The Tucson experience is measured in so many different ways and obviously, minerals play a huge part and yet, beyond this, it's the friends I meet, both old and new, that truly announces, at least for me, that I've made it, that I'm really back! This year's show was as awesome and memorable as I've come to expect and I had a terrific time during the 29 days of my trip. As I write, working away from home in Utah, as simple a thing as fresh snow falling against the rocky flanks of the Wasatch Front sends my mind a' wandering and takes me back, back to Tucson, and slowly a smile starts to cross my face...
It dawned a cold day, the 16th of January, the day I left Port Angeles, and I was truly thankful I'd packed the truck the night before. We had fresh snow in the yard and the Olympic Mountains glistened brightly in the morning sun, a truly majestic sight. While warming up the ol' Chevy S-10, I scraped the windows free of ice. I said my last, my most agonizing good-byes, before almost reluctantly climbing in and closing the door. I shifted 'er into gear and waving, I hit the road for Tucson. The drive east and then south wasn't too bad. I hit some dicey weather around Olympia, our Washington State capitol and then about 40 miles south of that, things cleared up and I was soon tooling right along. All this was about to change however as the storm once again announced its Wintry presence. By the time I neared Vancouver, Washington, the weather took a change from bad to worse and things got down right ugly outside. There were several accidents and the snow was thick, both in the sky and on the road. In 4-wheel drive and with good tires, I faired well enough and was truly happy when I arrived at our friends, Ted and Leslie Huck's place, where I'd be spending my first night. We had a wonderful evening together and enjoyed a terrific dinner before finally, tired, I headed off to bed, a full day awaiting me tomorrow. Outside the snow continued to softly fall.
I was on the road before 7:00 the next morning and was soon motoring south. While a wee challenge, surprisingly it wasn't that bad of a drive getting through the Portland, Oregon area. After that, mile after mile passed until eventually I neared the mountainous area separating Oregon from California and there, everything went white-knuckle again with thick cloying fog and more fresh falling snow. This high anxiety weather pattern continued across the border before finally, around Weed, California, things cleared and the road once again opened up, the miles falling away. This was a monster travel day and before I'd finish, I'd chew up fourteen hours. Being on the road that long, on an occasion, I've seen some pretty weird stuff, still I must admit, I was quite surprised when I neared the Sacramento area and started seeing the big flashing Department of Transportation emergency road signs announcing that I-5 was closed up ahead due to freezing ice and snow! Weird!
I figured the signs had been hacked, but no, I learned later that there is a mountainous area located further south which I-5 winds through called the "Grapevine", this is where treacherous weather had created conditions which ultimately resulted in innumerable accidents, finally forcing the closure of the interstate all together. Thankfully, I'd not be traveling that far south. Still, it was well after dark when the lights and signs of Lost Hills, California loomed bright and there finally, I exited and secured a room for the evening. Tomorrow would be another full day, my travels taking me all the way to Blythe, California, just west of Quartzite, Arizona, where I'd be meeting up with friends who were also on their way to Tucson for the big show. There, that evening, we all got together for dinner, among other topics, we yakked about the sights they'd already seen while visiting Quartzite. Disappointedly, they related that it wasn't so much what they'd seen ( not much ), but rather it was the lack of people attending the show that seemed so incredulous. There just didn't seem to be anyone there. Attendance seemed to be down below even last year's low ( which I thought a shadow of the year before ). Still, it didn't help that the weather this year had been such a challenge, full of wind and rain and unfortunately, this pattern would continue.
