Since stumbling upon what I’ve come to find out is chrysocolla out in the desert, I’ve developed a sudden and ardent interest in learning more about rocks and minerals. What better place than right up the road in Quartzsite—that den of 100,000 wintertime RVers and probably 1000 vendors, many of whom sell rocks and minerals from all over the world this time of the year. Traffic was light as I left at dawn which is now late at nearly 7:30 for the 85 mile drive. Arriving before the masses I was able to immediately meet and question a couple of purveyors who were very helpful in trying to identify the specimens I took in to them. From the barrels and barrels full of it I noted throughout the day, chrysocolla is fairly common in Arizona and is a very low grade form of copper. It can take many forms and colors of turquoise to vivid blues, often appearing as though it is just a paint spatter on the rest of the rock. It is fairly soft and must have stabilizer added in order for it to be useful for jewelry making.
The first step for many jewelers and beaders is to purchase cabochons of all sorts and sizes offered by all the rock purveyors. A cabochon is a gemstone without facets that is highly polished and has rounded edges. Many of the vendors cut and polish their own but some also come from far off countries. Many will be found unadorned but others are wrapped in silver ready to be made into necklaces and available to the average person to just place on a chain to wear, as I did with mine when I got home and had the perfect bead chain to match. Cabochons are sold by the piece and also by grams of weight. My piece went for $2/gram so cost $20 as an example. Seeing tray after tray of such beautiful artwork made of rock is very tempting, but could get expensive. The average cabochon shown in this photo ran between $35-45.
All vendors usually offer what they call “rough” and finished product. Rough is the rock as it is mined or gathered, often times very nondescript on the outside but holding surprising beauty inside. These are offered by the piece, pound, bucket or even the entire pallet full for those who wish to cut and polish and fashion their own art. Depending upon the size and characteristics of the rock--bookends, thin slabs for specimen display, candlesticks, urns, or figurines are all made. I was astounded to see just how many customers jumped from dealer to dealer looking for just the right “roughs” to take home. Rock hounding, art, and jewelry making is very big business!
So big in fact, that a lot of the vendors are from overseas. There were Ethiopian opals with very obvious Ethiopian sellers. There was a fabulous section from Australia, filled with the most unusual rocks and the lilting accents of Crocodile Dundee’s pals who were ever helpful to the buyers. Probably my favorite sight of the entire day was this huge slab (from Australia) with lead running through it that shimmered and shimmied in the sunlight like something molten. As I recall, I think the price was about $10,000.
Of course at this time of year, Quartzsite isn’t all about rocks. There are hundreds and hundreds of vendors catering to the masses of RVers with everything for sale you could possibly think of. They ply their trades in several areas with names like Tyson Wells, Rice Ranch and the Main Event and are spread throughout the main drag which parallels the freeway. A person would need several days to get through it all. Need a walking stick? This guy brought a bunch of raw diamond willow sticks out from Wisconsin and Michigan and invited you to purchase one and carve your own! Prices are shown on the end of the stick. He was doing a booming business I might add. A person could enjoy a gastronomic delight as I did for lunch. Yeah, the Deep Fried Vegetable stand did it for me as I gorged on fried artichoke hearts, usually a hard find in any area excepting the Salinas Valley of California. Across the way they were firing up the BBQ for BushRods tri tip sandwiches and ribs. For those wanting to skip lunch and go straight for the refreshments there was a down home style outdoor beer bar.
All in all, considering it was a day without Marc along, I still had a wonderful time and learned a lot more about rocks and the specimens I have found. Now I’m itchy to find more.