Pebbles.  Nothing but tiny blue pebbles.

Jake Hoover clenched his fist and glared at the arid mountains surrounding him.  A dry wind swept through the valley, kicking up dust.  His pack mule shuffled its feet and emitted one of its annoying brays.  Overhead, a golden eagle screed, mocking him.

He’d known before setting out for Montana that earlier prospectors hadn’t found much in the way of gold.  But, darn it, by now — 1895 — the gold was mostly gone from California, Colorado and Wyoming.  Montana offered Jake’s last hope to cash in on the riches reported in the newspapers.

Prospectors had already collected most of the easy gold in Helena, Butte and Bannack, so Jake had decided to search the dry gravel beds in nearby Yogo Gulch.  His sieves had yielded some gold.  More often, however, his back-breaking work produced little more than a pile of blue pebbles.

Opening his hand, he scowled at the stones.  They were pretty in an odd sort of way, the blue tinged with purple, sort of like the sky when a storm was brewing.  With a shrug, he tossed them into a pouch.  Maybe he’d find a use for them.

A hundred and twenty years later, we can give thanks to this little-known gold hunter.  For Jake Hoover wasn’t the only prospector to have found blue pebbles dotting the Yogo Gulch gravel beds.  He was the only one, however, who saved them. He sent a box to a New York gemologist for evaluation.

Turns out that those tiny blue pebbles were sapphires.  But not just any sapphires.  The sapphires from Yogo, Montana, are among the rarest in the world.

When we hear the word “sapphire,” most of us picture a dark blue gemstone.  But sapphires come in an array of colors — yellow, pink, orange, purple and green.  They also come in red, but we call those “rubies.”

These gorgeous yellow sapphires were mined in Montana.

Yogo sapphires add a new color to the array:  cornflower blue.  So far, this color hasn’t appeared in sapphires found elsewhere in the world.

Yogos are also unique in that they are essentially flawless.  When most sapphires form in the earth, needle-fine lines form.   Jewelers call these lines “silk” and expect to see them in natural sapphires and rubies.  Yogos are the one exception.

I’ve never actually seen a Yogo sapphire.  So imagine my excitement when reader Barb Claude wrote to say she’d just bought one!

Barb and her husband Joe were traveling in Montana when they learned about Yogo sapphires.  A sapphire fan, Barb sought out a store that sold them.  Joe earned his place among the ranks of “super hubbies” by buying her a necklace.

Isn’t the necklace gorgeous?  I love Barb’s delighted smile.

Here’s a closeup of Barb’s necklace. I love the unusual color of the sapphires.

Even Jake Hoover, our unhappy prospector, learned to love that shade of blue when Tiffany & Co. offered to buy his box of pebbles.  They paid him close to $3,800 — more than double the amount he would have made from gold.

His gold-filled dreams had turned blue.