Southern Arizona is known for its abundance of rocks and gems, particularly the Tucson area, which is home to the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. This event includes hundreds of vendors spread across several locations in and around downtown Tucson, and attracts collectors and gem enthusiasts from around the nation. The history of Southern Arizona is rich in mining, and many of the state's remaining deposits of gems and minerals are on privately owned land that contains working mines. So you won't have much luck finding gems in the middle of the desert, unless you've got a great deal of money and mining equipment. You can, however, take advantage of the state's abundance of gems, if you know where to look.
Hit the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, generally held from late January through the middle of February. The show typically encompasses more than a dozen locations, with the largest collection of vendors at the Tucson Convention Center. You'll also find gem collectors and retailers set up at hotels throughout the city during the event.
Head to gem shops in the Phoenix area for peridot, which is a bright yellow-green or lime-green stone that is mined in nearby San Carlos, about 110 miles east of Phoenix. The largest peridot mine in Southern Arizona is on the San Carlos Indian Reservation, which supplies many of the area's retailers with the gems. Unfortunately it is not open for public tours.
Take a trip to Bisbee, Arizona, located near the Mexico border about 90 miles southeast of Tucson, home of highly sought-after Bisbee turquoise. The mine, which is part of a larger copper mine, is closed, but tours are available and Bisbee turquoise is still for sale at shops in the area, as well as throughout Tucson and Phoenix.
Travel to amethyst-rich Four Peaks, which is about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix. The area is home to the Mazatzal Mountain Range, whose trails draw hikers throughout the year. The Four Peaks Mine itself is on private property among the peaks at about 7,200 feet, but you'll find the purple amethysts at gem shops in and around Four Peaks and Phoenix.
If you're planning a trip to Tucson for the annual Gem and Mineral Show, book your hotel rooms several months in advance, as many hotels sell out during the event. Most of the show's various locations offer free admission, but be prepared to pay for parking, particularly in downtown Tucson.
Be aware that there's a big market in fake gems, particularly among rare and expensive stones in Arizona. A knockoff of Bisbee turquoise, for example, is created in China and known as "red skin." The best way to avoid purchasing a fake is to buy from a reputable dealer or have someone with a trained eye check out any gems you purchase.
- turquoise image by Maxim Petrichuk from Fotolia.com