Getting Ready for Quartzsite

Quartzsite is a small town in the Arizona desert that each year plays host to rock and gem enthusiasts from all over the world. These rockhounds, prospectors, and lapidary people come to meet hundreds of vendors selling everything rock and jewelry related. Others come, too.

In the desert around Quartzite, thousands of temporary winter visitors, called Snowbirds, make themselves a home for a few weeks or months. These are mainly RV folks, often retired, who roam the States seeking warm climates and interesting events. They certainly find both in Quartzsite.

Besides rocks, dozens of venues host flea market goods, with everything from car parts to comic books to antiques. You’ll never know what you’ll find in Quartzsite. In addition to seasonal selling sites, permanent buildings in town include a unique bookstore, a great local history museum, and a bead shop that has a terrific rock and gem museum.

The most prominent rock event each winter is the QIA PowWow:

QIA stands for the Quartzsite Improvement Association, a non-profit that uses proceeds from the event to benefit various concerns around the city. The PowWow runs from Wednesday, January 16th, to Sunday, January, 20th. Free parking and free admission, with a shuttle service to ferry people back and forth from the parking lot.

The local gem club hosts two field trips each day during the PowWow, off to a different collecting sites each time. I won’t be able to participate in any digs due to my recent surgery, but I will be in town Wednesday and Thursday. I’ll take photographs for my book, interview people, and pass out business cards.

Winter weather can be iffy in the desert. Currently, a slight chance of rain is in the forecast. Heavy rain and wind can play havoc with the vendors, most of whom have outside booths. While that weather can happen, Quartzsite usually offers shirt-sleeve weather by noon.

Bring plenty of water if you go walking around the PowWow. Humidity is low in the desert, even in winter, and people dry out. Comfortable shoes! And something to carry all your goods back to your vehicle. For bigger material, like petrified wood stumps, try the Desert Gardens venue. And pick up the free Quartzsite show guides which are placed all over town.

Lastly, bring plenty of cash in small bills. While many vendors accept plastic, don’t assume that all will. And don’t try to make a dealer break a fifty or a one hundred dollar bill. When I go, I take an envelope of five and tens. There are no Big Bank ATMs in town, so get your cash stash beforehand. Remember, all sellers are small business owners who deserve the courtesy they will undoubtedly extend to you.

Rock&Gem has an excellent, current introduction to Quartzsite at their site:

I wrote an article two years ago on Quartzsite for Rock&Gem. Unfortunately, the content is behind a paywall. But I’ll be sharing a few photographs and notes when I get on the road this week. I am still tired from my operation but there is little pain from the wound area. Generally. Unable to run for the next two weeks, I am listless and impatient to get back to my routine. Quartzsite will be a welcome distraction. Perhaps I will see you there. I’ll be the one with all the bandages on his face. 🙂

Quartzsite is Here and The Fun Has Begun!

‎Neal Behnke‎ is writing daily reports to the Rockhound Connection on Facebook, a group worth following. Here’s Neal’s latest:

Welcome one and all to day 7 at the wonder in the desert, Quartzsite! Uncle Neal will stamp your passport and show you the door.

Quartzsite Arizona is really a rock hounds dream, established many years ago by wandering camel farmers, it has had a continuous rock show going since John Denver left and moved to Colorado and got all weird. First tourists started stopping as the freeway was slowly built, sometimes they would wander into the desert, sometimes they would wander back with rocks they would then sell to other tourists for water and trinkets. After 1978 the freeway reached almost a mile past town and the city was named.

Quartzsite is a fantastic place to rock hound, the local rock club (friends of Quartzsite) offer rock hounding trips, volunteer to clean the public bus benches and hand out cheese sandwiches. Please be aware if you are approached by anyone saying they will take you rockhounding, ask to see their cheese sandwich. Last year over a 100 rock hounds were tricked into looking for valley opal and 12 swimming pools were built. It is a good chance that if you are standing in someones back yard with a shovel and you are within 10 feet of wifi and a coffee maker, you are not rock hounding.

Todays Desert gardens events include Escape Room! held on the Lido deck, your goal is to try getting out of the house, finding the keys and your rock hammer and avoiding all your adult responsibilities so you can wander in the desert.

