Arizona is a world-class destination for gem and mineral fans. Here’s just a sampling of places and events that celebrate Earth’s treasures.
Arizona’s Gem Shows
Tucson puts on the Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase – the world’s largest of its kind. Wholesale dealers and retail outlets form more than 40 distinct private and public shows in January and February. Merchandise and exhibits include loose gems and beads, rock and fossil specimens, jewelry and artwork. Catch the event at the Tucson Convention Center that started it all 62 years ago – the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
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.
Arizona Mineral Festivals
The Apache Leap Mining Festival in Superior, east of Phoenix, features grueling miner competitions – sawing, spiking, drilling and mucking – for cash prizes. Kids can safely try their mining skills, too, during the March event that features music, a crafts fair, a carnival and history talks.
Gold Rush Days in February salutes Wickenburg’s mining and ranching heritage. The weekend offers gold panning, mining-skills contests and tours of the Vulture Mine that put the town on the map. Also enjoy the rodeo, parade, carnival, car show and artisan fair.
Arizona Mineral Museums
The University of Arizona Mineral Museum in Tucson displays some 2,000 pieces from its collection of more than 40,000 specimens. See minerals mainly from Arizona and Mexico, but also meteorites and micromount crystals. Visit the dazzling “Somewhere In The Rainbow presents A Modern Gem and Jewelry Collection,” an exhibit that runs through spring 2018.
While the Arizona Mining and Minerals Museum in Phoenix finds a new home, you can find some of its collection on display in a 4,600-square-foot exhibit at the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park in Phoenix. See azurites, malachites, calcites and a spectacular copper splash. There’s also a scale model of a copper mine.
The Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum details Bisbee’s 19th-century rise as “Queen of the Copper Camps.” Walk through mine and crystal cave models and see artifacts that detail the former mining town’s life.
The Arizona Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale, south of Sedona, shows how people have shaped copper, much of which comes from Arizona mines. Its 5,000 pieces from around the world represent military art, architecture, kitchenware, drinkware and distillery equipment.
For a look at ancient and modern American Indian jewelry, visit the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. The Babbitt Gallery features 170 pieces of gem and silver artwork by the Rio Grande Pueblo, Hopi, Navajo and Zuni peoples.
Mining Ghost Towns of Arizona
Settlers flocked to territorial Castle Dome City near Yuma to work 300 mining claims. Today, preserved and reproduced buildings house many artifacts that tell the story of boom and bust. There’s also a tour of the Hull Mine that features a spectacular wall of shimmering fluorescent minerals.
Goldfield Ghost Town replicates the nearby original mining town near Apache Junction. Attractions such as the mine tour, museum, gold panning, “bordello” history presentation and gunfight shows hark back to the wild frontier.
Arizona Mining Tours
Actual retired miners share their tales at the Queen Mine in Bisbee. Don a hard hat, miner’s headlamp and yellow slicker and ride the tram 1,500 feet into the shaft. You’ll learn what it took to get copper out of a mountain.
For a modern mining perspective, visit the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center near Sahuarita in Southern Arizona. Find out how we use copper, then look over an open pit mine worked by gigantic trucks and see how copper is processed.