Experience the artistry of rocks at Turlock show

03/08/2014 11:00 PM

03/08/2014 11:20 PM

Rocks star in a celebration of the best reasons to get your hands dirty at the Gem, Jewelry & Rock Show, continuing today at the Stanislaus County Fairground.

Some 10,000 people were expected to troop through the exhibit halls in Turlock this weekend, making this one of the top rock shows in Northern California, said organizer Craig Plante of the Mother Lode Mineral Society of California. Family-friendly exhibits and free admission for the 12-and-under crowd help boost attendance at the show, now in its 48th year.

“We love the kids. That’s the future of rockhounding,” Plante said.

A treasure hunt takes youngsters past the wide range of exhibits, with a prize at the end for those who hit each one. Fluorescent rocks and a darkened tunnel of spectacular space shots provide a wow factor, but displays of geo-jewelry and stunning stones also shine. Demonstrations let passers-by see how it happens, Plante said. “They turn just regular-looking stones and minerals into beautiful works of art.”

But first, attendees pass crates of $2 to $5 geodes being sliced in half in an ear-splitting assault on history. “They’ve been closed for millions of years,” Plante said.

His love of rocks echoed in voices young and old Saturday. “We come every year,” said Tevii Rios of Winton. “Any outing we have, we collect rocks. At the ocean, any kind of rock,” Rios said, while children Lilliana, 10, and Nicolas, 9, stared at fossils in an exhibit case.

Chewing on rock candy, Sandra Sanchez took her cousin Octavio Fermin, 11, past a showcase of gleaming rock eggs and art pieces. “He’s been interested,” she said, noting Octavio usually isn’t interested in the same things she is. But she really came, Sanchez admitted, to get extra credit in her earth science class.

Jonathan Nichols, 11, too busy shopping to talk, dug through polished specimens of highly colored stone. Uncle Curtis Escobar, a rockhound in his younger days, said they go to shows and have gone on digs at nearby quarries. But Jonathan’s getting into the fossil side of earth science, Escobar said. “He’s into dinosaurs. He watches all the ‘Jurassic Parks.’ ”

At the beading station, volunteers Martina Broughton and Nicole Hubble of Patterson assembled visitors’ selections into bracelets for 50 cents. The Creekside Middle School classmates said they enjoyed spending the day crafting and chatting, and along the way helping support the Mother Lode Mineral Society, the show sponsor.

For 81/2-year-old Jonathan Barnes, however, time was money. He sawed feverishly at a hunk of soapstone gradually yielding to his will, taking on stegosauruslike contours. As each adult or child passed, he coaxed them over to feel the talc powder released like sawdust from wood.

“Feel that. It’s soft. They use that in chewing gum, baby powder and toothpaste,” Jonathan said before pointing to simpler creations he was selling for $2 and up.

His silver-haired carving partner Fredene Bradley took up sculpting eight years ago at a Modesto Junior College community education class “and got hooked,” she said.

Jonathan’s been sculpting since he was 6.

“You can learn things from soapstone. I can make whatever I want. That’s what I make. Anything that pops into my imagination,” Jonathan said.

Stirring kids’ imagination was much on the minds of Fossil Discovery Center volunteers Larry Martin and Jim Haney. At a table laden with fossilized skulls, the two talked up the Chowchilla museum and answered questions from those who really dig dinosaurs. The gem show offers a wealth of networking for potential field trips and donors, Martin said.

“We make contact with teachers, social and service clubs. We line up a lot of school tours,” he said. The center’s exhibits line up with second- and sixth-grade science standards, drawing 750 to 1,000 student visitors a month.

Gazing at one of the skulls, Nora Knittel, 8, of Ceres said her class buried a shark tooth and a shell in sand forms and then dug them out as paleontologists would. “I was interested in saber-toothed tigers and wooly mammoths,” she said. Nora said she hasn’t decided whether to be a paleontologist or a geologist when she grows up.

Whatever she chooses, the show just may have gained another rockhound.

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