If you purchased any Cinnabar from Toxic Tonys minerals, please be aware that testing has confirmed that this particular material is hardly toxic at all, if you would like the high grade stuff please come back this morning.

Kids events today include buckskin Willys scorpion ranch! Willy has rustled up some 1.2 million desert red spotted viper scorpions, all in his .01 acre spread! Its fun to watch the little buggers tear across the desert floor, if you lean close over the 1 foot fence you can hear their tiny feet skittering in the sand!

Milking and stampede starts today at 1.

Update on The Gemfield Gem Claims in Goldfield, Nevada

My second article for Rock & Gem Magazine was on the Gemfield Gem claims outside of Goldfield, Nevada. The claims are a major source of fine chalcedony. Sharon Artlip, one of the two claim owners, now has a website for the property:

A month ago I visited Goldfield. I couldn’t connect with Sharon, who may have been out of town Sharon no longer operates Goldfield Art & Business Services out of the store on I-95.

The present owners of the new store at that location, however, will accept your registration and rock fees. Their names are Sherri and Mike. They have a nice store with some maps and some rocks. When I was there they had locally mined pyrite. Stop in and check out a new business:

Wild Inspirations
306 Crook Avenue
P.O. Box 121
Goldfield, NV 89013


This is the information site at the claims.

Also, when in Goldfield, never miss a chance to check in with Bryan Smalley at Hidden Treasures Trading Company. He may be hard to find away from his store, but ask locals where Bryan is. Try the Dinky Diner. He’s well worth tracking down to visit a one-of-a-kind rock shop:

489 S. Bellevue Avenue
Goldfield, Nevada

775-485-3761. Honestly, I have never been able to contact him on the phone.

How Not to Travel to Death Valley

Last week while running in South Summerlin, which is on the west side of Las Vegas, I was stopped by a woman asking for directions. She had a strong foreign accent and the wind was blowing hard, making communicating difficult. She seemed to be asking for Valley View or Valley something, I couldn’t quite make it out. She kept glancing at her cell phone on the dash of her car, which obviously wasn’t helping her navigate.

It turned out that she wanted to go to Death Valley! She was a hundred miles from any of its entrances and she was already lost. No hardcopy map and at the beginning of the government shutdown of the park. I really didn’t know what to say to her; the idea of visiting Death Valley completely unprepared was  beyond belief.

I suggested driving to Beatty, an hour’s drive north and entering there. She didn’t like that idea and kept mentioning an approach from the Los Angeles direction, however that would work. In the end I told her the 215 Beltway was only a mile away and by taking it she would wind up connecting to the Los Angeles freeway. She seemed happy with that and took off. I keep wondering what happened to her.

Although she was obviously comfortable with asking for directions, in Death Valley there may be no one at a needed time to ask for help. At that time the visitor centers were all closed, with no assistance there  and no way to get a proper map. All she was relying on were directions from strangers and guidance from a cell phone. And cell phone coverage is non-existent in most of the park, making that device useless.

My main navigation aid is a Garmin Nuvi, which is satellite based, using GPS to fix its positions. It does not rely on cellular coverage. I use my cell phone for navigating as a backup or as a way to check against the Nuvi, as the Garmin sometimes wants me to go off pavement when that choice actually makes no sense.

Always, though, especially in far off country, I carry hardcopy maps. The National Park Service warns against exclusive reliance on GPS in the park, advocating instead that the latest Death Valley Park map be used as a first choice.

Even with proper maps, so many other considerations must be made when visiting a place called Death Valley. Like food, water, and emergency supplies. All of this must be in the vehicle before entering the park. And gas. Gas must be topped off at every available point, as you never know if the next small gas station, wherever that may be, will be out of its supply.

My hope is that she was trying to visit one of the privately owned resorts that were still operating despite the shutdown. Maybe, with enough luck and kind strangers, she made it to her destination. But luck should never be counted on while driving in remote, isolated areas known for killing stranded motorists. Make your own luck. Drive prepared.

California State Route 190 near Panamint Springs Resort at the end of Death Valley. By Tuxyso. Image freely available from Wikipedia Commons.

