They glittered, they glowed and they fascinated visitors – the rocks, minerals, and gems at the 2013 Payson Rimstones Gem and Mineral Show.
“I had to buy it,” said many of the visitors as they clutched bags full of treasures from the earth after plunking down their money. Sponsored by the local rockhound club to raise money for scholarships, the show gave local rock lovers a chance to share their passion – and recruit members for their club which meets regularly throughout the year (contact Margaret Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org)
But how did the vendors get into the business of selling rocks?
“It was an accident,” said Barbara Brownell of Aztec Rock and Gem in Oro Valley. She and her husband had a hobby — they loved to explore ghost towns. As they wandered the streets and searched the mines, they would pick up rocks here and there.
One day, when they stopped to have lunch, they pulled a rock out of their pack to get to the food. A passerby noticed the rock and took a keen interest.
“He said, ‘What a neat rock – would you take $40 for that?’ said Brownell, “We were surprised, but we knew where we found it so we said sure,” said Brownell.
That chance encounter inspired their second career.
“It’s addictive,” said the petite lady with sparkling eyes and close cropped hair.
For 20 years, she and her husband George had a tent at the Tucson Rock and Mineral Show.
“We would make $7,000 to $10,000 over the two weeks,” she said.
At the Payson event, her tables groaned with beautiful dark green Malachite chunks. Many clearly had formed because of water dripping.
“Stalactites form, sometimes they stick out,” she said pointing to a slab of green stone that had ripples from being formed on the roof of a cave as water dripped.
In fact, the Malachite the Brownells sold had come from Africa.
Barbara said she and her husband were starting to sell off their collections, though. They had decided it was time to really retire.
“We’re in our mid-70’s,” she said before turning to answer a question a rock collector asked.
The show had pretty much anything an aspiring rock enthusiast could want.
One booth had all the tools needed to turn dull hardened chunks of earth into shiny pieces worthy of jewelry.
That same booth also had settings for earrings, necklaces, bracelets or pendants.
Husbands hovered nervously as wives carefully examined all sorts of rings, necklaces and pendants.
Even stone cups were sold.
“You can still break them,” said one vendor, “They are quite fragile.”
At $20 apiece, he said he has a couple of alabaster goblets, but he never uses them.
While pieces could be purchased on the floor, the education happened in a back room off of the stage.
Carol Jones sat behind a table strewn with fossils and glittering sheets of multi-colored slips of rocks polished to a sheen. Most of her samples were of microbes and bacteria that had turned into minerals over millions of years.
“I got into geology to study old dead stuff,” she said. Jones teaches a geology class at Gila Community College. She said her Coprolite Oligocene specimen generally gets the most attention from her students.
“Translated, it’s called poop stone,” she said.
Although the rock is 30 million years old, it looks just as though a dog had gone out in the morning and left a present for Jones. “Some poor soul thought there were germs still on this rock,” she said with a giggle, “The young man used numerous paper towels to gingerly pick it up.”
She explained that the rock poop came from Montana and formed after sediment covered the excrement and minerals filled in the gap as it dissolved. The other specimens Jones brought to the show included a thin slice of rock that rippled with black, gold and white ribbons.
She said it came from sediment under the sea. Minerals replaced the bacteria to make the mysterious mixture of colors.
As she talked, a cry went up as visitors spun a wheel to win rocks. “I’ll take that bag full of shiny rocks,” said one child to his parents. They added the prize to their bag of goodies. Back in a corner, people peered into a box filled with rocks that glowed under a fluorescent light.
All-in-all a magical day, with the proceeds of the event going toward scholarships for Payson High School students bound to college to study science.