Monday, January 28, 2013

A Geology POW WOW in Arizona

I took a trip to Quartzsite, Arizona for the famous Pow Wow rock convention. The usual sleepy town of 3,000 balloons to the 3rd largest city in Arizona as rock hounds, hippy rock healers, lapidary tradesman, and collectors descend to the middle of nowhere to trade, bargain, and collect. It’s like a mecca for rock enthusiasts. I confess that I fit that bill. So with permission of our wonderful wives, Ira and I set off for the 15 hour drive in his Jeep Liberty. Ira, a geologist by day and a very enthusiastic agate collector all other times, gave me a Rick Steve’s style look into the gritty (due to all the rocks) underworld of lapidary rough. Rough is uncut rock. We had a great drive out, we stopped for lunch and Andele’s in Las Crusas, which is awesome Mexican food, and then spent the night at my good friend Kent’s domicile. Kent and Carly were excellent host and Carly cooked a fantastic dinner with some kind of home-made bread was insane, I had like 5 pieces. We left at 6:45 am from Chandler to get through Phoenix, I’m a big supporter of HOV lanes, and to get to Quartzsite by opening time. Ira had planned on meeting some of his lapidary rough connections and legends in the business. It has taken Ira several years to get in with some of these guys, and for them to sell him the “good stuff”. My first impression of Quartzsite was it didn’t exist, there was nothing. And then, across the horizon you see a sea of white, miles of RVs organized and unorganized into miniature suburbs. They were endless. The only permanent structures were gas stations and a LDS chapel. We went down main street checking out the vendors selling BBQ and Emu oil. We found a spot at the premier show for raw rocks. Other shows sold less collectable rock, flea market paraphernalia, and RVs. Ira met up with a legend Tom Lane, from Oregon, who sold Ira two pieces of Morrisonite from Oregon. Beautiful jasper slabs with subtle blues and browns, broken into shards and then healed geologically. Very collectable. Tom had been going to the Pow Wow since the 1960’s, where he’d hitch hike down and wheel and deal, leaving with more money and more rock. The show was on 10 acres of parking lot, with open air booths selling rough, slabs, finished cabs, dinosaur bones, slabs of bones, and lapidary equipment. The really nice rocks where often shown by invitation only, you had to either know the vendor like Ira did, or really show you are willing to be a passionate collector. All agates and rough come really from a handful of localities; vendor and collectors alike know what the agates look like from each. Many of the localities are mined out, off limits, or where known by one guy who mined it and then died without telling anyone anything ever. I got a chunk of agate from Bullon Mountains in California that was last mined in 1950 and is now a military base. There are laguna agates, condor agates, baker thunder eggs, coymito agates, and then all varieties of jasper. Personalities abound in the lapidary world. There was Gabe, from Mexico, and his son Martin who mine the laguna and Mexican lace from Northern Mexico and from whom Ira got some great rough and made it into the coveted uhaul to cherry-pick through the new stuff. Alan, from Florida and proudly Jewish, who has been working on getting a world class collection of dinosaur bones, fossilized plants, and some agates. He had some great advice on getting a top notch collection, “Mexican lace agate is like a margarita, but sometimes you like a fine scotch”. Each with a fascinating story that is underlined by a common attribute, the rocks just grabbed their attention and won’t let go. We spent a day and half wondering around, scouting out deals, looking at rocks, going back several times and then buying, and skipping lunch because there was just too many cool rocks. One can get a feeling of an ADHD kid on caffeine in a candy store. We headed back earlier than expected, mostly due to the fact that we ran out of money. We stopped by Deming, NM to seeing Bill Anderson’s world class collection of Baker thunder eggs. By world class, I mean you see his 1,500 square foot house and wonder how the foundation isn’t warped down by all the rocks. All the best specimens were collected by Bill, cut and polished by Bill, and on display at Bill’s house. It was a very impressive collection. Bill and his son Will collect from their claim 3 days a week and cut and polish the other 3 days. We were fortunate to see such a museum quality collection and Bill and his son were very hospitable. Bill spent 30 years in Alaska as a mining engineer hunting for gold, and was apparently very good at it. Strung across his property are piles of rough agates from various mines and digs, he shares his find with Tim and his wife who run the rock shop by the Rock Hound State Park in New Mexico. We stopped there to check out their collection and to see Brutus, the English Bull Mastiff. Brutus fortunately didn’t eat me but I thought that he might I can still see his red eyes staring at me. Our final adventure was an attempt to access Kilburn hole to collect perdiot xenoliths but some rancher blocked all the county roads. So to console our bad luck we dined at Rudy’s in El Paso and high-tailed it home. Great trip made more exciting by Ira, Ira’s colleagues in the agate world, and some cool looking rocks. I now have a lot of slabs for Christmas presents, so get your request in early!
Typical setup for a booth
Ira, Alan, Hanus looking a condor agates from Argentina
Larger specimens from Bill Anderson's collection
Brutus to Bull Mastiff watching over the rock shop.


M and W said...

Sounds like you had a ton of fun!! You should post more pictures!

Lone Star said...

And now I know there is an underground agate market. The "Sturgis" of the geology world, I just hope Ira didn't talk you into a matching Trilobite tatoo.

Mountain Birdie said...

Hey Ben,
Sounds like we have a trip planned next year. I would love to get some gem quality raw rock to work on.

Tiffany said...

Thats is the craziest thing I have ever seen! People do this for fun? Was this required for work? :)

.:Anna:. said...

OMg... the rock people... they're real!

Where did you find them, under a rock... hahahhahaha.



So Bill drilled in Alaska???