Monday, April 20, 2015

The Deming Rockhound Roundup, with Ellen Rippel

Decades ago an astrologer studied my natal chart and observed that it was utterly devoid of earth. She told me I had to find ways to “get grounded” to balance out my other elements: air, fire and water. So I began a quest for “earthy” endeavors, and, happily, New Mexico has been the ideal place for me to contemplate subjects like archaeology, paleontology, cemeteries, pottery, rock hounding and rock collecting. 

A favorite rock-related pursuit for me has been attending the annual Rockhound Roundup, celebrating its 50th anniversary earlier this year. Sponsored by the Deming Gem and Mineral Society (DGMS), the Roundup is held on several acres at the Southwestern New Mexico State Fair Grounds in Deming. With free admission, free parking, over 100 indoor and outdoor vendors, and near-perfect weather, it’s easy to see why thousands of visitors attend the four-day show.

One of the more popular areas at the Roundup is the geode-cutting booth. Geodes are volcanic, spherical (usually) hollow rocks, and many contain multi-colored crystals in their interiors. The regions around Deming, with dormant volcanoes silhouetting the four compass points, are peppered with thousands of geodes.  There’s a genuine sense of treasure-hunting involved in trying to choose the “right” geode (on the outside they’re bumpy and drab) from a box of 40 or 50, and then watching it be cut open, exposing material formed eons ago. 

In addition to other events, the DGMS also schedules two auctions during the show, one of them silent.  The “silent” auction tends to be just the opposite – exceptionally noisy – with over 100 people darting around long tables covered with varying sizes and qualities of rocks. Every piece being auctioned has paper and pen nearby so participants can write down a bid in list format. Each bid must be an increase over the previous one. Normally participants move around the tables quickly, bidding on numerous items. The process reminds me a little of musical chairs – minus the chairs and music. If, for some reason, you’ve found the rock of your dreams and don’t want to lose it, you stand your ground right next to it, glaring at anyone who attempts to outbid you.  After a few minutes of controlled chaos an official shouts, “Time’s up!”  The results are tallied and a new round begins. 

Events aside, my favorite activity at the Rockhound Roundup is simply walking around, absorbing the ambiance, and talking with enthusiastic vendors and other rock collectors. It gives me that “grounded” feeling I was told to grab on to many years ago. Purchasing a few more rocks to add to my collection doesn’t hurt either.

For more information about the annual Rockhound Roundup visit the Deming Gem and Mineral Society:

Ellen Rippel is the author of Outlaws & Outcasts:  The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico. For those who love history, archaeology, or quirky stories from the Land of Enchantment, the book is an intriguing summary of the unearthing of an unknown century-old graveyard in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1972. Outlaws & Outcasts is filled with stories of early outlaws and fascinating historical insights, including discussion of historical burial practices and customs, and a search through the scarce literature on events specific to the existence of the cemetery.

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