Gem-O-Rama Fun in Trona, California
What is Gem-O-Rama?
Gem-O-Rama is an amazing crystal collecting experience held near Death Valley, California. For a small fee, geologists, rock hounds, and crystal lovers all get to collect rare and different minerals the second weekend in October every year.
It is possible to find rare Hanksite, Trona, Thenardite, Borax, as well as white and pink Halite. To get these crystals, everyone digs through huge mud piles (shown on Dirty Jobs: Mud Mineral Excavator), wades through saltwater pools, and sorts through blown out crystals. You get dirty, get a fun weekend, and get crystals. It really is an amazing weekend!
Where is Gem-O-Rama?
Gem-O-Rama is held in Trona, California, an area near Death Valley National Park. The collecting trips are held at Searles Lake on the property of a nearby mineral company.
Gem-O-Rama is a Gem and Mineral Show with 3 associated field trips that you attend in your own car.
The field trips are actually the big draw. There are 3 of them and for each of them people drive their cars in a parade over to Searles Dry Lake next to the town.
The Gem and Mineral Show
The rock and mineral show is great and has about 20 dealers selling stuff, including rocks, minerals, fossils, gems, jewelry, and lapidary supplies. They also have mineral specimens on display and show a video about the field trips.
The Mud Field Trip
The first field trip is held Saturday morning and it's where people get to collect Hanksite from big piles of mud.
The Blow Hole Field Trip
The second field trip is the blow hole field trip and it is held on Saturday afternoon and involves collecting crystals off of the ground after they have been thrown there through a complicated process that I'll describe later.
The Salt Pools Field Trip
The third and final field trip is to get pink or cranberry colored halite crystals from pools of extremely salty water.
Gem-O-Rama Important Information Flyer
Gem-O-Rama Rock and Mineral Show
Trona Rock and Mineral Show
The Gem-O-Rama Rock and Mineral Show is held in the SLG & MS Lapidary and Show Building, located on the corner of Main and Trona Road. The address is 13337 Main Street, but it's easy to find, just look for all the cars lined up by a building along the main road.
There are over 20 rock and mineral dealers at the show, plus exhibits and geode cutting and demonstrations. There is free admission to the rock and mineral show.
The show building is also a great place to eat. They have a small cafeteria to make it easier for visitors and make some money for this small town. Lunch hours on Saturday and Sunday run from 10am-4pm and dinner is available Friday and Saturday nights from 5pm-7pm. Dinner is $9.
This is also where you'll have to go to sign up for the field trips and buy brine to clean your crystals, so you might as well get a snack and check out the rocks while you're there.
Pictures from the Gem-O-Rama Rock and Mineral ShowClick thumbnail to view full-size
Visit Trona and Gem-o-rama with Mike Rowe. One season Mike Rowe visited Gem-O-Rama and Searles Lake to check out the dirty work done there. There is footage of the factory, setting explosive charges for the blow hole field trip, and they also filmed some of the people digging through the mud piles, though Mike isn't in that part.
It just so happened that the year they filmed that episode was the same that me and some of my friends attended Gem-O-Rama so we got to see them filming at the mud piles. I was so eager to get as many crystals as possible in the small amount of time we had that I was paying more attention to crystal collecting than to the crew though they actually filmed me for a while cleaning crystals they did not show that part in the episode. I am in one of the shots though for a few seconds -- of course while I was sitting in the mud, covered with goo, and digging.
Dirty Jobs Film Crew Filming Mud Piles
In the background of the above shot of people collecting crystals from the mud piles, you can see the Dirty Jobs film crew. They are filming from a cherry picker on the other side of the mud piles.
Gem-O-Rama Mud Trip
The Mud Pile Field Trip
This field trip is held on Saturday morning and features the chance to dig through piles of mud to find crystals. The most commonly found crystal here is Hanksite, sometimes in small chunks, other times in massive pieces.
The mud for the this event comes from deep below the surface of the dry lake, where the mud is saturated with brine. The mud and the crystals growing in it would be impossible for us to collect from if it wasn't for the mineral company's help.
First the mineral company tests various areas for nice crystal concentrations. When they find a good area that has lots of mud full of crystals they use heavy equipment to dig deep holes to where the mud is with the crystals. They then load tons of this crystal-filled mud into dump trucks which take the mud to a level spot where there's lots of room and they spread it out, so at the prearranged time we can go jump in and start going through it looking for the Hanksite crystals we like the best.
