Alpine Gem & Mineral Show

January 04, 2022

Chris talks with four members of the Chihuahuan Desert Gem and Mineral Club about the booths, displays, demonstrations and more that visitors will find at the annual Alpine Gem & Mineral Show in mid-April. We also talk about the history of rock collecting in the Big Bend, the region’s distinctive agates, rock hunting trips in the area and the small rock shops in Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis and Balmorhea.

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Transcript for “Alpine Gem & Mineral Sh0w”:

Intro
Welcome to the Heart of the Big Bend. It’s time to kick back, put your feet up, grab your favorite beverage or snack as we discuss declare proclaim, publicize and articulate about the wonders, magic, beauty, music and happenings here in the area known as the Big Bend of Texas.

Chris Ruggia
Hello, welcome, and thank you for joining us again for Heart of the Big Bend. This is a podcast and radio show coming to you every other week about visiting the beautiful Big Bend of Texas. Specifically, we’ll cover what’s happening in Alpine, an incredibly friendly small town nestled in a desert mountain valley at the heart of the Big Bend region. With easy day trips from Alpine, you can take in everything this amazing region has to offer. I’m Chris Ruggia, Director of Tourism for the city of Alpine. And today we’re talking about the upcoming Alpine Gem and Mineral Show with some very knowledgeable and able representatives from the Chihuahuan Desert Gem and Mineral Club, we have Suzanne Franklin, Judith Brueske, Paul Graybeal, and Susan Woodward Spriggs with a lot of information and expertise and knowledge about lapidary, about geology, about rocks and the love thereof. So, coming up next weekend, April 15th through the 17th, is the Alpine Gem and Mineral Show. That’s going to be at the Alpine Civic Center, which is near the corner of Holland Avenue and 13th street in Alpine. Suzanne, tell us a little – Well, actually, where do you guys want to start? Do you want to talk about this year’s event or the history of the whole thing?

Judith Brueske
Well, to mention a little bit of history. Our Gem and Mineral Show has deep roots in our region, and it’s also connected to a whole network of gem shows around the country. I would like to introduce Susie Woodward Spriggs to talk about a little bit about how the show relates to the Woodward Ranch and the influence it had on the starting of our show.

Susan Woodward Spriggs
Thank you, Judith. My grandparents owned Woodward Ranch since about the 40s. They realized that cows couldn’t eat rocks, but people would pay grandpa money for rocks. And so that kind of started the Woodward Ranch. And my father and my uncle, both being geologists, they started identifying rocks in the area and the geology and helped attract a whole bunch of tourists to that area. And it helped actually keep the Ranch in the family during the Depression.

Chris R
Yeah. Well, that location was just a beloved spot for folks to stop. And so what kinds of things could they find when they would stop at Woodward Ranch?

Susan S
Well, mainly agates.

Chris R
It seems like we’re well known for that. You guys correct me when I say incorrect things because I certainly don’t know.

Susan S
Silica is one of the most abundant minerals or elements in the crust. And so agates are like, you can think of them as stained glass.

Chris R
Right.

Susan S
So, the biscuits formed in the lavas out here. That’s what we call them biscuits because they formed in the pockets of the lava.

Chris R
And this is a volcanic landscape, I guess, that we’re really looking at, for the most part in our area.

Susan S
Yes.

Chris R
So how did the Chihuahuan Desert Gem and Mineral Club start? Does it start from around the Woodward?

Judith B
Well, there was a club that started on the Woodward Ranch. It was a rolling rock club, and it later went on to become a national club. And then I think people always went to the Woodward Ranch and got together. But around the early or the late 1980s, there was a move to form a new club. And J. Frank Woodward, Susie’s father, was very instrumental in that. And we started having regular meetings. And then the club from Roswell, New Mexico, came down and kind of crashed our meeting one day and said, you people are in the center of all these wonderful volcanic rocks and agates and calcites, fluorescent calcites. You ought to have a show. And so, they talked us into it, quite easily. And because of Susie’s father’s connections with all kinds of rockhounds, he was very influential in getting together our first group of vendors.

Chris R
Yeah.

Judith B
And in fact, we actually hosted the National Federation of Gem and Mineral Society the very second year of our group, it was such a such a destination place, and it still has remained a destination place for rockhounds.

Chris R
Yeah, now, let me ask you a quick question, though, to both you, Judith and Paul. Now, both of you operate rock shops in the area.

Paul Graybeal
All three of us.