On Friday the 19th, I woke to cold and rain. By the time I got to Quartzite and the Desert Gardens Gem and Mineral Show ( http://www.ci.quartzsite.az.us/shows.htm ), a fierce wind had joined the duo and this mean trio made a miserable day for most folks. Being on the road, and with a schedule to boot, weather or no weather, this was my time to visit the show. And truth to tell, there wasn't much to see. The place was a ghost town with only a few hearty souls braving the deluge and most of them were covering their stands, displays and tables. One of the good folks I did find, and had been looking for, was Judy of Judy's Crystals N' Things ( http://www.judyscrystals.com ). Judy works with a man named Ray McGrew who makes digging tools, bars and such ( http://www.judyscrystals.com/diggingtools.html ). I'd heard great things about these Arkansas digging bars from my friend Mike Streeter ( http://www.mcrocks.com ) and wanted to pick up several for my own. Finding her at her booth and willing to stand in the rain to show me her product allowed me to do just that and I must say, I've no complaints regarding these little numbers! Also found were the folks of ROC 3000 from France with an impressive sprawling display of rich purple colored Uruguay amethyst geodes. As I walked through, admiring table after heavily laden table of cavernous crystal treasure, I found two examples which I thought exceptional. One was priced at $6000 and was beyond me, still, what a killer! Not so much for its dark purple amethyst color, with its zoning and goethite (?) inclusions, not for its small 1/2 to 3/4 inch epimorphs of colorless sparkling drusy quartz after rhombic shaped calcites, but rather for its associated, incredibly luscious, neon orange ( like orange kool-aid! ) pseudo-hexagonal tabular crystals of calcite forming a magnificent group of stacked individuals approximately 2 by 3 inches across. Snuggled amongst this sea of uprearing purple points as these calcites were, they made for an incredible, visually intoxicating feast of color and form!
Thankfully the other specimen I found, which I did purchase, while not as colorful, at least to me, was as equally appealing. This one, buried among the multitude was quite unimpressive, in fact, I'd walked right by it. It was only as I looked back from the next row of specimens that I saw and immediately realized the potential of this little geode jewel! Comically, the folks back at the mine had missed the obvious and had formed their signature cement base on the top of this specimen, rather then correctly orienting it upon its base, because of this, the awesome calcite within, overgrown by sparkling clear drusy quartz and nearly three inches tall sitting beside a tennis ball sized spiky amethyst burr, was hidden beneath an overhanging matrix roof and was nearly impossible to see. Turn the specimen over, or in my case, stand fifteen feet away, and ta-da, a whole new rock! I bought this little beauty, about 10 inches tall, wide and deep for the very fair price of $120! I was happy and felt the risk of purchase would be more then offset if I could only trim this little bugger down to the killer cabinet sized specimen I see within. Time would tell, that and a lot of work and so, my treasure packed away and no more fun to be had in the desolation that was Quartzite, I hit the road and made the run from there straight to Tucson.
Ah, the satisfaction I felt as I turned off the road and into the Inn Suites parking lot. I'd made it, another year participating in the world's largest show, the mineral, fossil and gem extravaganza that is Tucson, I'm back!
Scott Kleine of Great Basin Minerals ( http://www.greatbasinminerals.com ) had already checked in to the Inn Suites ( http://www.mzexpos.com/arizona.htm ) and as we'd pre-arranged, he let me stay at his place before splitting in the morning and checking into my own room. Both our rooms have double beds, since he wasn't tearing his room down tonight, Scott let me crash in the other bed. It saved me a night's lodging and that way I can offer Scott a dinner later in the show, thanking him for his consideration. The next morning, Saturday, I checked into my room, #186 and immediately tore it apart and called the guys over at Tucson Store Fixtures ( http://www.tucsonstorefixtures.com ) to let them know I was in town and that they could come on over, bringing my five display cases as soon as possible. With a few minutes to spare, I jumped in the shower and washed the road away. Afterwards, with the room torn down and the cases in place, my real fun began... cleaning glass! And the hours slowly passed... One terrific highlight of the day, I've already made my first sales!
Sunday the 21st was another cold day of winds and rain until finally, the weather turned uglier yet and it began to snow in downtown Tucson! We had about 3/4's of an inch accumulate and it looked quite pretty all white and fluffy set against the backdrop of palms and orange trees. Inside the room, the door was flung wide and the Windex fumes were startlingly strong! But, panel by panel, shelf by shelf, the room was really starting to come together. More specimens came out from their boxes as the hours passed and slowly the room began to fill with color as a shelf here and a shelf there took shape. I had more sales today too, a blessing any day, and had the good fortune of seeing several friends as they cruised through checking for treasure, one of these, Barbera Munytan, even had a heck of a good idea and soon had me smiling from ear to ear! Just like most folks with new treasure, I was a bit smitten with my new crystal purchase and offered to show her my geode. When I did so, as she looked the piece over, Barbera's eyes began to twinkle, then she said magic words, and offered to trim my geode for me! Like me, she saw the specimen within and mentioned she'd be very willing to try her hand at bringing forth my prize if only I would trust her. Heck yeah Barbera, heck yeah! And just like that, I was loading my geode into Barbera's car, and its next steps towards becoming treasure were being realized. I was thrilled and was counting the minutes waiting to see how she'd fare, Barbera had said to be patient, but just like a little kid, I was sooo excited!