Mud Trip Details
The Mud Trip is held Saturday morning and it leaves at 9am.
You must leave at this time to go, and you have to register ahead of time inside the building, so make sure you get there on time! Registration starts at 7:30am, and goes until 9am. If you are there after 9am, you won't be able to go.
During the mud trip you can collect cluster and barrel forms of hanksite. Also, potentially, trona and borax.
It is $15 per car.
Collecting Crystals from Mud Piles at Gem-O-Rama
Me Collecting Crystals from the Mud Piles
Read My Step-By-Step Guide to Mud Trip and How to Collect There
- Gem-O-Rama: Mud Field Trip
There is an event where you can tell your kids to go play in the mud, and really want them to,. This event is called the Mud Field Trip of Gem-O-Rama and I'll tell you step-by-step how to collect there.
Gem-O-Rama Blow Hole Trip
The Blow Hole Field Trip
The blow hole field trip is held Saturday afternoon and is a chance to collect many small crystals, such as small pieces of Hanksite, Trona, Thenardite, Borax, Halite, and the rare Sulfohalite.
This event starts before the crystal collectors even arrive. The crystals in Searles Lake are formed below the surface of the lake bed where there is extremely salty water, called brine. Without the mineral company's help we would never be able to get any crystals since the average person couldn't tunnel down 50' to get at them, but lucky for us, the Searles Valley Mineral Company helps us out long before we arrive.
They start by drilling several shafts down into the lakebed, about 50' deep. The Navy explosive experts then place explosives down the holes and set them off to loosen the crystals from their beds. When it's time, the SVMC technicians will pump compressed air down into the hole which propels the crystals and brine up and out of the hole and onto the surface of the lake. They spread this brine and crystal mixture over the surface of the dry lake where we can later collect them. They also save one blow hole to spray out for the people on the field trip, so we can watch and have fun collecting the newly blown crystals too.
The demonstration during the field trip actually didn't come about for the event in 2008, since the pump truck broke through the hard surface of the lakebed and tipped over. This was the first time it this had ever happened and the truck was rescued a few days later so it didn't get mired in the salt beds forever.
Blow Hole Trip Details
The Blow Hole field trip is on Saturday in the early afternoon. It leaves at 2:30pm. Remember, you have to be there and registered when it's time to leave!
Registration is from 1:30 to 2:30pm.
During the blow hole trip you can collect the most variety of minerals. Possibilities include hanksite, halite, borax, and sulfohalite.
It costs $15 per car.
Waiting to Collect Crystals from the Blow Hole
Collecing Crystals from Blow Hole at Gem-O-Rama
Minerals Collected from Blow Hole Field Trip
Handheld garden tools and buckets are all you need to collect with at the Blow Hole Field Trip. These ones have nice handles to make them easier on your hands so you can sort through the tiny crystals even faster.
Gem-O-Rama Pink Halite Trip
The Pink Halite / Brine Pools Field Trip
The Pink Halite or Brine Pools field trip is many people's favorite. It is held Sunday.
On this field trip, people collect Halite or salt crystals from pools of extremely saline water that are tinted red by salt-loving algae called halophilic or halobacteria.
As the brine pools dry up, the amount of salt in the water reaches a certain level that can no longer be suspended, so it starts to fall out of the water. This forms salt crystals inside and around the edges of the pools. As they crystallize, the Halite often forms around the algae and takes on the reddish coloring.
Depending on how much algae they form around, the Halite crystals can be white to pink to a deep cranberry color.
Details About the Pink Halite Trip
The Pink Halite field trip is held on Sunday and it leaves at 9am. Be in line and registered by 9am to attend the field trip.
During the Pink Halite trip you can collect primarily pink halite from the salt pools. Sometimes you can find darker halite, I call strawberry and cranberry, also sometimes white halite that hasn't taken up the algae.
$20 a car to attend.
Looking for Halite at Searles Lake
This couple below are looking for halite in the brine pools at Searles Lake. They don't know how to search for the crystals and so aren't finding much, but the last part of the clip shows what a bit of what's it's like to search for the halite.
The Allen's Gem-O-Rama Post
- Team Allen: The Gem-O-Rama.
