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An example of the signature deep purple color of the Four Peaks amethyst. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

Gemology for Beginners

As I headed south from Sedona to Phoenix, I was getting ready to immerse myself in the world of gems. Not gems as simple adornment — though that’s where I began — but as powerful conduits of healing energy.

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Stephenie Bjorkman shows me a photo of Four Peaks mine prior to our trip. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

“It’s like walking into a giant geode,” said Stephenie Bjorkman, president of the family-owned boutique, Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills, Arizona. She was talking about the Four Peaks Amethyst Mine we’d be visiting today.

Four Peaks, located in a remote area in the Matatzal mountains, is the only commercially run amethyst mine in North America.

The store organizes tours through the mines twice a year (in April and September), when the owner of the mine, Kurt Cavano, needs to helicopter in supplies and ship out the accumulated amethyst that’s been harvested. Otherwise, the hike out to the mine, which the miners do at least once a month, is a grueling one. 

“We’re like one big family,” Stephenie said. “It’s such a small community, all deals are sealed with a simple handshake.”

I was with three other people — every one of them Phoenix locals who had never been to the mine (less than 300 people have been to the mines so far). “We really just want to share our love for this unique place with the community,” Stephenie said. “It’s amazing to me how few people in the area even know it exists.”

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Supplies and visitors are helicoptered in to the mine twice a year. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

On our way out to the helicopter, our driver, Dave, said the unique characteristics of the Four Peaks amethyst — namely its intense violet hue. “The purple color comes from a high concentration of manganese, and the magenta flash is from the dense iron ore,” he explained. As far as he knows, he said, this unique combination only occurs in the Ural Mountains — and right here in Arizona.

“Amethysts have been a documented part of life since the Greeks named them amethystos, which means ‘without intoxication,’” Dave continued. “They thought if you wore them while drinking wine, you could avoid getting tipsy, [though] I’ve never been sure why this was desirable,” he finished with a laugh.

After a short but stunning helicopter flight over stark mountains, we touched down and were greeted by Kurt and two miners, Mike and Linus. Kurt explained that the ton of amethyst mined each year only yielded two handfuls of gem-quality stones.

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Kurt holds up a good find. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

Kurt emphasized that he takes land stewardship very seriously. “We are in the middle of designated forest land, so we try to keep our impact to a minimum,” he said. “That’s why there’s no running water and no electricity up here.”

He led us on a short tour of the mine, including the spot where they’d recently discovered a significant vein, and then instructed us on how to harvest our own gems.

Though Mike and Linus made it look easy, I was a bit discouraged by the crumbly mess I was making with my screwdriver and chisel. Their enthusiasm for the hunt was infectious, and for a brief moment I contemplated living on this small ledge in the cliff and spending my days searching for the perfect amethyst.

We headed back to the helicopter, quarry in hand. When we had arrived safely back at the landing pad, Stephenie offered to take me by her mother’s house. “My mom started selling jewelry from the trunk of her car and eventually built the business into what it is today,” Stephenie explained. “She really believes in the power of these gems and knows all about it.”

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The pool area at the Sanctuary, with Camelback mountain in the background. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

After a warm greeting at her door, Sami introduced me to her pomegranate tree. It was on its last legs until she encircled it with amethyst chunks from the mine. “As soon as I placed those around the little guy, he perked right up,” she explained. Since that success, Sami has scattered the stones throughout her yard with similar results.

I decided it was time to feel the power of the gems for myself, so I booked an amethyst body treatment with Marie Bernat at the Copperwynd Resort & Club. Bernat specializes in biofeedback using techniques she picked up under the tutelage of Deepak Chopra and other famed healers.

As she started slathering my body in the ground up gems, she explained that amethysts are known as “power crystals” due to the strength of their “healing powers for purification and transition.” After the relaxing and invigorating experience in Marie’s hands, I decided I wanted more.

So I signed on for a luxury gem facial at the Sanctuary at Camelback in Scottsdale. Before beginning, my practitioner placed warm crystals on three of my chakras (my heart, which represents giving and receiving, my solarplex, which represents self-confidence, and my sacrum, which represents relationships), then used temperature controlled stones on my face to decrease and increase blood flow.

When she was through, I felt like the Arizona sun that had bathed the crystals had somehow been transferred to me.

The Curious Traveler is driving a Ford C-MAX Hybrid on her Road to Wellness tour.