Chris R
That’s right. In Balmorhea. Okay. So now I’m getting an education here. See, in the middle of downtown Alpine, we have Ocotillo Enterprises which Judith runs, which is rocks and books and various things. Paul has Moonlight Gemstones in Marfa, and then the Balmorhea Rock Shop. And I hear we have the…

Suzanne Franklin
Davis Mountains Rock Shop in Fort Davis, it’s new, it’s been there since 2019.

Chris R
Okay. So, every one of our little towns around here has a quality rock shop.

Judith B
And Susie has a room in my shop, and she has a beautiful window display.

Chris R
One thing I’m curious is the foundations of these businesses. Were they related to the show or the club in any way? I mean, how did you guys start your shops?

Paul G
I got started when I first moved out here and discovered I could collect agate. I was working at the Observatory and just walking around the Hill there. There was agate all over the hill, though it wasn’t lapidary grade. But some months of living here, I discovered a few collecting sites like the Woodwood Ranch, and that just kind of set me off. I think some of us have a predisposition to appreciate natural beauty. And I found myself in a place where it could be taken advantage of. And I’ve been full time in Marfa for 25 years now.

Chris R
Yeah. And how long have you been involved with the Gem and Mineral Club and the show, Paul?

Paul G
Well, since the very first show in 1990. I’ve got the first shirt, and I wear it every year.

Chris R
And, Judith, how did Ocotillo Enterprises start up?

Judith B
Well, let’s see Ocotillo Enterprises started, I was interested in rock. Well, my late husband Phil was a rockhound. And, so when I opened a little shop in Alpine, I sold rocks and books and beads, and I still sell those things. But when we heard that the new rock club was forming, we both joined together. That led to a greater emphasis on rocks. And I moved to a larger location where I can have displayed more books, more rocks, more beads. And that’s where I am today.

Chris R
Excellent. So, Suzanne, when did you start the Balmorhea shop? You said Fort Davis. You just started that a couple of years ago.

Suzanne F
Yeah. In 2010, my late husband and I, Leon Hughes, were traveling, looking for a place to move to. And we stopped at the Alpine Gem and Mineral Show. And then we took the drive from Alpine down to Balmorhea. And when we hit Balmorhea, I said, let’s look here.

Chris R
Yeah.

Suzanne F
And basically, this show brought us to this area. We started the Balmorhea Rock Shop. He passed away in 2011. Far too soon.

Chris R
Sorry to hear that.

Suzanne F
I met my new husband and we moved up to Alpine. And when we were buying our property, he saw the building across the street where we were signing the contract. It had a “for sale” sign. And here we are with another shop.

Chris R
All right. So, the Gem and Mineral Show has helped us a lot in having some excellent businesses to share these things with folks year-round. That’s really what I want our listeners to know about is that we’ve got great resources, not just in mid-April, but all year. And so, tell us a little bit about what the show is like. What should people expect when they come into Alpine on April 15?

Suzanne F
Well, we’ve got at least 31 contracts in for vendors. I know there’s more coming that haven’t sent in contracts. They will be outdoor vendors. We have nine new vendors coming to the show that have never been here before. We have four New Mexico and two Old Mexico vendors, one from Kentucky, one from Missouri, one from Arizona and 22 from Texas.

Chris R
What kinds of things do these vendors share with folks?

Suzanne F
Well, they’re bringing a lot of rough lapidary materials, rock and slabs for cutting to make the cabochons. There will be artisan Jewelers who do wire wrapping and silversmithing. There will be vendors who have minerals of all kinds available. There’s going to be used lapidary equipment available as well as new lapidary equipment and lapidary supplies such as blades. And we also have it’s very kid friendly. We love to have the kids come. We have a kid’s spinning wheel. They pay a dollar per spin and every spin wins.

Paul G
We also have beads.

Suzanne F
Oh, lots of beads.

Chris R
So, for folks anywhere from somebody who just wants a nice piece of jewelry or artwork that is made of or related to the beautiful stones, but also folks who want to learn how to work the stones or expert people who just want to get good material to work with, it sounds like?

Judith B
I would like to emphasize that these Gem and Mineral shows throughout the country are really organized and have been organized by amateur rock hunters and rock workers, lapidarists. And although there are some commercial big shows that are around the country, still the core of this lapidary enthusiasm, the romance of this is based on amateurs, and many of us have become rock shop owners. But it’s based on a love of the hobby and of the beautiful rocks and the minerals and both the science and the art of it. And people coming to the show, they can talk to these people who are hobbyists and craftspeople will be happy to demonstrate them some things and certainly talk. And we urge people, if you have an unidentified rock or two, bring it along surely somebody at the show will be able to identify it for you. But there’s a real romance in the amateur lapidary hobby because you can become a do-it-yourself gemologist. You can go out and dig up the rocks. You can finish the rocks; you can make them into finished jewelry. I mean, it’s just amazing when you go into a jewelry store, you see these ready-made products, but the romance of it is that you can do it yourself.

