Lifestyle

A Texas Treasure Hunt: Prospecting for Topaz in Mason, Texas

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To hunt topaz in Texas, especially the rare blue topaz found only in Mason County, prospectors need some basic equipment, lots of patience, and at least a moderate case of topaz fever.

I’ve come to Mason to seek a treasure. I bring my boots, shovel, sifter, and rain poncho—and make reservations at the Lindsay Ranch outside of Mason, a requirement for hunting gems on their property. I also arrange to visit the other two rock hunter-friendly ranches in the area and set my sights on finding the state gem of Texas.

Deloris Lindsay greets me warmly. “Let me give you some tips on the best places to search,” she says. Her matter-of-fact cordiality and the fully stocked cabin on Commanche Creek encourage me to start prospecting right away. After a couple of hours sifting and shoveling in a downpour, however, I decide to leave the creek for another day and head into town to continue my adventure.

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Photo: John Spaulding. Mason County Collectibles features the “Grand Azure” blue topaz and other eye-catching stones.

The Mason Square Museum on the town square features artifacts from prehistoric times to Civil War days. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s last command under the U.S. military was in Mason. The history is rich, but the topaz samples are seductive, including the largest topaz ever found in North America (1904): 6,480 carats. This stone was sold by its finder to the Smithsonian Institution for $75. It’s here on loan from the U.S. National Museum of Natural History. In 1969, Texas named the blue topaz its state gemstone.

Just off the town square, I find Sandstone Cellars offers a wide array of Texas red wines, harvested from 13 different vineyards in the nearby hickory sands. A few steps away is the Odeon Theater, the longest continuously operating movie theater in west Texas, built in 1928. It’s best known for the 1957 premiere of “Old Yeller,” based on the beloved children’s story by native son Fred Gipson. Now a nonprofit organization, the Odeon also offers live theater and musicals. Across the square sits Lea-Lou Co-op, a lumberyard repurposed as a popular dance hall and open-air pavilion.

Budding prospectors can work up an appetite, and fortunately the nearby Willow Creek Café is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The original location of the famous Cooper’s Barbecue is also close by.

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Photo: John Spaulding. Deloris and Clay Lindsay with family mementos—some dating back to the 1800s.

Back at the ranch, at Deloris’ suggestion, I join her husband Clay Lindsay in a game of dominoes. As I lean over to catch every word of local and family history, this 93-year-old in the weathered cowboy hat demolishes me in every round. I am clearly dealing with a pro. From age six, he was invited to compete with the men in the domino hall, now the Mason Museum. As he served ice cream, Clay absorbed all the best domino plays. Clay’s roots go back to 1858, when John Gamel, his grandfather and a Mason town founder, bought 15,000 acres for a dollar an acre.

For additional prospecting tips, I head to the Bar M Ranch, where owner Mark Hahn and his cattle dog Zeke are waiting for me. “Topaz originally formed as an impurity in the granite,” Mark explains. “As the granite cooled over the millennia, other pockets of minerals cooled at a different rate, some of them forming into topaz.” He suggests hunting along the creek bed, then digging (the deeper the better) near a sandbar or upstream rocks. Because topaz is heavy, the stones settle behind larger rocks that catch them downstream, especially after a good rain.

Mark’s 1,200 acres have been in family hands since the 1920s, originating with his great-grandfather Geistweidt, also a founder of Mason. Mark opened it up to rock-hounding five years ago at the suggestion of a topaz designer, which helps him defray expenses of the working cattle ranch. “Rock hunters keep whatever they find, as chances of finding a stone are about five percent,” he says. Five percent? I’m undaunted by the odds. Nothing can discourage me, now that I’ve caught the topaz fever.

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Photo: John Spaulding. Mark Hahn of Bar M Ranch, with dog Zeke along for the ride.

The largest topaz found on Mark’s property was as big as his thumbnail. It was discovered by a family from India, whose minivan got stuck in the mud during their visit. While they waited for Mark to help pull them out, they prepared an authentic lunch from ingredients they brought, and shared their meal with their host. Mark laughs, “It was the first time I ever tried Indian food, and it was in the middle of my own pasture.”

In the morning I meet Michael Seaquist at the local Dairy Queen, and we climb into his pickup truck to go to his ranch. Michael tells me his grandfather had pieced together 15 parcels of land from a German immigrant land company in 1849, from which the 1,200 acres of Seaquist Ranch were established. “The largest stone actually found on our ranch was between 50 and 60 carats, next to a large hole dug by another prospector, who did all the work but missed the treasure,” Michael says.

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Photo: John Spaulding. Michael Seaquist offers me a private tour of his ranch.

I couldn’t go home without a visit just off the square to Mason County Collectibles, a shop of jewelry, decor, and whimsy. Here I find the “Grand Azure,” the largest known Mason County faceted topaz at 587 carats.

As for my luck at prospecting on this trip? It was unfortunately limited to smoky quartz and a good bit of shiny granite. However, while I may not have found any topaz, I discovered another kind of treasure in Mason: the people and the land.  Their warm welcome makes it tempting to return, and like any prospector, I can always hope for a big “strike” next time. I had come to Mason to seek a treasure, and I returned home richer than I imagined.

For more info, visit these websites and locations!

Lindsay Ranch

460 Lindsay Ranch Road, Mason, Texas 76856

325-347-5733

 

Bar M Ranch 5309 Old Junction Road, Mason, Texas 76856

325-265-4223

 

Seaquist Ranch

325-347-5413

 

Mason Country Collectibles 424 Ft. McKavitt Street. Mason, Texas 76856

325-347-5249