The Moab Rock, Gem and Mineral Show ran its 58th annual show this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The show drew vendors across the Southwest and boasted an array of rocks and fossils from around the world.
Jerry Hansen, president of the Moab Rock Club, has been organizing the long-running show for the past 10 years. He said that the show had 38 vendors from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
“Quite a few of the people here are selling native Utah stone that they mined themselves through federal permits,” Hansen said.
Several vendors advertised bright red petrified wood from the Yellow Cat area of Grand County.
Many vendors are hobbyists who turned their passion into a business. “Sometimes [it’s] fairly lucrative and sometimes it just pays for your hobby. But it’s an interesting thing and it’s worldwide,” Hansen said.
One such vendor was Alice Van-Vleet of Paonia, Colo. Van-Vleet and her husband began rock hunting nearly 20 years ago, she said. “We saw some really pretty colored rocks along the railroad tracks,” Van-Vleet said.
She asked a friend who was knowledgeable about rocks and found out that the rocks were crushed petrified wood. At the time, it was used as ballast for railroad tracks because petrified wood is made of agate, which does not accept water. Because the agate will not accept water, it makes a solid foundation for the tracks and does not heave up and down.
Then their friend invited Van-Vleet and her husband to see his rock collection. “We were hooked immediately,” she said.
The couple went on to have five children. The family would spend summers rock hunting, camping and fishing, Van-Vleet said. Now she sells a variety of petrified wood and other stones that they have found at the rock show.
Hansen started rock hunting in his native Wyoming, he said. “The rocks and stuff are out there and eventually you want to know what they are and where they came from and how they were formed. And then you come to shows like this and you see what you can actually do with them,” Hansen said.
Many of the stones are gem quality, Hansen said, so vendors make them into jewelry or other decorative objects. Some are polished and unset; others are sold in their rough form.
“The biggest thing that I hear from folks who come to the show for the first time is that they didn’t realize that this was out there, that this type of material was out there and eventually they get like everybody else,” Hansen said. “[They] buy a tumbler to make them shiny [or] buy a saw to [see] what the inside looks like. We have people who literally cut everything that they find just to find what’s inside.”
Visitors to town often contact the rock club for advice on where to look for rocks, Hansen said.
“A big thing is dinosaur bone, which is illegal to pick up on federal land and we have a large amount of folks that want to do that but that’s not something that the club does,” Hansen said. “ … We’ll send them to petrified wood or we’ll send them to agate but we’re not going to tell them where to pick up dinosaur bone.”
The Moab Rock Club meets the second Tuesday of every month at the Grand Center. In addition to organizing the Rock, Gem and Mineral Show, the club goes on rock-hunting field trips.