The Stewart Lithia Mine is a privately owned and operated mine. Blue Sheppard is the kind soul in charge of nature's treasure chest both here at the Stewart Lithia Mine as well as the world famous Kelly Mine in Socorro, New Mexico. The Stewart is most famous for its signature "blue-cap" and rubellite tourmaline specimens and was and still is a large producer of cabbing grade lepidolite. In the early days it was mined for lepidolite. The geology at the Stewart Mine is among the most complex and geologically significant of all the California tourmaline mines and was perfect for our group of sponsored Russian visitors.
A group of about ten of us were invited to the mine for a courtesy tour of the geological features and some collecting opportunities. We were fortunate enough to have some guests coming to America from the Russian Academy of Sciences with a keen interest in the petrology of mineral deposits. We arranged a tour of the mine through a liaison, John Watson. The mine only hosts tours for scientific groups in academia. One of the great and sorely missed visitors who frequented the mine and studied its unique geology was the late Dr. Eugene Foord. He contributed much to the understanding of the petrology of the mine.
Out tour started with a visit to the Gems of Pala store just off Magee Road which is slightly east of dowtown Pala. We met at 10:00AM on Tuesday, August 18, 1998 and checked out the mineral specimens in the shop. There was a great variety of pegmatite minerals and also smithsonite and other world class mineral specimens.
After the shop tour we were given some historical facts and introduced to the geology of the Stewart Mine.
In attendance were Anton and Slava from Russia, John Watson, Blue Sheppard, Matt Taylor, Mark Carter, John Holfert, Walter Mroch, Marc Jenkins and Jeremy Fuller. The Stewart Mine has been producing specimens since 1860 - that's over 130 years ! Matt Taylor of Enigma and Blue Sheppard of Millenium provided us with lessons on the geology and petrology for the Stewart Mine. Based on the discussions there is apparently a great debate about how pegmatites form and at what pressures and depths. There are many studies still ongoing today.
We gathered our safety equipment and gear and drove up to the mine and assembled outside for a safety briefing and signed the required waivers. Hard hats, oxygen generators, steel toed boots and flashlights were mandatory for entry into the mine. We proceeded to the large steel gate at the entrance to the mine and were briefed about some of the features again. As we proceeded into the mine Blue pointed out that the Chinese were actually responsible for much of the development in the Stewart Mine back in the 1800's. When Ed Swoboda started to reopen the Stewart Mine he luckily intersected an old tunnel dug by the Chinese otherwise much of what has been produced to date may have been overlooked.
One of the new features that we all found interesting was the discovery of a new variety of tourmaline as well as the mineral petalite which according to modern geology should not occur in the mine but actually does. There is much more research to be done. Blue Sheppard believes they have only scratched the surface at the Stewart and there will be more discoveries in the next twenty years than ever before. After the underground tour we ate our lunches and were allowed to dig up some rubellite and lepidolite specimens. All in all a terrific day. After I was done that evening I had completely forgotten what day of the week it was and we went for a superb feast at the Watson's. A true diplomatic adventure all around with our Russian guests, Anton and Slava and all of the helpful people at the store, the mine and the dinner.
If you are interested in obtaining minerals from the Stewart Mine one fun way is through the screening setup they have at the Gems of Pala Store. Unfortunately only $50 buckets are available now but they have been well worth the price since the old tunnels were mined using candlelight. Once the miners were finished in a stope they backfilled them to minimize the removal of material from the mine. I have frequented the shop throughout the years and have always found worthwhile minerals and once in awhile some real killers. No guarantees however. They have just remodeled the store due to flooding last year and the new store is better than ever. For information on days and hours of operation please call the shop directly at 760-742-1356. I hope you enjoy the pictures and please visit the shop ! You can also reach their site which is just being revamped at Millenium Inc. To find out more specifics about what was found in these areas to start a collection or to possibly collect you might want to sign up for the Minerals of California Online Database. Click here to sign up.