Breaking News
More () »

Strike gold at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum | Bartell's Backroads

California’s official state collection of gems, minerals and rocks.

MARIPOSA, Calif. — At the edge of Yosemite’s gold country inside the Mariposa County Fairgrounds is a mother lode of precious minerals. Behind locked doors and vaults is the California Mining and Mineral Museum. It’s California’s official collection of gems, minerals and rocks.

Quartzite, calcite, manganite and fluorite: those minerals and more are all on display for your viewing pleasure. Museum interpreter Natalie Sanman is no fool when it comes to the more than 1,300 specimens on display.

You've probably guessed that real gold, not fool’s gold, is California’s state mineral, but did you know the state gemstone is Benitoite?

“It’s blue. It has these really cool triangular crystals. It's so rare. The mine that this was found in is in San Benito County, so that’s why it’s named benitoite,” said Sanman.

The state's mineral collection started back in 1880. Today, rocks, gemstones and fossils from all over the world are on display, many of which were pulled from gold mines, like one enormous quartz crystal.

“[It] was saved just because it's a massive crystal and this is from Calaveras County,” said Sanman.

Credit: ABC10 / KXTV
California State Parks interpreter Natalie Sanman shows ABC10's John Bartell a massive quartz crystal mined in Calaveras County.

Locked up in the museum vault is another prized specimen in the collection: the Fricot Nugget, a 13.8-pound, crystallized gold nugget found in the American River 1864.

“It's surviving from the Gold Rush, which is what makes it quite spectacular because most of the gold back then was melted down,” said Sanman.

If you want to see what it’s like to be a gold miner, take a tour through a replica gold mine shaft leading to a replica stamp mill. A stamp mill crushes rock ore to help extract the gold. The town of Mariposa, where the museum is located, was one of the first places in California to build one.

Big rocks, small rocks and rocks that glow in the dark -- there are so many gems and minerals in the museum to learn about that it's a great place to make a pit stop during your next road trip.

The California Mining and Mineral Museum is open Thurs-Sun from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. during the summer. Admission is $4 and children 12 and under are free.

MORE MINING ADVENTURES FROM THE BACKROADS: Placerville is the only municipality in the United States that owns its own gold mine. Once home to countless mine shafts, only one still is open for visitors.

Before You Leave, Check This Out