The 68th annual Four Corners Gem & Mineral Show kicked off Friday with about 1,000 attendees gathered to see gems, geodes, fossils, meteorites, crystals, handcrafted jewelry and art showcased by 60 vendors at La Plata County Fairgrounds.
Cindy Pugsley, the show chairwoman, said she anticipated another 2,000 attendees by the day’s end.
The vendors, ranging from Four Corners Gem & Mineral Club members to geology enthusiasts, traders and dealers from around the country, were spread across the fairgrounds with tents, booths and tables stacked with quartz, calcite, fluorite, hematite, ammonites, obsidian, moonstones, geodes and more.
Pugsley said the vendors were treated to a full dinner catered by Elevated Eats on Friday night after the first day of the show.
David Gonzales, Fort Lewis College professor of geosciences, geologist and president of the Gem & Mineral Club, is the go-to guy for anyone who finds a curious rock and needs help to identify it, Pugsley said.
Gonzales was particularly excited on Saturday about a specimen another club member, Sky Roberts, was showcasing at his booth: a slab of rutile, which is an oxide mineral made of titanium dioxide.
“In terms of rutile, usually you find rutile in quartz, like little hairs,” he said. “... A lot of people will cut it and polish it.”
Roberts’ specimen, over half a foot long, glistened when held in the sunlight. Gonzales said it was a stunning and unique sample.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is this mineral is used in most sunscreens to prevent UV radiation from getting to your skin. It’s also used in white paint,” he said.
Coming upon items such as Roberts’ rutile is what make the Four Corners Gem & Mineral Show so interesting, he said.
“If you go to a big show like Denver or Tucson, you get a huge selection of worldwide samples. But here, there’s some real ‘gems,’” he said, pun intended.
When Gonzales buys something at the show, sometimes it’s because it would make for a good sample for one of his geology lessons. But other times, he just wants to add it to his personal collection, he said.
Some of the vendors at La Plata County Fairgrounds this weekend for the show have been participating for years. Others are still learning the ropes.
Robert Head, owner of Perfect Point Crystal Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, said this is his second year in the minerals-dealing business. He quit his IT job to pursue a career selling bismuth, a naturally occurring mineral with crystal formations that can also be quickly “grown” or “guided,” and other minerals.
He said Gem & Mineral Show is the first show he has visited a second time since he began touring in the minerals market. He sells wholesale to dealers and shops and also makes his collections available at shows such as the one ongoing through Sunday in Durango.
“Initially, it was just a hobby,” he said. “It was just going crystal hunting and digging up crystals. I didn’t really know anything about it until a few years ago. I just found out about all of this, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so amazing, you know?’”
He said when one thinks about it, the entire western expansion of the United States is based on crystal hunting: Think of the gold rush. If someone is looking to get involved in the minerals trade, the best thing they can do is join a local club, he said.
“Because there’s going to be members that know about the local area and where you can go,” he said.
More experienced vendors have set up shop at the show this weekend, too.
Steve Haire, Grand Junction resident and owner of Terrestrial Treasures, boasts a diverse collection of fossils from all over the world. For example, he has a fossilized mesosaur skeleton, the remnants of a small marine reptile that lived in prehistoric seas about 280 million years ago.
The specimen he has on display originated in Brazil, although Brazil – and many other countries – don’t allow fossils, gems and minerals to leave their country anymore if they can help it because they are seen as treasures of heritage, he said.
“I try to keep a variety in my booth so people can really get a feel for what is out there in the world,” he said.
Haire has been in the fossil business for 35 years and has a degree in geology. He’s been interested in paleontology since childhood thanks to his aunt who was a “layman archaeologist.”
“She had come out West in the ’50s and collected fossils and artifacts and stuff like that,” he said. “So when I was a little kid, I would go to my aunt’s and she had the coolest stuff.”
Dinosaur gem bones – pieces of dinosaur bone exhibiting a nice polish and beautiful colors – were among Haire’s favorites in his aunt’s collection.
When his aunt died at age 92, Haire inherited her collection. He was 13 years old then and still has the collection today.
“Some of her artifacts that she had collected were really neat, unique artifacts,” he said. “… Now, (the collection is) a prize because of where it came from – from her. Some of the quality of the gem bone compared to what I have here, it’s not that great necessarily, but it’s just what turned me on to this.”
Haire said he wants Durangoans and visitors to visit the show this weekend. Even if someone doesn’t have much or any money to spend, he wants people to see what the natural world has to offer – “not just fossils, but gems, minerals and cool, handmade jewelry.”
The show will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave.