Arizona is a world-class destination for gem and mineral fans. Here's just a sampling of places, shops and events that celebrate Earth's natural treasures.
Arizona's gem shows and festivals
In late January, thousands of vendors, including around 500 rock and mineral dealers, converge on Quartzsite in western Arizona in January and February for a swap-meet atmosphere at multiple gem and mineral shows. You'll find gems, fossils and jewelry from professional and amateur rock hounds, lapidaries and artisans.
Many then continue on to southern Arizona, where, for the first two weeks of February, the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase and numerous associated shows draw an international crowd for what's been dubbed the world’s largest treasure hunt.
Also in February, Gold Rush Days salutes Wickenburg's mining and ranching heritage with a weekend of activities that includes gold panning, mining-skills contests and tours of the Vulture Mine ghost town that put the town on the map.
Rounding out spring, the Apache Leap Mining Festival in Superior, east of Phoenix, features grueling miner competitions like sawing, spiking, drilling and mucking for cash prizes. Kids can safely try their mining skills, too, during this March event that features music, a crafts fair, a carnival and history talks.
Don't plan to be in Arizona for these shows? You'll find plenty of places to shop for earthly treasures year-round, from rare fossils to unique Arizona-gem jewelry.
Mineral hunting in Tucson
Tucson may well have the state's largest selection of gem and mineral shopping options. At the high end of the spectrum, with pieces that turn up in the decor of hotel lobbies and in exclusive private collections, Zee's Minerals has carried everything from 70-million-year-old dinosaur eggs to half-ton meteorites and Indonesian sculptures hand-carved from volcanic ash.
Lifelong Tucsonan Zee Haag, who was born into a family of avid mineral collectors, travels the world to find the rare pieces he showcases in his shop, which is open by appointment only [call (520) 294-9316)].
Collectors of all ages, experience levels and budgets flock to Tucson Mineral and Gem World, where it’s easy to lose yourself for hours among the bins of rocks, fossils, and rough-cut gems: more than 100,000 items in all.
Geological oddities like fulgurites (root-like formations created when lightning strikes desert sand or soil) cost as little as $10. Its location near Old Tucson and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum makes this a perfect stop on a family outing.
Bisbee turquoise and more
The search for copper at Bisbee's Lavender Pit Mine also unearthed rich lodes of turquoise that’s prized the world over for its brilliant blue color.
Bisbee turquoise, malachite and camballite are among the many striking gemstones used in the unique wearable art you’ll find at Jewelry Designs by Owen. Of the bracelets, earrings and necklaces created by owner David Owen, perhaps most interesting are the intricate silver-and-jasper scenes: everything from ancient desert ruins to Chinese pagodas.
A Globe rock hounding gem
He enjoys sharing his vast reserves of knowledge—and gems and minerals—with everyone from newbies to seasoned collectors. He's particularly knowledgeable about Arizona minerals and gemstones, such as Apache tears (a type of obsidian), and carries some rare specimens of the metal that gives this shop its name.
Arizona amethyst in Fountain Hills
These gorgeous deep purple gems come from the nearby Arizona Four Peaks Amethyst Mine; it's off-limits to the public, although Sami's offers mine tours to a select few twice a year.
Arizona peridot, an intensely lime green gem, and ruby rich Arizona anthill garnets also star in the stylish gold and silver settings of this Arizona jewelry store.
Stone smarts in Sedona
Known for its wide-ranging selection of interesting items, from splash copper wall art to gemstones with metaphysical properties, the Village Rock Shop of Sedona is also notable for the expertise of its proprietors.
The owner, Mike Silberhorn, is a fine jewelry designer and master cutter of cabochons (gemstones that are shaped and polished as opposed to faceted). The shop also features an ever-rotating selection of rare minerals, from meteorites to Iris agate.