I left my driveway at exactly 9:30 Saturday morning and arrived at the Mesa Community College parking lot at exactly 10:00. Over the past few years, the show has expanded so that vendors now fill not only the uncovered parking area but one full section of the covered area. (I'm pretty sure the shade structures also support solar panels.) If I were to be a vendor at the show, I'd want to be out in the open, because there's no better lighting for rocks and gems than natural sunshine. And if it's rainy, no one is going to come to the show anyway!
However, to get on with the tale of my adventure.
The weather was absolutely splendid. I started out at 10:00 with just a flannel shirt for a jacket, but that came off when I went back to my car for lunch at noon. I spent the rest of the day in shorts, tee-shirt, and sandals. Perfect!
I saw a lot of familiar faces amongst the vendors and was tempted to buy, but I had set myself a very frugal budget -- no more than $50! -- and I knew exactly what I was looking for. Or rather, what I was looking to not buy. I am a sucker for Brazilian agates and Mexican crazy lacy agates, and I already have plenty of both. I was looking for light and bright colors.
And of course low prices!
The first piece I bought was a red flame agate from Southern California, a "new" deposit the vendor said had been found by an elderly neighbor of his. I wish now I had bought more, because I wasn't aware the piece I bought was only $2!
With the sun behind it, the pattern and colors really stand out.
And with the sun striking it directly (at 8:00 this morning ), the bright red really pops.
The next purchase was almost an accident. I was looking at some slices of Mexican crazy lace -- I know, I wasn't supposed to -- when the vendor showed me a couple of end slices.
Regular slices, or slabs, are lovely, and from them I can cut and polish beautiful cabochons. But that takes time. A lot of time. The rough blanks have to be cut from the slab, then ground by hand to the exact shape, then further ground by hand to dome the top into the cabochon style. But to make it a true gem, the stone still has to be polished, either by hand or by spending a month or so in the tumbler, along with a few dozen other laboriously shaped cabs.
A quick glance at one end of the smaller piece showed how the pattern goes through the stone in a kind of three-dimensional effect.
These two end cuts can be sliced crosswise into a dozen or more small, roughly triangular bits and, without further labor tossed into the tumbler to turn out polished pieces ready to wire wrap, similar to this one -- a slice of red and pink jasper I collected at Brenda, AZ, several years ago -- from another batch.
I was a little reluctant to buy more crazy lace agate, and the $12 asking price for the two end cuts was a little high, but I knew what I could turn that investment into, so I bought them.
There are two "premier" rock hounding sites in Arizona, at least as far as the agates and jaspers are concerned. Both are extremely remote, and both -- perhaps by coincidence or perhaps not -- produce lovely purple stuff.
One is the Sheep Crossing on the Verde River, famous for its sagenitic agate. I've been there twice, and I would happily go again if I could find anyone to share the four-hour, 100-mile drive with me.
The original sheep crossing bridge -- old support on the right -- was hand-built in the 1940s to allow sheep herders to bring their flocks down from the north without having to ford the river. Eventually the old bridge disintegrated and was replaced in the 1980s (I think) by a newer, sturdier one. I think horses can cross it, and maybe motorcycles but I'm not sure on that. It's obviously strong enough for sheep and their dogs and shepherds. I walked across it once and then had to walk back, but I will never do it again!
The rocks from the Sheep Crossing location, though, are really nice.
The other really remote location is Burro Creek, north of Wickenburg. I've never been there, so I guess you could say it's on my bucket list, or at least my rock bag list. But I've been fortunate enough to pick up some very very nice pieces at the Mesa show over the years. This year was no exception: this slice set me back a whole $5.00! I should be able to cut at least three or four nice large cabochons from it. Yes, they'll take extra time, but they will definitely be worth it!
The next piece I bought was a rare and lucky find. It's not the museum-quality material that shows up on the spectacular websites, but it was in fact the first piece of Condor agate from Argentina I've ever seen in person. (If you want to fall down a beautiful rabbit hole, do a google image search of Condor agate. . . .)
The light wasn't as good as I had hoped for the full shot, but I think you get the idea of just how wonderful Condor agate is by this close-up.
I haven't even decided if I want to cut it!
My final purchase was maybe the most exciting, even more exciting in its own way than the Condor agate.
The sad part about rock shows is that so many of the vendors are getting up in years. There aren't a lot of younger people getting involved. In a way, it's understandable. Unless you're really, really lucky, the chances of hitting it big in this hobby are slim and none. Even if you do hit it big, it's going to take a significant cash investment in equipment, and it's going to take more than a little physical labor. There were some younger (under 60?) people at this show, but many of them were selling mass-produced, imported trinkets.
Many of the older vendors, too, are selling inventories they've picked up at estate sales, so they don't know where the stones came from or even what they are in many cases. (Like me!)
But I happened to stop at one booth where the young man (probably in his 30s or even early 40s, and yes, that's young!) had several trays of slabs in a price range I could afford. I saw some petrified wood and other familiar Arizona materials. Then I spotted something unusual yet still familiar: slabs with veins of pale amethyst running through them. I pulled one out and looked it over, noting that it did have some noticeable cracks and fractures, which is not uncommon.
I asked him, "Do you know where this material came from?"
He looked like the type who might actually have driven out into some wilderness and found the rocks himself.
"Well, it's kind of north of Florence," he answered.
I looked closer at the stone and said, "So somewhere near the Woodpecker Mine?"
His face lit up in a big grin.
"You're the first person who has ever looked at this stuff and had any idea where it came from. Yes, not too far from the Woodpecker. Have you been up in that area?"
I told him I'd been there several times, though not quite to the mine environs exactly.
The amethyst isn't a bright, dark purple like from the Four Peaks gem-quality mine or even as bright as what I found in my little agate nodule from Fourth of July Butte a few weeks ago. But the light purple crystals that follow the irregular line of white crystals in the slice are typical of what I've seen from around the Woodpecker Mine, an area known as Mineral Mountain.
What made this piece so intriguing, however, was the inclusion of the turquoise-blue and bright red materials. Iron makes amethysts purple, but copper makes turquoise-like chrysocolla and bright red cuprite. The whole Mineral Mountain region is copper mining country, but the iron isn't quite so common. This stone came from a rare buffer zone between the two.
I could tell the slice had some dangerous fractures, which was probably why the price was only $5. By the time I got home, one small corner had already broken off.
I'll see how stable the rest of it is when I start marking out cabs prior to cutting, and if it's too unstable, I might not cut it at all. Sometimes stones like this are better used for display and conversation.
I bought a few other small pieces, more for fun than anything else, and a couple of clear Arkansas quartz fragments to play with on the faceter. My total expenditure came to $31.50, out of my budgeted $50.
I came home very happy!