This was a trip. One that involved people in the middle of the woods with pickaxes, shovels, wheelbarrows and sifting screens, hoping to find the next lucrative stone. These gem-hunters are fueled by stories of other rockhounds who've found rare treasures here, like the woman who recently discovered a large piece of watermelon tourmaline worth a whopping $200,000. That was a story told to us by a middle-aged man we met, who'd been digging at Mt Apatite since childhood.
He also told us that the larger quarry at this digging spot was once a swimming hole - never mind the cars and old mining equipment that rest at the bottom of it "hundreds of feet down." He shared that in the 60's, a tall tree at the top of the quarry wall had a platform from which his father would swan dive 72 feet into the water. I have not confirmed any of these stories, but did enjoy the receiving of them. And it did make our adventure that much more interesting.
So what I thought would be a quick hike to an old quarry with Henry and his friend, turned into a long trip back in time with a full cast of characters and Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" running through the back of my mind all day. There is always something new to discover in the woods of Maine.
Since the boys came here for mineral collecting, they brought a chisel, hammer, shovel, large iron rod for breaking up rock and a gold pan (why not cover our bases). They carried ALL of this on the long, long walk to the quarry. It was only long because we got turned around (lost) several times and the short trail turned into 2.8 miles one way. Lucky for you, we discovered a more direct path on our return trip, which I will share. Unless you want the longer route, in which case, I'd recommend leaving the iron rod at home.
Mount Apatite Park includes 325 acres of woods and a 7.6 mile network of trails linking abandoned quarries, steep ledges and large boulders. Recreational opportunities include hiking, biking and cross country skiing. Gem-quality tourmaline was first discovered here over 150 years ago. Since then, commercial and amateur mineral explorers have come to this spot to find apatite, tourmaline and quartz. It has mostly been cleaned out, but small bits remain. Maybe larger ones too. Who really knows?
Parking for these trails is located in a large lot off of Small Rd in Auburn, about a 40 minute drive from Portland. Here is the All Trails link, which will get you there and also provide GPS in the woods. We did get lost several times on these trails - they can be confusing! We took the blue loop out to the mining area (where the quarries are). With all the redirection, it turned into an almost 6 mile walk round-trip. On the way back, we stuck with the red trail, which was MUCH quicker. Here's a map:
Look for number 19, which marks the "Quarry Zone". From the parking lot, head straight until you connect with the red trail. Then turn right and follow until reaching the sign for "Secret Trail" (#21), which will lead down to the quarry zone (#19). Again, we did get lost, so instead of following my directions, you may want to just use this map and also your GPS.
Once in the quarry zone, you will find a large quarry, some smaller ones, and many rock piling areas. There is lots to explore here, so you may stay a while. You will also pass by remnants of an old stone building on the trail leading to the quarry zone.
Henry and his friend spent a couple of hours here, sorting through rocks and getting tips from other rockhounds...hoping for that large piece of watermelon tourmaline. In case you were wondering, it is permitted to use hand tools to explore minerals to the depth of 2 feet (and you will find holes all over the place, so watch your step). For a full list of rules, visit the City of Auburn's Mt Apatite brochure here. I should also mention that swimming is no longer allowed.
The boys did go home with some great finds and a unique experience. They hope to return after doing some YouTube research on gem collecting. I'd return here for the stories alone, but any trip to the woods is a yes for me. And anything that lights my kid up like this, also a yes.