The couple in the video went to Gem-O-Rama and wrote a post on their blog about it. It has that nice video of someone collecting halite from the brine pools as well as other details of their trip and gemorama.
Get a Rock Hammer
Everyone can always use a rock hammer, but it really comes in handy on the Pink Halite/Brine Pool Field Trip. Also if you plan to collect at any places on your way to Gem-O-Rama or in the Trona area while you are there, you might want to pick up a rock hammer.
Really, my rock hammer never leaves my vehicle since I never know when I'll want to stop and use it to break off a piece of rock to take home.
You'll Need a Breaker Bar
A long breaker bar is needed to pry the halite loose from the shelves in the Brine Pools.
You could rent one at the store in Gem-O-Rama if they have enough left, or just bring your own to ensure you can break off the halite.
The extra-long length of this wrecker bar is great for giving extra leverage to make it easier to break the rock shelves the Halite crystals grow on.
Collecting Crystals from Salt Pools
Some of the crystals are sharp and when digging around in them it's nice to have something on to protect your hands.
What's your favorite part of Gem-O-Rama?
More Information about Gem-O-Rama
Where to Stay
Many people that go to Gem-O-Rama stay at the campground set up for the attendees. It is located a few miles north of Trona and is fairly cheap. Camping there means you are close to the action and it helps the community earn money.
It is called the Valley Wells Recreation Area and it is 5.3 miles north of the show. It is dry camping and there are no services, but it's nice to have a place so close by.
It costs $5 per vehicle.
The Crystals of Gem-O-Rama
Minerals Found During Gem-O-Rama
The minerals that you can collect at Gem-O-Rama are some of the most rare, uncommon, and unusual.
Halite is what we typically think of as salt.
Halite is found in many current evaporative deposits such as near Salt Lake City, Utah and Searles Lake California in the U.S., where it crystallizes out of evaporating brine lakes.
Pink Halite is found in places other than Searles Lake, but most of the nice Pink Halite specimens seen in mineral shows and other places were collected during Gem o rama.
Gem O Rama Pink Halite
Hanksite is considered a rare and unusual mineral. It forms very pretty shaped crystals in shapes of light to dark sage green as well as yellowish. Sometimes the crystals include clumps of mud too that you can just barely see inside the crystals.
Searles Lake is just about the only place from which you can collect Hanksite. It grows so deep underground that it's hard to reach and it requires ground water with lots of certain salts dissolved in it to form.
Hanksite is the one of the two main crystals you'll collect at Gemorama.
Learn More About Hanksite
- Hanksite: An Unusual Mineral
Hanksite is an unusual mineral mostly because of its formula. It is one of only a handful of minerals that contain both carbonate and sulfate ion groups. This Arctic has lots of pictures of Hanksite and mineral information.
Buying Hanksite Crystals
Almost all Hanksite that you'll ever see was collected in this one weekend event, either from the mud piles or the blow hole. Because Hanksite is so difficult to get down to, it's considered rare for collectors to have in their mineral collections.
Borax Growing on Hanksite
This area of the desert has been well known for years for something often called "white gold". Borax drew people out to the Mojave Desert and the Death Valley area even in the heat of summer. They were there for the riches of borax mining.
Borax has always been an important mineral for human use, and it isn't found in many places around the world. Many of us have forgotten about the importance of the 20-mule teams, the men who slaved in 100+ temperatures, and the fortunes won and lost, but the land remembers.
Use this box of borax powder to make your clothes cleaner, just add a small scoop to your wash. It is also great for carpet cleaning and science fair projects as well.
Nahcolite is also known as baking soda and NaHCO3. Many people don't know that baking soda is a mined product.
Gotta Love Baking Soda
Learn More About Baking Soda
- Baking Soda or Bicarbonate of Soda
When most people think of baking soda or bicarbonate of soda, as it's commonly called, they immediately think of fresh baked goods like biscuits, bread or cakes. There's so much more to it than that though.
Thenardite is also known as Na2SO4. It is an anhydrous sodium sulfate mineral and forms when heavily salted liquid evaporates in a dry region.
Thenardite is also generally fluorescent showing a white color in shortwave UV and a yellow-green color in longwave ultraviolet light. So make sure you get a good blacklight flashlight to admire your specimens' glow.
Learn More About Thenardite
Thenardite is a very interesting mineral, learn more on this page.
