The Tucson International Treasure Hunt
By Deb Miller Marschke (article written October 2011)
Fall season has arrived and with it, hunting season. My husband, Steve Marschke, was raised in North Dakota, so every fall he joins his family for some quality time and quality deer hunting (animal lovers - don’t fret. Up that that part of our country, hunting is very necessary to keep the deer population healthy and stable). Well, I have a little joke I tell every February …I get to go hunting too. My “hunting trip” means I travel to Tucson, Arizona to treasure hunt at the Tucson International Gem and Mineral Show. I know what a lot of you are thinking – it’s like the one at Quartzsite, right? Why go to all the trouble and expense traveling to Tucson when we can get the same fix at the Greatest Show on Earth in Quartzsite? I’m here to testify that “Quartzsite is to Tucson” as “an appetizer is to a banquet.”
Tucson is where all the rockhounds of the world unite into a huge gem and mineral convention; everyone from small scale hard rock miners to International museum dealers are here to show and sell. The Show is actually not at one location, there are about 40 different locations, or “venues”, set up for this temporary two-week event. The Show literally takes over the southern portion of Tucson! The “main event” is hosted by the Tucson Gem and Mineral Society, usually at an upscale location, and displays the crème-de-la-crème of unique specimens and rare minerals. This will also include fossils and prehistoric animals – that you can actually buy if you have the bucks. The other associated satellite show venues are peppered around Southern Tucson, hosted at hotels, in large tented convention halls, or set up in vacant lots styled like a swap meet.
The hotel venues are interesting; each hotel room has been converted into a mini rock shop. The vendors have set up their display cases in the rooms, and there is a shop sign hung above each doorway to signify the name of the business and where in the world they have traveled from. Essentially, the hotel venues become rock and mineral malls. The tented and open-air venues are less formal and tend to peddle other goods along with the rocks – creative and artistic items, jewelry ad-nauseum, lapidary/jewelry making supplies, and whatever else that particular vendor is into (may not have anything to do with minerals).
The shopping is fabulous and the prices can be dirt-cheap. Of course, if you are looking for a museum piece, you are going to pay a museum price. Many of the souvenir rock shops that all DE members see during our travels do their restocking right here in Tucson. Goods are sold at wholesale prices, and in bulk, so if you have a resale license – bring it with you. It’s pretty likely that you will find the treasure of your dreams at the lowest price you’ll ever see. Many of the venues are jewelry shows, and the prices to be had are bar-none. I save my jewelry shopping money all year for this. For example, if I wait for a gemstone ring to go on sale at a department store, I will still expect to pay around $65.00. In Tucson, the same ring sells for $25.00 (and there are thousands to choose from).
The Show isn’t just about shopping. Each vendor has traveled, many internationally, to show off their stuff. The vendors are posted in their booths for the two week duration of the show, so they have time on their hands. I have had the most fun meeting and chatting with folks from all over the world. They are very friendly and most possess excellent English-speaking skills. They are interesting conversationalists and have great stories. They will proudly show you their rockhounding photographs, sometimes photos of the very item you have just admired - as it was taken from the ground. There is nothing like buying an addition to one’s personal collection from the actual miner, not only do you get the rock, but you get the story that goes with it. And because rockhounding at this level involves fervor and a bit of obsession – these guys are passionate about their rocks.
Here’s a great incentive to go – most of the venues are FREE , meaning no admission is charged. You may have to pay to park your car, but there’s usually a work-around if you are willing to walk. The worst thing about The Show is that the local hotels adjust their nightly rates to astronomical levels (reminds me of what Las Vegas does for conventions). It’s pretty cold at night, so you have to be pretty cheap to endeavor camping to attend the Show. Hotels are much cheaper in Tucson if you stay as far north as possible - better yet, stay with a friend who lives there.
Typically, I go to The Show for three days, or until I run out of money. After three days, I am still hungry to see more but I’m too pooped out to walk another day. I actually have more fun shopping alone than with a buddy. The best strategy is to split up with your companions and agree to meet back up at a specified time. Also, expect to be so over-stimulated with treasures that you either buy too impulsively (the first day) or become racked with indecision. If you try to go back to something you saw previously, it’s almost impossible to locate again (trust me). I have found it very helpful to make a list of what you are targeting to buy before The Show. This makes it easier to focus on what you really wanted in the first place, before the hypnotism took effect.
If you want to learn more about the Tucson International Gem Show, just Google it and click around the internet. Next year, venues begin to open on January 28, 2012, with most open by February 3. All the venues will be open and running February 9 – 12, 2012 (the “main event”). So you are thinking – what if I just show up during the Show, do I need a map? Absolutely not – the Show is all over the southern end of Tucson, venues are everywhere and obvious. You can get a free guide once you arrive. It helps to know which specialty the venues are: just minerals, jewelry only, mixed? Research on the internet should give you an idea as to the name of the venue you’d like to try first and the address. Once you are in Tucson, you learn as you go. The critical item to pre-plan is your lodgings. If you just show up looking for a bargain hotel, you won’t find one available without reservations. The cheapest hotels get booked up by early January. I would recommend that you check out the International Gem Show at least once in your life – add it to your “bucket list.” Even if you are not interested in buying rocks, the spectacle will make it worth your while.
check out the photo gallery