The room was really starting to come together and so, with things going so well, I grabbed Scott and we went out to dinner to one of my absolute favorite Tucson restaurants, Shogun Sushi! The next day, Monday, my work continued in the room. With the glass finally 100% cleaned, the joyous time consuming duty of bringing all the remaining specimens out from their flats and loading them into the cases began. I love this part of set up as it is so very satisfying, watching the entire evolution of the room going from a place of rest to a business show room featuring some of the finest mineral treasures known. A splash of pink here and a bright flare of green and blue there, purples and reds, coppers, silvers and golds; beautiful!
Needing a rest from time to time to stretch my legs, I'll often putter around the Inn Suites checking out who else has arrived. On one of my walks, I found my good friend Joe Dorris of Pinnacle 5 Minerals ( http://users.frii.com/glacier/Index/GlacierHomePage/GlacierHomePage.htm ). Joe was also in the midst of setting up his room and welcomed a break. We yakked about this and that coming up to speed on the excitements of the last several months ( we'd last seen each other at the big Fall Denver Show in Colorado, http://mcrocks.com/ftr06-2/CornishSeptember06.html ). While we talked, Joe pulled out some real treasure, trophy specimens that he'd mined from his claims, exquisite amazonite and smoky quartz combination specimens that are among the finest examples of their type known. Joe mines these treasures in Colorado with his sons, Tim and Scott and recently, in a cooperative effort with Bryan Lee's and the boys over at Collector's Edge ( http://www.collectorsedge.com/indexflash.cfm ). Joe is as decent an individual as you'll ever meet in or out of the mineral business and it's with all my heart that I wish him and his family all the very best as they continue their pegmatitic explorations, you're going to hear some really great bigger and better things about these folks in the days upcoming!
Later that night, Scott and I set out to visit with friends of ours, John and Lyn Kilian ( http://www.kiliancollection.com ). They'd recently moved from Washington State to the Tucson area and this would be our first time visiting their new place. It was beautiful and the dinner Lyn prepared was awesome and so very welcome. With all the work they had setting up their own room at the Inn Suites, I think we were all amazed that Lyn had found the time to make such an exceptional meal. This would be one of the rare times that it was just nice to sit and relax. Tucson is such a busy and hectic time that it is all too easy sometimes to forget how important sharing quality time with friends really is. This was one of the most enjoyable evenings I had during the entirety of my stay.
The next several days seemed to blur, one event merging into another. I can tell you however that we visited another of our favorite Tucson institutions when we made the trek to Lil Abners for BBQ, yum, yum, yummy! The next night we went out to eat with Jeff Scovil ( http://www.scovilphoto.com ) afterwards, Jeff came by and picked out another of my Rat's Nest heulandites for his collection and rather then money, I offered to trade the specimen for a photograph. He accepted. Cool!
As always when needing a break, I rambled around. I stopped over at Scott's room to see how things were going and found my timing perfect as a friend of Scott's, Keith Wentz, someone who Scott had wanted me to meet, was in his room and setting up a couple shelves with treasures that he'd recently collected. Before me were stellar, brilliant blue linarites and otherworldly colored gemmy greenish-blue caledonite combination specimens by the dozens. Beyond a doubt, this was the largest single offering of these two beautiful, uncommon to rare minerals I'd ever seen. I was very impressed and I know I wasn't the only one as Tom Moore of the Mineralogical Record magazine ( http://www.minrec.org ) wrote these up in the ever popular "What's New in Minerals" column featuring this year's Tucson show, there a photograph of one of these killer specimens is also shown.
Other specimens in his room were as equally fine. Scott had recently secured a fantastic lot of older bright golden-yellow barites from the Miekle Mine which just glowed
within his display cases. Dozens of other exquisite specimens could additionally be found among this golden throng, including beautiful, startlingly gorgeous, glowing red hematite phantomed gemmy yellow calcites from Missouri, or how about a monster, approximately 75 pound Elmwood barite, fluorite and sphalerite specimen, they were all there looking fine!