When your local jeweler tells you he goes the extra mile to bring you a world class gem -- at least here in Payson -- that statement is far more than marketing hype, and that extra mile is no walk in the park.
High in the Mazatzal mountains lies one of the most productive amethyst mines in the world. Robert Higginbotham -- owner of Payson Jewelers -- invited me to embark on a rare expedition into these caverns. We left Payson early in the day to explore the Four Peaks Amethyst mine, which dates back to 1882.
Four Peaks also produces some of the highest quality gems. Higginbotham says he carries about 100 pieces of jewelry -- in all price ranges -- made from Four Peaks ore. "We sell an amazing amount," says Higginbotham. "The quality's just excellent. The stone is a grape-jelly purple. It's some of the best in the world."
About an hour into our drive, we arrive at the trailhead, which will lead us on a treacherous nine-mile journey into the remote mountains above Phoenix. Joining us are mine owner, Kurt Cabana, and Scottsdale-based gem wholesaler, Mike Romanella.
After a quick round of introductions, we start hiking -- uphill -- for two miles. For a marshmallow guy like me, we might as well been climbing El Capitan, Yosemite's sheer vertical monolith.
We reached the saddle of the mountain. The clouds hung low and dark on the mountains; they produced an intermittent sleet throughout the day. I was awestruck with the view of a jagged outcropping, which makes up one of the four peaks.
A quarter mile from the mine the gate that guards the entrance to the private 20-acre property came into view.
Upon arrival, Romanella gave us a tour and a description of the mine: the types of pneumatic tools they use; the current areas of excavation; and the location of the highest quality gems.
Most raw ore looks like a plain, old rock with a hint of purple.etween 1,000 and 2,000 of raw ore are removed from the mine -- by helicopter -- each year.aw ore is taken to Scottsdale where it is sorted. The best quality is sent overseas for cutting.pproximately one-tenth of 1 percent of mined material ever becomes a finished gem.
After a rest and some food, we set off down the hill. The icy autumn air, the mist in my face and the inspiring vistas all served to invigorate me. It was an awesome experience.