Topaz is the official gemstone of Texas as well as the birthstone for the month of November. This beautiful gemstone is found only among the granite hills and sandy creek beds of Mason County — in the geologic region of the state known as the Llano Uplift. The town of Mason, the county seat, is about an hour’s drive from Fredericksburg in the beautiful Texas Hill Country.
Topaz was found in greater abundance in Mason County at the turn of the twentieth century. Old-timers speak of stumbling across topaz stones while looking for arrowheads in creek beds. In those days, however, there was a greater demand for arrowheads. Topaz was just another pretty rock.
Today, topaz hunters have to look a little harder and dig a little deeper to find this stone. Topaz resembles shards of broken glass or frozen water, thus earning it the nickname “Desert Ice.” Topaz, however, also occurs naturally in a variety of colors including blue, orange, brown, green, beige, and red. A good place to look for topaz is around granite outcroppings in creek beds and ditches.
Digging for topaz has been on my wife Cheryl’s list of Texas adventures for quite some time. So, we finally made the time to head to Mason County to try our hand at searching for the Texas State Gem. We set out with the understanding that topaz is hard to find and that we would be content to just share this adventure together.
Cheryl arranged for us to dig at the Seaquist Ranch in Mason County. The Seaquist family left their native Sweden at the turn of the twentieth century and settled in Mason County. The family still owns and operates their ranch located a few miles outside of the town of Mason. People have enjoyed rock hunting on the Seaquist Ranch since the 1970’s.
Our adventure began at eight in the morning. We met Jean Seaquist in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen in Mason, paid our $20 per person fee, and set off for the ranch. Jean personally escorted us to an area of the ranch known as Topaz Gulch — a creek bed snaking its way through the rugged hills at the base of pink granite outcroppings.
After our orientation, we set up our base camp — our canopy, camp chairs, and ice chest filled with fruit, water, and gatorade to beat the heat. And then we collected our gear and set off for the creek bed. We worked an hour at a time, digging and sifting material in our soil sifters. We found lots of pretty rocks and some that might be topaz. We’ll know more when we’ve had time to clean and examine our haul.
All in all, this was a fun and affordable adventure. Like fishing, you have to be prepared to just enjoy the experience regardless of whether you catch anything. The best part of the adventure was the anticipation of finding something and spending lots of quality time together. We both agreed that we’d like to share this adventure again in the future. And that is priceless!
Small towns are a big deal for those of us who love exploring the Lone Star State. There is usually more history tucked away in small towns than most folks realize. The town of Mason is a case in point. Located on the western side of the beautiful Texas Hill Country, Mason is steeped in some interesting Texas history.
Mason is known as the “Gem of the Hill Country” — in part because Mason County is the only place in Texas where you can find Topaz, the Texas State Gem. But also because it is a gem in other senses of the word. Mason sparkles with culture, history, friendly folks, and a town square regarded as one of the five most beautiful squares in Texas by Texas Monthly Magazine.
Mason Square is really cool. The beautiful county courthouse, built in 1910, is surrounded by early twentieth-century buildings that have been repurposed as restaurants, art and antique shops, museums, and more. My wife and I enjoyed a delicious meal at the Willow Creek Cafe located in one of the old buildings across the street from the courthouse. Eating at this cafe is a definite must if you visit Mason.
If you enjoy shopping for cool stuff, then be sure to stop by Mason Country Collectibles. This is one amazing place crammed full of all kinds of old stuff, antique items, books, gems, art work, and a zillion other things. While there, be sure to ask for a peek at the 587-caret Grand Azure — the most beautiful piece of Topaz ever found in Mason County. Whether you like picking or not, you owe it to yourself to stop and look around this fascinating place.
If you love old heart-warming stories, you’ll be happy to know that Fred Gipson, one of the finest novelists in America, was born on a farm near Mason. Gipson wrote Old Yeller in 1956. A year later, Disney released a film version of the book, introducing Gipson’s story about a dingy yellow dog to a wider audience. A statue of Old Yeller and Travis, his human companion, greet visitors to the Mason Library.
The site of Fort Mason sits atop a hill overlooking the town. This fort was established in 1851 to protect settlers from Indians and to encourage the development of this vast and sparsely settled region of the state. Settlers often sought refuge at the fort during frequent Indian raids. Fort Mason was also Robert E. Lee’s last command post in the U.S. Army before the Civil War. Today, the only thing that remains at the site is a reproduction of the officers’ quarters. Worth a visit!
There is a whole lot more to discover in Mason and the surrounding area. So, if you find yourself traveling through Central Texas or are looking for an interesting destination for a day trip or vacation, add Mason to your travel plans. Be sure to schedule your trip from Thursday through the weekend when more of the local shops are open to weekend visitors. It won’t take you long to discover why Mason is indeed the Gem of the Hill Country.