Welcome to Gem-O-Rama, California’s new gold rush.
At the 77th Annual Gem-O-Rama final October, a whole bunch and beginner rockhounds descended on the tiny group of Trona, Calif., for a weekend of treasure searching. Gem sellers, geologists, retirees and faculty youngsters dived into the mud and brine of Searles Lake to extract specimens of spellbinding molecular order: hanksite, pink halite, borax and different salt crystals.
Crystals, the now ubiquitous wellness equipment sitting in your desk or bedside desk, all come from someplace. Some come from this dry lake mattress within the California desert. “A lot of people don’t pay attention to what’s going on under their feet,” mentioned Alexandra Gama, president of the geology membership at California State University, Sacramento. But for the weekend at Gem-O-Rama, what’s occurring underfoot is the primary occasion.
Since 1873, Searles Lake has been mined for borax and different minerals, that are bought by the ton for all the things from fertilizer to cleansing merchandise, glass manufacturing to gunpowder. The mining operation spawned a small firm city, Trona, and with it, the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society. The Society has labored with the mining firm, now known as Searles Valley Minerals, Inc., to host Gem-O-Rama yearly since 1941. (Before you seize your pickax, word that Gem-O-Rama 2019 was canceled due to extreme harm attributable to earthquakes this summer season. The epicenters of the July four and 5 quakes have been simply west of Trona.)
Over the course of the pageant, there are three discipline journeys, every heading to completely different places and excavation challenges, throughout which attendees can pursue their quarry. For the “Mud Trip,” Searles Valley Minerals workers have turned over sections of earth 10- to 20-feet deep, revealing clusters of hanksite — a uncommon, greenish six-sided crystal — within the thick black goo. Later, on the “Blow Hole,” stones buried so far as 50 ft beneath the lake mattress are pumped above floor in a powerful geyser.
The ultimate journey is to the crimson brine swimming pools of pink halite, which grows in a dice form and is made pink by the salt-loving micro organism that inhabit the water. Gem hunters wade instantly into the swimming pools, braving the sting of its excessive salt focus and wielding crowbars and pickaxes to break off chunks from hardened crystal reefs.
“It’s hot and acidic and salty, like a mixture of salt and lemon juice and sulfur,” Reeve Peterson, a gem supplier, mentioned of the pink halite swimming pools. “And the minute you get out of it, everything that’s wet on you, which is all of you, immediately crystallizes. Your legs and pants are covered in salt crystal, so every time you move you get scratches. Then you go back into the brine and it’s like dipping a cut in a lemon.”
The wealthy sediment at Searles Lake has been hundreds of thousands of years within the making. Volcanic exercise upstream produced mineral-laden rocks. Glaciers floor up the rocks, leaching their minerals and dissolving them in water. The runoff flowed down from the mountains and into the lake. As the earth warmed, the water largely evaporated, leaving layers of brine that the desert solar bakes into crystals.
Rocks and minerals are normal fourth-grade science curriculum in California, mentioned Moira Talan, a instructor at Topanga Elementary Charter School in Los Angeles County. “Topanga,” Ms. Talan mentioned, “is kind of a crystal place.” For greater than 10 years, Ms. Talan has introduced college students to Gem-O-Rama, the place they’ll change into geologists for the weekend, accumulating and figuring out minerals.
Ms. Gama, the geology membership president, identified in a phone interview that when you’ve collected your specimens, it’s crucial to clear each with salty brine. (Not freshwater; the entire crystals at Searles Lake are water soluble.) “The hanksite doesn’t smell that bad because its in mud,” she mentioned. “But the halite smells horrendous. The brine pools smell like something died.”
“The total chaos is what makes it so fun,” Alison Jean Cole, a jeweler and lapidary artist from Portland, Ore., mentioned. She leads “rock-hounding” adventures for girls and Gem-O-Rama, she mentioned “epitomizes the spirit of the rockhound, somebody who is beyond obsessed.”
The crystals at Searles Lake are extra ephemeral than most. The wet season that follows Gem-O-Rama will wash nearly all of them away. But that doesn’t dampen these rockhounds’ enthusiasm.
“Crystallization is the only place in nature where you see straight lines,” Mr. Peterson, the gem supplier, mentioned admiringly. “Everything else is wobbly, round and wiggly. I think that we are innately drawn to order and organization in the midst of all this cosmic chaos.” Or maybe extra merely: “human beings like shiny things.”