From a distance, it doesn’t look like much. Tall, grayish rock piles, maybe 40 feet long, stand next to each other at the edge of a grassy field. But get up close, catch the light just right, and you’ll see that they glitter with golden treasures. And if you’re lucky – which is pretty much a guarantee – you’ll be taking them home by the bucket-load.

Ruck’s Pit, in Fort Drum, is the site of a former mining operation for the fossilized shell rock commonly used in our state’s roadbeds. But long ago, its owners discovered something special: fossilized clams the size of your hand, filled with honey-colored calcite crystals. A treasure unique to our state.

Ruck’s Pit is the only known place in the world to find such fossils, which geologists estimate at over 1.5 million years old.

How to find what you’re looking for:

  • Walk over the piles, keeping a keen eye on the ground. Catch a glimpse of gold and pick it up.
  • Use the provided hoses to loosen and wash rock and gravel from the sides of the hills. A garden hoe will help move material and reveal what lies beneath.

What you’ll find:

  • Loose, gem-quality calcite crystals and crystal clusters. Some individual crystals can be over an inch long.
  • Large, fossilized clams filled with calcite crystal
  • Other fossilized shellfish, like whelks and olive shells. On rare occasions, you’ll find one of these filled with tiny crystals.

Tips for happy hunting:

  • Wear comfortable clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty. Because they will.
  • Boots – or other shoes with ankle support – are a good idea. Loose rocks can give you a twist.
  • Wear gloves. The tiny, fossilized shells that make up the rock can have rough edges.
  • Bring a hammer, chisel, hoe and flathead screwdriver. The driver is a valuable tool for carefully loosening the dirt and rock around your fragile finds.
  • Bring buckets. For adults, the mine charges $30 for a five-gallon bucket. For kids under 12, it’s $15.
  • Bring newspapers. Calcite is “soft” crystal and easily scratched. Wrap your finds before they go in your bucket.
  • Bring a cooler and plenty to drink. You’re in the middle of nowhere. ‘Nuff said.
  • Wear sunscreen. While there are shade pavilions, when you get the “crystal fever,” you’ll forget how long you’ve been standing in the sun.

Ruck’s Pit is in the midst of a transformation and will eventually become a full-service campground. There’s already a swimming beach at the lake, so if you get too hot, you can take a dip. The lake is also stocked with bass, bluegill, catfish and tilapia for catch-and-release fishing.

It’s a pretty informal operation, and its owners are not always on-site. So it’s a good idea to call ahead and let them know you’ll be there. They’ll stop in to collect the mining fee. Bring cash. Exact change is best. It’s that informal.

The mine is typically open seven days, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call  (863) 634-4579