SpotX Update — Important News For Mac Users

I’ve written about my SpotX device before. It has a major firmware revision out for the Mac but you need to be cautious. You must download the latest firmware program before updating your device. In other words, download the newest installer first, then go from there.

I had problems updating which in the end required a new unit to be sent to me. But the folks at Spot did that for free by overnight mail. They may have their problems, like any other company, but they earnestly work on solutions and they do not ignore you.

Here is their message regarding this problem:

Dear SPOT X Customer,

If you are a Mac user, a manual download is required for the newest SPOT X Updater (v1.11.10) before you complete the firmware update that was released last week (v1.6.8). To download the latest Updater click here and follow the prompts.

Failure to do so will require a Factory Reset of your device at a minimum.

If you require assistance, please contact Customer Relations at 866-651-7768.

If you have already successfully updated your device, please disregard this message.

Support As They Reach For Their 2018 Goal


They reached their goal! Thanks to everyone for your support.

Original Post:

As they simply put it, “ is the world’s largest open database of minerals, rocks, meteorites and the localities they come from.” It is one of the two or three most essential online resources for rockhounds and prospectors.

You can keep it free and open by giving a few dollars before year’s end. I sponsor their agate page and you can be a sponsor, too, of one of hundreds of available mineral pages. They are extremely close to meeting their fund raising goal. Please help.

Mining By Mail

This photograph shows twenty pounds of mine tailings from either the Ocean View Mine or the Pala Chief Mine in San Diego, County, California. The mines are open to the public for a fee a few days each week but I’ve been unable to schedule a visit.  Perhaps this box will introduce me to what the mines have to offer.

Although the cost may seem high, a hundred dollars plus shipping, a trip to San Diego County would involve gas, three nights of hotel or camping accommodations, and of course the entry fee once I finally got to the mine.

As a hobbyist, I don’t expect my findings to pay for my expenses. It’s the experience, the excitement of discovery. Small bits of aquamarine, kunzite, and tourmaline are inexpensive bought outright. This is just buying into treasure hunting at home.

I’ll go through the material today and tomorrow. Screen and wash. As to what I find, sorry, you’ll just have to buy my book. If that sounds mean, realize that the more I disclose content here, the more I take away from someone having to buy my title.

My publisher would not be happy if I wrote up every experience I have at this website. If you review my previous posts, I think you’ll find I am sharing as much as I can. I have always been a fair trader with my writing and I hope you appreciate that.

Tucson and Parking

If you drop in for one day to see the The Big Show, properly known as the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, you will find parking  a mess. The convention center’s parking lot will probably be jammed, with no where to park your vehicle. Side streets will be filled, with constant traffic enforcement roaming the area. Plan ahead.

The Big Show’s dates are February 14th through the 17th. If you have a smartphone, put the Uber or Lyft app on it and use those ride sharing apps to arrange trips from your hotel. If you don’t have a smartphone, an alternative is to ask your desk clerk if they can call a ride. Better yet, get a smart phone and learn how to use it. In a city it is your best communication, information, and navigation tool.

Most people will want to check out the variety of vendors operating out of satellite locations around the city. Be advised that many of them start packing up for the Big Show a few days in advance, so that dealer you want to see may not be around if you come in close to the 14th. Also, the shuttle bus service may not be running the weekend of The Big Show. This website promises that it will be, but I would definitely call first and make sure. Why do this?

To get around to the satellite dealers you’ll need to find each location, often a hotel, and move your car from spot to spot. Traffic will be a zoo in Tucson that week and you won’t want to be driving in circles, looking for parking, while you try to find venue after venue. Take the shuttle. Preferably, come in several days before the Big Show Weekend when you know both the shuttle and all the locations will be open. The city bus system is also an option. If you must drive because you are carrying lots of heavy items or selling same, check out parking lots before going to a venue, not while driving to them for the first time.

I know this may involve more time and effort than you want to expend, but Tucson is huge and three or four days will give you time to experience a great deal of what it has to offer.

Again, parking. And traffic. You have been warned.

