west and then go approximately 15 miles to Crater Lake Rd.

From I-5 northbound take Exit 30 OR-62 toward OR-237E/N. Medford/Crater Lake. Turn right onto OR62E. Turn right onto OR-62. Go about 16 miles to the south entrance to the park.

Categories: Oregon, Outdoors, Parks | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lake Scanewa, Lewis County, Washington

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Beautiful Lake Scanewa is great for boating as well as fishing! (Photo credit: David Keaton)

Lake Scanewa (sku-NEE-wuh) is a 610-acre reservoir located in Lewis County, Washington, south of Hwy. 12 between the towns of Morton and Randle. It was created by the Cowlitz Falls Dam and is stocked with trout and hatchery salmon. Cowlitz Falls Day Use Park is located on the east end of the lake. By the way, don’t go looking for the falls – they don’t exist anymore. There is a boat launch, picnic tables and restrooms (although not much better than port-a-potties).

We like to go to the day use park because you can do so many things right there. You can fish (starting June 1) from the bank for salmon or trout. There is a small lagoon where kids can swim plus it is blocked off at the beginning of fishing season and stocked with trout for kids to catch. This year’s Kids Fishing Derby will be on Saturday, June 8.

Often you can see the trout jumping and the silver flash of huge salmon rolling around in the water. But nothing is more exciting than hooking that amazing salmon and slowly reeling it in and landing it. And nothing is more heart-breaking than when it gets loose…

Back Camera

He said his was bigger. But I think he just measured wrong…

Back Camera

My first salmon! (Photo credit: David Keaton)


You can launch your boat from the boat launch and troll around the lake or up the river, with hopes of increasing your chances of catching that big salmon.





But to really get up close and personal with the area, a kayak is the ideal method of transportation. You can get right in to the shallow tight spots that you can’t get to any way else. We even found a small stream just slightly wider than the kayaks and took a ride up it until it got too tight and we had to turn around. You feel very intimate with nature when you can do something like that.


Another fun thing to do is watch the fish delivery. To stock the lake, Tacoma Power employees must go downriver to capture the fish near Barrier Dam and load them into a big truck. They then transport the fish past the dams, which have no fish ladders, and stock them at various sites including Lake Scanewa. You can also check out Tacoma Power’s website at to see how many and what kinds of fish they stock each week.


Tiny islands (Photo credit: David Keaton)

Tacoma Power releases the fish several times a day, including on the weekend. It’s fascinating to watch the truck back up to the boat dock, open the hatch, and dump out hundreds of fish. It’s quite the sight – and quite the tease for fishermen!




Getting there: From Morton, take Highway 12 east to Savio Road (If you get to Randle, you’ve gone too far). Turn right and go to Kiona Road. Turn right and follow Kiona Road to Falls Road. Turn right and continue to the Day Use Park on the left.

From Yakima take Highway 12 west past Randle to Savio Road (if you get to Morton, you’ve gone too far). Turn left and go to Kiona Road. Turn left and follow Kiona Road to Falls Road. Turn right and continue to the Day Use Park on the left.

Categories: Boating/Kayaking, Fishing, Outdoors, Parks, Washington | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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