Glenn Taylor finds his old mining claim stake from 1999 during a 2017 mining expedition on the Black Rapids Glacier in the Alaska Range. Glenn and his brother, Joe, have mined rose quartz and pink or green tourmaline from the glacier. Photo courtesy Taylor’s Gold-n-Stones.
Gold and grayling lured brothers Glenn and Joe Taylor to Alaska in the summer of 1979, when, along with their dad, Earl Ellis “Smoky” Taylor, they took a working vacation to prospect the eastern Interior’s Fortymile River.
Fresh fish filled their bellies, and six ounces of gold filled their vial. Without question, the two young men would return.
Lifelong treasure hunters, the brothers grew up scouring the American Southwest for garnets and arrowheads. In the mid-1970s, not long after high school and with their dad’s help, they built a wholesale jewelry store in Sanders, Arizona.
But a family subscription to Alaska magazine inspired dreams—dreams which would crystalize into a multi-faceted gem of Alaskan prospecting and business acumen, crowned by their Fairbanks jewelry store, Taylor’s Gold-n-Stones.
While living in the desert, it was Alaska’s water and fish attracting Glenn. “It started with the need for a vacation. Alaska magazine emphasized exactly what we wanted, and we gobbled it up,” he said.
The brothers closed the jewelry store, bought a truck camper, loaded up a trailer with suction dredges, and hit the Alaska Highway.
Prospecting in the early days
Unlike prospectors flocking north during the Klondike Gold Rush, the Taylor brothers have more than a gold bug.
It started almost immediately, courtesy of a tip at the Chicken Saloon in Chicken, a small mining community along the Taylor Highway near Canada.
“This guy in the bar said he found some amethyst over by Northway.… I got all the information and I went right there,” Joe recalled.
Joe found scant amethyst, but returned for many years to collect smoky quartz in a road cut along the Alaska Highway.
Eventually, the brothers took jobs around Fairbanks—Glenn managed the popular OK Lumber/Ace Hardware, and Joe become manager of the downtown coal bunkers, a winter-centric job allowing extra time for summer searches.
But all along, they planned a return to jewelry by opening another store.
Taylor’s Gold-n-Stones, opened in June 1992, features all the quality wares of a high-end shop and offers cutting-edge jewelry repair. Unique to Taylor’s is the Alaska Gemstone Treasure Line—spectacular creations made from Alaskan gemstones Glenn and Joe personally harvest.
Above the Arctic Circle, north of Nolan Creek in the remote Brooks Range, the brothers purchased their first gemstone mining claims from Jim Hunter in the mid-1990s. The claims produce clear and rutilated quartz. Clear quartz can be heat treated to display shimmering technicolor, transforming into their “Borealis Quartz,” while rutilated quartz is a dynamic crystal pierced with needle-like strands of titanium dioxide.
Hunter sold the crystals to Taylors’ shop, where they would be cut into faceted gemstones. “He was ready to retire, so we just bought the claims from him and mined them ourselves,” Glenn said.
Purchasing the claims was pivotal in focusing the brothers’ ambitions. University of Alaska Fairbanks classes in geology and mountaineering furthered their search, and Joe is a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America.
It was 1998 on Black Rapids Glacier, southeast of Fairbanks near where the Richardson Highway cuts through the Eastern Alaska Range, when Joe and Glenn made a rare, stunning, and valuable discovery—pink and green tourmaline. “It’s like finding an arrowhead, and you’ve looked all day, and all of a sudden, there it is!” Glenn said.
Unfortunately, the find has never been repeated.
“We staked a lot of ground just to protect that find, and we thought we were going to find a lot more, but it never happened.… In the intervening 20 years we’ve never sourced it,” Glenn said.
A new find
Undeterred, the search continued. In 2016, decades of perseverance paid off with a new find.
“A big rose quartz claim coming right out of the mountain. Joe got to it first, and he looked up and took a couple quick snapshots because he wanted to get the hell out of there, because the rocks were coming down, and he didn’t have a helmet on,” Glenn recalled.
The claim is remote and dangerous—7,000 feet high, also on the Black Rapids Glacier. Accessed by helicopter, recovering the crystals requires sleuthing, determination, and diligence.
But finding is not always recovering, and one of the best specimens was never secured.
“We pushed that rock off [in order to] slide it all the way down the hill towards camp, [where there would be] safety from falling rocks,” Glenn said. Try as they might, the rock just slowly sank into the snow. “That’s a big, beautiful piece of rose quartz worth thousands, buried in the damn glacier again,” he recalled.
Age, injury (Joe cracked a rib dodging falling rocks on the glacier), and the pandemic have all slowed the brothers’ search for treasure. But Glenn, 69, and Joe, 64, will never give up the hunt, and are fostering the next generation of prospectors. Joe’s daughter and her partner, both master gemologists, now help run the jewelry store, and may help find the next bonanza.