Tucson Gem Show 2013 - Fossils and Beads

I arrived in Tucson yesterday evening, having spent the entire day travelling. My flight was purchased using points, so I didn’t have a direct flight that would have shaved hours off my travel time. But free is good!

I had booked my rental car months ago at a good rate, but rebooked just before I left to get even a better rate. I used Budget Rental's Fast Break program for the first time. It allows you to skip the line and get your car within minutes of arriving at the airport. Since it was my first time using this program, I also got a free upgrade.

I forgot my toothbrush and sunglasses so after I dropped off my luggage in my room, I visited the hotel lobby store. Instead of personal hygiene supplies, there were scorpion lollipops in a variety of flavors.


I managed to get an early start today and headed to Walgreens to pickup my missing supplies. I spent far too long trying to pick up a decent pair of sunglasses at the drugstore. Although the temperature was downright chilly (70 degrees F) for Tucson standards, the sun is blinding.

On my way to get a coffee, I was happy to find a Target store. It looked exactly as the ones in Minnesota, except for the skyline.

 Stunning Tucson mountain range

There I grabbed my Vente Starbucks Latte and a pair of optically clear sunglasses that were both fashionable and inexpensive.

Target sunglasses for $14

The Mineral and Fossil Co-Op

My first stop was a warehouse called the Mineral and Fossil Co-Op (1635 N. Oracle Rd.) that houses fossil and mineral vendors. It is one of the few buildings that sell all year-round.

The first vendor specializes in Moroccan trolobites and Orthoceras. There were many small pieces that were under under $20.

Orthoceras specimens for $3

Trilobites for $15

The store also had many large pieces that were from $1000 or more. The large orthoceras panels were the least expensive.

Orthoceras panels for $700

 Fossil specimens that contain more than one species are more valuable than ones that contain only one.

Museum Quality Fossils

I was struck with awe at sheer size and rarity of some of the fossil pieces. The trilobite vendor had a set megaladon teeth in a fiberglass cast. It was about 12 feet  high.

The neighboring vendor had a full wooly mamoth skeleton, massive free-standing tusks, large dinosaur skulls, a 12-foot pre-historic fish, plus their beautiful fossilized fish and palm frond panels. It was like walking into a natural history museum that you could potentially take home with you.

A rare fossilized sea turtle set in a 6'x6' rock panel
It was sold to a Korean buyer for around 1/2 million.

A huge Ammonite

Fossilzed palm frond with fossilized fish selling for $25K

Detail photo of palm frond

This fossilized fish panel was only 3' x 2' but cost $15k because of its rarity.
It contains a fish that died choking on a smaller fish.

Lunch at Las Cazuelitas Mexican Seafood Restaurant

Although I was really hungry by now, I drove to the next venue, the Grant Inn Gem and Mineral Show (1365 W. Grant Rd.). To my utter delight, an inviting Mexican restaurant was attached to the hotel.

I ordered a traditional Mexican beef and vegetable soup and a glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade. The broth was fragrant and the vegetables expertly cooked so that they were neither undercooked nor overcooked. It was served with a basket of tortilla chips and homemade salsa.

A hearty broth with potato, zucchini, cabbage, corn and beef.

Beads and More

The Grant Inn housed many small vendors who specialized in beads, finished jewelry, folk art, and mineral specimens. I carried a Rio Grande catalogue as a reference so I could judge if the prices were fair. Although there were piles of beads that were only a dollar for a whole string, I focused on the pricier natural beads. I purchased Lapis Lazuli, Peridot, tumbled dyed Quartz, and Apatite beads.

Folk art masks from India

Lapis Lazuli beads from Afghanistan

In addition to enjoying the shopping experience at the Tucson Show, I met vendors who were friendly and very knowledgeable about the products they sold. Some vendors actually quarry their own stone and manufacture their own fossils or beads. Robert Poley Sweetwater is a geologist who mines his own rock in Tucson then ships it to China to be finished into beads. I purchased his “Silvermist” beads, which is a matrix containing diopside, zoesite, hematite, sphene, zircon, cholrite, and other minerals.

Robert Poley Sweetwater

10 mm Silvermist beads

Up Next: Tucson Gem Show – Day 2

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