Trona is the name of the town, but it is also the name of a mineral. It's based on an Arabic word "tron" that means salt. "Tron" itself is derived from "natrun".
Sulfohalite or 2Na2SO4*NaCl*NaF is among the mineral specimens found at Searles Lake, but not as commonly as many others.
It is shaped isometric or hexoctagonal when it is found. So if you see something oddly shaped, check to see if it is Sulfohalite.
I adore field guides and have several. It's a great idea to compare several descriptions when trying to identify a rock since the guides vary quite a bit.
Don't Forget, You Have to Clean those Crystals
Cleaning the Crystals
Don't forget, you will have to clean your collected crystals in order to display them. They take a lot of time and effort to clean, so don't collect more than you can easily clean.
The crystals collected during Gem-O-Rama are very sensitive because they're composed of types of salts. Incorrect care can cause them to dissolve or at the very least become pitted and ugly. Check the main Gem-O-Rama site for details about caring for the crystals correctly and making sure they won't just melt when you get them home.
Caring for Your Crystals
- Mineral Specimen Care
The minerals collected from Searles Lake are types of salts, and as you'd know if you ever added a spoonful of salt to soup, salt dissolves in water. Avoid destroying them by learning to properly clean and care for your crystals.
Other Things to Do in the Area
Searles Valley Mineral Plants Tour
Ride a bus around town and tour the mineral plants of Trona and Searles Lake. Tours are Saturday only at 10:40, 11:25, 12:10, 12:55, and 1:40.
Old Guest House Museum
Tour the Old Guest House Museum in Trona.
This nice little museum is in a building built in 1917 and it is crammed full of interesting bits and pieces of history. There is everything from artifacts and photographs of the local area, borate mining equipment, and lots of pictures of the past history of the town. It's an interesting place.
It is open on Saturday from 10am-4pm and on Sunday from 10am-2pm
The museum is located in the middle of Trona at 13193 Main Street.
Trona History House
The Trona History House is open on Saturday from 11am-4pm and Sunday from 10am-2pm.
The Trona Pinnacles
The Trona Pinnacles are an impressive geologic site located between Trona and Ridgecrest.
The pinnacles are towering columns standing over the surrounding desert, but once they were deposits on the floor of the lake that covered this valley.
They have been used in several movies and commercials and are very interesting.
The Trona Pinnacles are located down a dirt road about halfway between the towns and they are free to visit.
Learn More About the Trona Pinnacles
- The Trona Pinnacles
The Trona Pinnacles are a little known feature between the towns of Trona and Ridgecrest. Crafted by nature out of minerals deposited by springs under the lake that once filled the valley, the Trona Pinnacles loom over the surrounding area.
Since the Panamint Valley where Gem-O-Rama is held is sandwiched in between Death Valley and Owens Valley, this book is great for the specific geology of the area, especially since there's so much going on there.
Ballarat Ghost Town
Near the town of Trona is an interesting ghost town called Ballarat. Ballarat is also the name of a mining town in Australia, and this Ballarat was a mining town as well.
Ballarat still has several standing buildings and a working general store, there is also a small campground. It's a fun place to visit.
Learn More About the Ballarat Ghost Town
- Ballarat: A California Ghost Town
A little known ghost town in California, Ballarat is a wonderful place to visit. Located near Death Valley, the town is situated in the Panamint Valley in an ancient lakebed. Started as a gold mining boom town, Ballarat still has several buildings...
Death Valley National Park
While you're in the area, don't forget to visit Death Valley National Park too. Death Valley is the parallel valley to the east of the Panamint Valley, which is where Trona and Searles Lake is located.
It can still take a while to get to Death Valley from Trona though because there are very few roads that pass over the mountains into the next valley. The mountains between Panamint and Death Valleys are some of the most steep in the entire state and the few roads that do cross are nearly impossible to drive, even in a 4x4.
You'll need to take the main road through Trona up to the main highway that enters Death Valley and enter that way, so it can take some time, but it's worth it to visit such an amazing place.
Explore Death Valley
- Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park has amazing sights, stunning panoramas, and the lowest point in the entire United States. It contains more unique geology and geography than almost anywhere else, and everyone should visit at least once in their lives.
Get a UV Flashlight
Some of the crystals collected from Gem-O-Rama fluoresce under a black light. Plus, you should always have UV flashlights to explore the desert.
© 2008 Alisha Vargas