Subscribe Today
Give a Gift
Customer Service

Phoenix Home and Garden
Subscribe Today!
For the HomeFor the GardenFood & EntertainingResourcesArticle Archive
For The Home


Author: Maria Matson
Issue: June, 2013, Page 34
Photos by David B. moore

From left to right are a sphere of native chrysocolla and malachite from the Moonlight Mine in Wickenburg, Arizona,
chatoyant malachite in its raw form from the Congo, and a piece of chrysocolla and malachite that has been polished.

history, Highlights and helpful Hints

First things first: Minerals are not rocks. Rocks are typically composed of two or more minerals, but minerals are homogenous, with distinct chemical compositions and crystal structures. One other difference: Most rocks are not worth much; some minerals are priceless.

The International Mineralogical Association currently recognizes more than 4,600 mineral species. Some are prized, like diamonds; others are common, like quartz. In fact, the family of silicate minerals, of which quartz is a member, makes up more than 90 percent of the Earth’s crust. Minerals are everywhere, including Arizona.

There’s copper, of course—one of the state’s “Five Cs”—and the geological wonder that is Grand Canyon National Park, which is home to copper, calcite, dolomite, hematite, feldspar, quartz, silver, uranium and more. And, according to the Arizona Geological Survey, the state is “world famous” for turquoise, peridot, petrified wood, azurite and malachite.

Given the abundance of materials and the promise of a stunning discovery, it’s no surprise that amateur mineral collectors, or “rockhounds,” scour the land in hopes of unearthing treasures.

Bruce Barlow, owner of Barlow’s Gems in Cave Creek, Arizona, is a jewelry maker, gem and mineral dealer and a longtime rockhound. “I’ve been rockhounding my whole life,” he admits. “I started out doing jewelry; then things just progressed. My wife and I moved to Arizona, and we started digging for rocks. We have our little chipping hammers, and we’ll chip the edges. A lot of the specimens we find will be colorless or gray; those we just drop back on the ground. But every once in a while, we’ll find one with colors or inclusions that form wisps and patterns. It’s just a matter of getting out and walking the hills. You chip a lot of rocks, but the more time you spend out there, the more chance you have of finding something.”

Various quartz crystals are displayed here on metal stands. All minerals shown on this page are from Rare Earth Gallery.
The hit-or-miss nature of rockhounding is not for everyone, but collectors can still experience the thrill of the hunt at the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, the largest of its kind in the U.S. The event attracts folks from around the world who come to showcase or buy gemstones and minerals, as well as meteorites, fossils and crystal-filled geodes—some that dwarf the average man.

During the other 360 days of the year, serious collectors and the just-curious can get their fix at galleries. “We have pieces that range from less than ten dollars to tens of thousands of dollars,” says Teresa Lewis, manager of Touchstone Gallery in Scottsdale. “The price has a lot to do with what the mineral is, if it’s a gemstone or a mineral. They’re all minerals, but not all minerals are gemstones. With minerals, the price depends on how much of it is the actual mineral and how much is the matrix, or host rock. For gemstones, it has to do with clarity and color and carat weight of the gemstone versus the host rock.”

Whether a gem or mineral, these earthly finds are something winter visitors and locals alike seem to find worth taking home. “We try to feature a great range of Arizona minerals, in particular,” Lewis says. “But we also have fossils and petrified wood. And of course, all the little boys who come in ask if we have dinosaur poo. We do.”

Called coprolite, fossilized feces may sound like something better left untouched, but as minerals have staked their claim on the dung over time, what was once waste has become wonderful, say rock experts. Wonderful enough to display in your home, in fact.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left:  This lapis lazuli from Rare Earth Gallery is considered an “ancient gem.” Egyptian cultures believed that lapis gave protection and used it as a symbol of truth. It is said that dreaming of lapis foretells of a forever faithful love. • This opal geode from Touchstone Gallery is about 8" wide and came from a mining claim called Opal Butte in central Oregon. The outer shell is a volcanic rock called rhyolite, which is formed when a volcano erupts. Big pieces of hardened rhyolite contain gas pockets, which Mother Nature, over time, fills with opal crystals. • This scolecite geode has an outer shell of chalcedony (a form of quartz). The stone was formed in the Decca Flats region of India and is from Touchstone Gallery. • This unique table top from Gem Surfaces is a mosaic of petrified wood. Petrified wood means “wood turned into stone,” and is the fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation.

Interior designer Paula Savino of Interior Preference LLC, in Chandler, Arizona, placed coprolite on a table between two wingback chairs in a client’s home. “It’s 143 million years old, and the colors are just phenomenal,” she says. “It’s a slab with layers of color—teals, grays, caramel, rust, cream. The gradation of colors and textures that nature created is just great.”

While rough, semi-rough and polished gems, minerals and fossils are beautiful on their own, artisans are carving minerals into an array of items, including bowls, lamps, garden ornaments, mirror frames and extravagant surfaces for the home.

“We mine the minerals in Madagascar; then shave them thin,” says David Feld, manager of Gem Surfaces in Scottsdale. “We have artisans who hand place them in a form, like a mosaic, until they are fitted really tight. Once they are in position and colorized correctly, we use epoxy to bind them together. They can be used on kitchen countertops, fireplace surrounds, tabletops, bars, stairs, floors, anywhere.”

Photos - From left: This hand-carved onyx lamp is from Rare Earth Gallery. The onyx is from Baja California and is made up of calcite and carbonate deposits. • This slab of Brazilian agate from Rare Earth Gallery is mounted on a wood base. Agate is a form of silica, primarily chalcedony, and is characterized by the fineness of its grain and brightness of its color.
Feld says one of the most popular materials is labradorite, a species that seems to come up consistently in conversations about minerals. “It’s a dark greenish type of gemstone, and it has flashes we call ‘fire,’” Feld says. “When light hits it at different angles, it really jumps out at you. It’s electrifying.” Lewis adds: “[In Canada] where it comes from, the native Canadians have a legend that it’s the Northern Lights captured in stone. It’s gorgeous.”

Photos - From left:Crystalline quartz in shades of purple, lilac or mauve is called amethyst. This piece is from Rare Earth Gallery. • These geodes from Payson, Arizona, are known as “brainstones,” and range from pea- to football-size. Geodes are lithified air pockets formed in mud over hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of years.

Where To Find Them:
Barlow’s Gems, Cave Creek, Arizona; Rare Earth Gallery, Cave Creek; Gem Surfaces, Scottsdale; Touchstone Gallery, Scottsdale; Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, Tucson.

This Paleozoic colonial coral fossilized with quartz cystals was discovered by a hiker and personal collector just north of Payson.
Mineral Mojo
It is said that Roman soldiers carried tiger’s eye for protection into battle, and that Cleopatra carried chrysocolla to help make her strong, beautiful and feminine. Since ancient times, nearly all cultures have believed in the power of stones to heal, calm, strengthen and protect.

For those interested in hunting for a diamond in the rough, the Arizona Bureau of Land Management offers information for rockhounds on its website (, including locations where rockhounding is permitted, as well as guidelines for collecting.

Arizona also has a number of rockhounding clubs, mineralogical clubs and gem and mineral clubs. An Internet search for any of those terms will lead the way.
Subscribe Today!