Rock Rollers host annual gem and mineral show
Milton Houston slowly unwraps two figurines depicting ancient Chinese elders, carved from pink alabaster collected in Colorado.
“It only took two and a half months to carve it all by hand,” he says, nonchalantly.
The 80-year-old then takes off the necklace hanging around his neck to point out green turquoise he dug up in Colorado and bear claws from Nevada he used to make this piece of jewelry.
He inherited these claws, clarifies the man who won’t even kill a spider. If he picks up a rock with spiders underneath, he puts a new house over the bug.
“I don’t kill spiders,” he says. “Squirrels are another story.”
Houston is a veteran member of the Roseville Rock Rollers Gem and Mineral Society, which a group of rockhounds formed in 1960 and now boasts about 250 members. The society is hosting its 49th annual Gem, Jewelry, Fossil and Mineral Show Saturday, March 26 and Sunday, March 27 at the Placer County Fairgrounds.
The show features 38 exhibit cases, 45 vendors, free gem and mineral identification, gold panning and an activity station for kids. Proceeds from the event support the nonprofit group, which includes members from throughout Placer and Sacramento counties.
The group purchased its education and workshop trailer — also located on the fairgrounds — five years ago from funds generated through previous shows.
They paid $14,000 to get the trailer up and running, and now have a venue to host earth science classes and the monthly Rookie Rock Rollers course for children and provide a workspace for members.
Since Houston joined Rock Rollers in 1966, he’s taught lapidary — the art of turning gemstones or minerals into decorative items — and flint-knapping classes among others.
Rock Rollers Vice President Jim Hutchings took lapidary a decade ago, although his passion for rocks and minerals began when he was 7 years old growing up in Rancho Cordova and digging for gold nuggets. He still has the original rock hammer he got for Christmas as a child.
As an adult, Hutchings became a gold miner. He took a mineral identification course at Sierra College and became an amateur geologist and mineralogist. The former highway patrolman spends his retirement traveling around the western United States on expeditions.
“There’s something really satisfying about banging on a mountain and getting a mineral that’s been there for millions of years,” Hutchings says.
In April, he’ll go to Topaz Mountain in Utah in quest of red beryl, also called “red emeralds.”
During the show, Hutchings will offer free mineral and gem identification. He also has a radiometer to test specimens — such as uranium — for radioactivity. To determine the mineral type, Hutchings says, experts look at color, hardness and how it breaks. They will also grind the mineral on a porcelain plate to see the color of powder produced. Heat process and chemical tests are sometimes performed.
On a recent morning in the trailer, Rock Roller member Gloria Marie points to an opal in a glass case, an amethyst tower from Brazil, a halite from Death Valley and a couple meteorites that fell from outer space. Some specimens are destined to become jewelry, she says, while some are meant to remain intact for display.
“It’s very rewarding to take a rough chunk of rock covered with dirt and pick it off the ground and make it something beautiful,” Marie says.
Fossils and petrified wood make ideal display pieces. Petrified wood refers to trees that through permineralization — when organic materials become minerals — turn into stone.
Rock Roller Hugh Brady picks up one piece that is 40 to 55 million years old and was found in Roseville, back when this area was “beach-front property,” he says. He points to another specimen that is 500 million years old from Utah when that land was ocean floor.
As for Marie, the cabinets in her house are filled with roughly 1,000 rocks and minerals, she says — not counting the ones stashed under her bed.
“I grew up in Anaheim and for some strange reason I liked to dig in the ground,” Marie says. “One time, I dug up a crystal. I have no idea how it got there because geology wise it doesn’t belong there.”
Houston taught Marie how to polish her first stone in the late 1990s. The elder rockhound started collecting specimens as a child.
“I’ve always been interested in rocks and minerals,” Houston says. “I had more rocks in my school desk than books.”
When he was 16 years old, Houston shot slingshots at geese. A man gave him a pocketknife and piece of wood to whittle away at instead. Soon, the teenager was carving soapstone and alabaster.
Although Houston’s multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren aren’t yet interested in rocks and minerals, Rock Rollers gives him a chance to teach others about his hobby.
“He can share that knowledge with others,” Marie says. “So it carries on.”
Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
49th annual Roseville Gem, Jewelry, Fossil and Mineral Show
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 26 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 27
Where: Placer County Fairgrounds, 800 All America City Blvd. in Roseville
Cost: $6 general admission, $5 seniors over 60, free for kids 12 and under. Free parking
Info: Event features 38 exhibit cases, gold panning with period-dressed miners, meteorites, free gem and mineral ID, kids activity station, 45 vendors and more. Visit www.rockrollers.com.