I spent a day last week at the Yogo sapphire mine in the Little Belt Mountains, west of Lewistown, Montana. With their cornflower blue color, sapphires from the Yogo vein are among the finest in the world. Unlike many other sapphires, they do not have to be heat-treated to rid them of impurities.
First, Clarence and Pat Turner showed me the grounds of the old English mine, where the Turners hunt sapphires in tailings. Then Mike Roberts took us all underground. Roberts and the Turners spend their time rock hounding because they love it–the stones, but also the lifestyle. “It keeps us young,” Pat says.
Roberts, aka Wylie E., says he’d be happy living down in his mine shaft. Five years ago he traded his gold mine outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, for this Montana mineral deposit. He’s been working the Yogo dike ever since. “It’s like a mansion,” he says and smiles. “But my wife doesn’t want to live in a hole in the ground.” Instead, they live with their three kids in Great Falls.
These folks are turning over a good bit of earth, but when compared with many other mines in the West, their operations are very small in their impact on the surrounding country.