Chris R
Yeah. So, you were really seeing not commerce, but love here. It really is the love of what everyone’s doing – that passion. I bet it’s going to come through to everybody who visits.

Paul G
I think this show represents, we have a retail aspect, finished products, but we also have a lot of wholesale dealers. And I think that’s the important aspect of a general-purpose show.

Suzanne F
I also forgot to mention that there will be people demonstrating some of the new equipment and how to use it. Some people may even get their hands on a piece of rock and actually do the cabochoning and or just cutting with the saws.

Chris R
Tell me, what is a cabochon? What does this word mean?

Suzanne F
This is a cabochon

Chris R
So, this is a flat-sh piece…

Paul G
Cabochon is French for dome, so it refers to the cut of the stones we cut en cabochon, cabs for short.

Chris R
I see. Thanks, Paul.

Judith B
I’d like to summarize some of the attractions of the show. They have something for everybody, adults and children. And if you have all the town guests over the Easter weekend, you might want to bring them to the show.

Chris R
I know that’s a really popular thing for locals to bring their friends and relatives who are visiting.

Susan S
It’s very family friendly. It’s one of the best things you can do with your family is to bring your kids and go rock hunting.

Chris R
Oh, my gosh. There’s so much to look at.

Susan S
A lot of the kids are born loving rock. They just love them.

Judith B
And while our club does not sponsor any field trips, there will be some people at the show, or at least there will be a place for information at the show where you can sign up for a field trip. Don’t forget that there are other rock shops in the area that you might want to visit. Down in Study Butte there are two rock shops. And, of course, there’s Marfa and Fort Davis, Balmorhea and Alpine. And remember, there’s going to be a film. There’s going to be a 17-minute film during the show. Probably will be shown more than once. It’s about Permian Basin for future Generations It’s a 17-minute film on regional fracking and its discontents.

Chris R
I see.

Judith B
Don’t forget the spinning wheel for the kids. There’s plenty of rocks and minerals and then your rock to be identified. The show is free. So, bring as many of your family as you want to, there’s no charge. But do remember to bring money because these are vendors and you can buy these beautiful things that you’re going to be seeing.

Chris R
Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, I want to let folks know that at visitalpinetx.com, we do have a page on there about the rocks in the area, a little bit about the show. And I want to encourage the four of you to take a look at that page and get us updated new information. We’re always looking to expand that because I know we’d like to send folks around the area. We promote Alpine businesses, but we’d like to get your shops listed for sure. And I know there are a couple of folks locally who are leading trips out onto some of the private ranches. They’ve negotiated, spoken with the landowners and gotten permission. So, we want to get people in touch with them if they’re interested.

Susan S
Yeah, that’s Aaron Thomas and Katrina up at Kokernot, and they have Take-A-Hike is one of their businesses.

Suzanne F
There will be an updated listing of all of the available hunts between three different people who will be doing the Hunt. And I’m going to have an updated list of where you can go and what it takes to get that. We also have a Facebook site called the Chihuahuan Desert Gem and Mineral Club, and all of our information is listed up there about the show. There’s a ton of pictures of vendors from older shows, previous shows, and a lot of them are coming back. So, this is one of our most famous shows.

Chris R
Yeah, anything you guys like to leave us with? Other than that there’s so much to look at, so much to learn and enjoy?

Paul G
Well, we might have some private collections on display.

Suzanne F
I always call this show sensory overload.

Susan S
It’s one of the best places you can go to find beautiful crystals that are affordable. Right, Judy’s shop, of course. But it’s the best time to buy beads and crystals and specimens of any kind.

Chris R
Excellent. Well, thanks to the four of you so much for joining us today. We’ve all learned a lot. And thanks to all the listeners for joining us again with Heart of the Big Bend. You can get more information about the show at visitalpinetx.com/podcast or search for Heart of the Big Bend on Apple podcasts, Spotify most other podcast apps. And for those folks listening on the radio, we’ll be back two Fridays from now with another conversation on Heart of the Big Bend. Thanks, everybody.

You’ve been listening to the Heart of the Big Bend. Hope you liked what you heard and that you’ll find the time to experience all that the Big Bend has to offer. Offer. See you soon, partner.