Making the Pilgrimage to the Tucson Gem Mineral and Fossil Shows Dr. A.J. Zolten Going to Tucson in January or February for the gem, mineral and fossil shows is a “must do” for rock hounds of all stripes. 2008 was my third trip to the shows and the second trip with my daughter Anna. As in the past, the visit was awesome, with the opportunity to see specimens and collections like none in the world…and the coolest part is everything’s for sale. Some things to consider when planning this pilgrimage. First and foremost, start your plans early. Tucson is very busy during these two months, so booking your lodging well ahead of time will allow you to have some choice about where you’ll be able to stay. I made my reservations in the October prior to my trips. I saved several hundred dollars for a 4 day car rental compared to my parents who reserved their car two weeks prior to meeting me there. I would recommend that you plan your trip to go at the end of January or early February as that will give you the opportunity to see the most shows (there are more than 40 spread out from the beginning of Jan through the end of Feb.) Another preparation is absolutely necessary if you want entry into the main gem shows. These shows are WHOLESALE ONLY and you need to have credentials as a dealer/business owner. A tax ID from a business and a letter that identifies you as a representative of that business has worked each time I’ve gone. One thing you’ll not have to plan is where you’ll go once you’ve made it to Tucson. No planning is necessary because everywhere you turn, there’s a show. Guides to the shows are readily available at the airport as you deplane and get your luggage, grab a couple as each will have convenient maps to help you get around. The following site is an example of the show guide: http://www.visittucson.org/includes/media/docs/NewGemGuide08web.pdf Anna and I arrived in Tucson on a Thursday night, checked in to the Hotel and woke up Friday morning ready to hit the shows. We started at a smaller show, the Madagascar Minerals Gem Show. This tent show is great for Moroccan fossils and I found both an excellent trilobite fossil the size of a dinner platter as well as a couple of small mosasaur jaw fossils (to replace the one that Jim Schenebeck bought from me during our rock swap last summer.) The traders here were among the most interesting. No prices were marked and these dealers were big traders. Once I showed an interest, the dealers would doggedly ask “What good price?” for items and would chase after me if I declined their deal. At Madagascar and every other show, price was a matter of negotiation and I paid about 50% of the initial stated price, on average, throughout the trip. Near the Madagascar show (in the heart of old the mineral dealer’s district) we next visited several small warehouses that held huge amethyst, citrine and calcite geodes, like the one below. This beautiful table was about $10,000, a good example of how you can leave Tucson with a much lighter wallet than you start with. We also saw some beautiful large mineral specimens like the following aragonite specimen: Next, it was up the street to the Executive Inn Mineral ad Fossil Show. This was a typical “Public/Wholesale show as it has a little bit of everything in it. The show is basically a hotel/motel where each dealer rents a room and sets their specimens out in displays that cover the entire hotel room. Each night, the dealer boxes up enough to put the bed back together and sleep and they unpack again the next morning and do it all over again. I found a specimen of Tschermigite, a mineral I had never heard of or seen before. I also picked up several pounds of small, nicely polished Oregon Agates, sold by the pound, for my two younger daughters. Walking from room to room takes hours (there were something like 60 rooms at this hotel) and by this time, we were foot weary and in need of a break. After finding a nice local restaurant for a mid-day meal, we continued with more of the Hotel Mineral show, and finished the day with a drive to the north end of town to visit the Westward Look Mineral Show. This particular show has some of the finest quality mineral and fossil specimens for sale. It’s definitely more for looking than buying. An example of what we saw here include the following tourmaline specimen (at least 20 inches long and 10 inches in circumference) for a mere $200,000, to beautifully rendered icthyosaur specimens, like the following: The next day started out with our visit to the JG&M Gem Expo. We had gone to the AGTA Gem show our last visit and wanted to see the gems at another show this time. I found a nice matched pair of oval Tanzanite gems that are now earrings for my wife. I also picked up some cut tourmaline for $5/carat and nice Kyonite stones for $10/carat. After visiting about ½ of the 400 booths at this show, we headed off to get back to the minerals, with a stop at the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show. The Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show is now so big that it is housed in four different hotels. It is here that we saw the Showcase Amethyst geode that was pictured in the last newsletter. That sucker was more than 12 feet long and we were told that it weighed over 3000 lbs. This show was a combination of the type of hotel show I described earlier, along with ballrooms filled with larger dealers, including the Black Hills Inst. Their specimens were awesome and included everything from fossil dinosaur bone fragments for $5 each, to full reproductions for $10,000’s each. I particularly liked the following: It was at this show that I found a piece of opalized ammonite fossil. These are mined in western US and Canada and have a beautiful luster. Full ammonite specimens are very expensive (well over $1000.00) but pieces were much more reasonable ($200-$500 range.) Here’s an example of one: We finished our Saturday with a visit to a relatively new show, held at the Tucson Electric Park, the minor league ballpark. This show included both a tent style vendor show and an RV style show next door. There was great variety here, with vendors from everywhere including one Mt. Ida quartz miner, Mexican fire opal dealers and Afghanistan Lapis Lazuli dealers. This last provided me with a beautiful piece of Lapis Lazuli and I also picked up a nice piece of malachite and a separate piece of azurite here. The afgahni lapis dealers were a father and son team who were happy to talk to me about their views of the strife in their homeland and the politics of the near east as well as to cut me a good deal. By this time, we had worn our legs out again and retreated to our hotel where we packed our new treasures up, got some rest and left on an early morning Sunday flight. The trip, like those I’ve taken in the past, was too short, and I look forward to being able to return to see more. As always, I returned with many treasures for my family and additions to my personal collection of fossils and mineral specimens, and I was able to watch my daughter wonder at things she will never see anywhere else. My younger girls are already lobbying for me to take them next year, and I have a hard time coming up with reason we CAN’T go.
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