Living in Southern Oregon, I can’t make it to Tucson Arizona in one day. I have a special campsite by a big Joshua Tree, which, if I make it that far in one day, I’ve done good. It’s about 12 or 14 hours from my home, and is about 5 miles east of the junction called “Four Corners” which is the intersection of Hwy 58, and Hwy 395, in southern California. The joshua tree, which must be about 20 feet tall, has that “ancient being” sort of presence. My wife instantly loved the big tree, and convinced us one year to pick up all the spent shells and garbage around the tree, which we did. It took several hours. After that, we were somehow “invested” in this landscape, and this wonderful old tree. It’s like coming back to a part of myself.
Another favorite landmark is Picacho Peak, about 45 miles from Tucson. I stop here only infrequently, but always seem to get a little giddy when I drive past, probably because I’m a somewhat nuts from being in the car so long at this point, and sighting the peak means I’m getting very close to Tucson!
This year, I arrive early in Tucson, and luck out by finding some gorgeous BLM land to camp on, very near to the city. I’m just below Tucson Mountain Park, and the morning sunrise illuminates low hills lush with Saguaros, Chollas, Palo Verde, and many other lovely desert flora.
Since I’m so early, and there’s nothing going on, I stop in at mineral dealer Stan Esbenshade’s warehouse, to see if he needs any help getting ready for the shows. Here, Stan gives his good old Doberman, Sadie, a bite of pizza. Note the head propped on the knee – evidence that the morsel is evidently taking far too long to descend!
I’m in luck and I get a job! I get put to work breaking down massive galena from Reynolds County, Missouri, into shiny, cleaved cubes of various sizes. Later I’ll load cubes of like sizes into mineral flats, ready to be priced, and put out onto the shelves for the show. Everything is saved – even the “galena patter” which is the tiny pieces that fall onto the floor. Stan has buckets of tiny chips and crumbs from all the processing of minerals that goes on in the warehouse. He claims he has customers who specifically buy this mineral “sand”.
Just about the time I begin to think that I’m probably breathing in too much lead dust, Stan comes back and gets me, saying that “It’s time to do something a little more happy!” I get to go hi tech and work with the microabrasive unit. Stan has cases and cases of large cubic galena specimens that would be beautiful, except that they are tarnished dark gray, with oxidation. The air abrasive tank utilizes a fine plastic “sand” that blasts out of a spray nozzle, and busts off any crud and oxidation from the surface, leaving a beautiful shine on these wonderful, natural galena cubes.
Unfortunately, I only have my cell phone camera, and it is dusk out on the back dock of the warehouse, by the time I am finished. But as you can see, I managed to clean up several very nice large galenas – some of them weighing eight or ten pounds. These will fetch a nice price at the shows.
After dark, I head to Govindas for dinner. It’s a spiritual center with residents that also operate a natural foods buffet. There are myriad restaurants in Tucson, and I’ll probably have some meat another night, since I’m not completely vegetarian. But I like the relaxed atmosphere here, and I also like the fact that the chefs have a prayer time before entering the kitchen. That’s something that few restaurants can claim. The food is flavorful and healthy. It’s kind of like India meets the Moosewood Restaurant (Ithaca New York).
In the days that follow, waves of rain come through the desert. It’s just a few days before the shows will officially open, and inclement weather always compresses the set up time on the front end. I understand – I’d be set up sooner if it was warm and sunny too. But also, I’m ready to look at some mineral specimens!
I don’t know how common it is to have fog in the desert, but it caused a little cognitive dissonance in me. Felt more like Oregon!
In town, as I head around to some of the shows, that are just beginning to open up, the washes are running! Some of the streets are flowing like small rivers. Things look a little grim!
The weather clears up, though – just in time for some of the official jumpstarts which signal the opening of shows. Here a crowd forms at an early morning jumpstart opening at the Tucson Electric Park. Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all.
You have to be fast, or they’ll grab it right out from under you! Here, at the room of a malachite dealer, things are going at a pell mell pace. Just as fast as the poor dealer can get it out, buyers are snapping it up. It’s a feeding frenzy!