The Tonopah Historic Mining Park Part 1

The Tonopah Historic Mining Park Foundation has begun fund raising to physically secure what’s known as the Silver Top Headframe, one of three located at the Mining Park. A headframe is the signature feature of any large mine, permitting the hoisting of workers and ore from deep below to the top of the complex. A very few 2019 calendars, printed to help raise funds for the Foundation, are available at the Mining Park Visitor center for purchase.

While it may be winter, planning a park visit can start now by checking out its website or by reading up on Tonopah’s fabled mining history. Make sure to stop in if you’re heading to Quartzsite in January or Tucson in February. There are other reasons to go to Tonopah.

Anyone going to or leaving the Southwest by way of US 95 in Nevada should stop for many excellent reasons. The first is fuel, since the nearest gas stations are 100 miles north and south of town. After you’ve topped your tank, consider visiting the Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah, the city’s best kept secret. After that, stop by Whitney’s Bookshelf, right on 95, a fine used bookstore, often with excellent mining books. Hometown Pizza is across the street if you are hungry, usually serving pizza by the slice. If you’d like different fare, try the Pitman Cafe in the historic and period restored Mizpah Hotel. If you’re not in a rush to get out of town, think about getting a room at the Mizpah. I like the corner room on the fourth floor, the one with the claw foot bathtub. I think it is 409. But I digress. The best reason for any prospector or rockhound to stop in Tonopah is the Historic Mining Park, owned by the city and operated under regular, dependable hours.

Tonopah was America’s last great gold and silver strike. You’ve heard about the Gold Rush of 1849, the Comstock, and the Klondike. But there was also Tonopah in 1900 and for years thereafter. The visitor center and the the park grounds highlight this stupendous and spectacular hunt for precious metal at the turn of the century. The park is right behind the Mizpah Hotel. The entrance road is best approached in larger vehicles by Burro Street. The visitor center parking lot has room for two or three RVs and the exit road is a pull-through, so there is no worry about having to back up.

The grounds offer a self-guided tour. Pick up a map at the visitor center which also houses a terrific rock, gem, and mineral museum. As for the grounds, hiking the park at 6,000 feet can be tough at times but take it slow and take some water. Great opportunities for photographs. For those out of shape or mobility challenged, tours on a Polaris with a guide can be arranged. Call for current availability and charges.

As to the Foundation’s principal project, securing the Headframe, Eva La Rue, Administrative Assistant for the Tonopah Historic Mining Park Foundation, told me this story in an e-mail:

“Because the Foundation was created to basically help preserve the Tonopah Historic Mining Park, this has become one of our projects. The Silver Top mine includes not only the headframe, but the hoist house and the ore house (grizzly) too. Basically, the headframe is currently supported by four cement blocks, that were poured around the legs of it to help stabilize it years ago. The problem is that the only thing underneath the blocks of cement is some rotting wood. So the wood has rotted away and now the cement blocks are sinking down. A few years back an engineering company out of Vegas reported that it appeared to be in danger of total collapse. So, the plan is to take it apart, piece by piece, and build a cement pad or base for it to stand on, and then re-erect it, anchoring it in place. So, this is a HUGE project, and the costs are high, especially when the equipment and manpower must be brought in to work on it. But the alternative was to lose it.”

Visitor Center

Desert Queen Mine and Hoist House

The Value of Crystal Forms in Mineral Collecting

The first photo shows a closeup view of  the mineral azurite. It’s a pretty dark blue and desirable in any rock containing it. What makes it even more desirable is the mineral in  its crystal form or when arranged in a beautiful composition.


This second photo is of azurite and malachite from the USGS photo library of minerals. Can you see what drives mineral collectors to pursue such specimens? Although only affordable to rich collectors and museums, these examples vividly demonstrate the difference between the common and the rare. Personally, I’d enjoy any hunk of azurite I’d find.

From the USGS:

(Credit: Carlin Green, USGS. Public domain.)

Detailed Description

A sample of azurite, the blue mineral, and malachite, the green mineral. Both azurite and malachite are copper minerals that were once used as pigments but are now mostly valued as collectors minerals. They do serve as good indicators of copper deposits that can be developed. Read more information about copper here.

Sample provided by Carlin Green, USGS. Sample originated from Milpillas Mine, Mexico, and is 6.6cm in size.