To celebrate the fact that we managed to avoid any really nasty scuffles over malachite, we all go out to dinner. I’ve heard that in China they have a saying: “Friends first. Competitors second.” Most mineral dealers try to go by that. This fine group of mineral dealers is largely from Oregon, and Northern California.
Here we go again. Everybody’s lined up at the Oracle Show. The gate opens and the rush is on!
At this opening, free lunch is provided, with Mariachi music! It imbibes the show with the spirit of good will, and hopefully distracts the buyers from trampling each other! Once again, we manage to survive.
In the morning, before heading out to the shows, I take a short walk. Interestingly enough, just a few hundred yards from my campsite, I spot of vein of chrysocolla!
Southern Arizona is definitely copper country, so it’s not entirely surprising, but none-the-less fun to do a little unexpected rockhounding.
At the Inn Suites show, some odd looking cargo is stashed on the volley ball court. The Inn Suites is now called the Hotel Tucson City Center. Wait another year, and it will most likely change its name again, as most of the hotels seem to in Tucson.
Busting out of bubble wrap! Let the show begin!
What did I buy in Tucson? Since my cell phone camera is not good for macro photography, I didn’t take many mineral photos this year, because I didn’t want to annoy you with lots of out-of-focus photos. But I thought you might like to see a short gallery of finds that I have made in past years. What’s not to like about these home grown chalcanthites? Being a pentahydrate, chalcanthite wants to give off water pretty badly. So it is unlikely that I will be able to keep this piece in pristine condition. It will most likely begin to etch, and desiccate. But for the now moment, I love this big blue bladed ball!
This would just be a nondescript cluster of white, opaque calcite, but the anhydrite twin makes it special. From the Naica mining district, Chihuahua, Mexico. About 8 or 10 years ago, these lovely pale blue anhydrites were relatively abundant on the mineral market. But the mining operations must have blown past the zone, because they dried up, and it was very difficult to find one. Then, a couple or three years back, I heard word that miners were again in the zone, and to expect to see anhydrite back on the market. For the last couple years at least, these have again become available. Now if they could just go back and dig up the old price! (wink)
About three years ago, at the Days Inn show, a new Chinese dealer showed up, offering a few of these marvelously delicate aragonites. This piece wasn’t cheap, but I went for it, as I had not seen a specimen of this delicacy before, and have not seen this sort of thing being offered since. Once, I saw a similar specimen when I was bellying through a mine tunnel out in the Dugway Mountains, in Utah. I left it there because there would have been no way to collect it without destroying it. I don’t know how this dealer got this piece from China to the United States undamaged. He must have carried it on his lap in the plane!
A beautiful rutilated quartz, from the remote digs in Bahia, Brazil. I got this piece over a decade ago, when the Congress Street Expo was still in place, before that show had to move out to the Electric Park. Judging by today’s pricing, rutilated quartz seems to ask a value that is trying to close in on gold! Suppliers tell me that buyers are perched in the small village nearest to the diggings over in Bahia, and they will buy up mine production right on the spot at $1000 per kilo. A lot of the best material never even makes it to market.
Out in the desert, removed from the hub-bub of the shows, I appear to be contemplating the rise of mineral dealers and where it is all going to. Four years of recession in the US has not helped the shows at Tucson. This year, dealers did not bring over as much new material, and relied on their storage units instead. While shows at Tucson have proliferated, buyers have scaled back, or dropped off. On a graph, those two lines form an X, and dealers wish that they would be more parallel. For now, the greatest gemshow on earth is still resonant with promise, and should continue to call to all who love this sort of thing. A dealer friend of mine called Tucson “the Hogwarts Castle of the mineral world”. And to be sure, there is still plenty of hocus pocus for rock lovers. Are the shows really supported by magic? Well, from my observations, a sort of strange effect occurs that has been called “Tucson fever”. Dealers go to Tucson expecting to get the highest prices you ever saw for their best minerals. Buyers come to Tucson expecting to get the lowest prices you ever saw for their minerals. Somewhere in between, the twain shall meet, and nobody ever knows exactly where that will be.
Morning sun rises on the day that I must leave. It’s always a little bittersweet, but I can’t stay down in this desert forever. I’ve got a very busy round of spring shows to get ready for. Work is calling!
I’ll hope to see you in the field, or meet you at a show! Happy rockhounding!