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Gem-O-Rama Fun in Trona, California

Updated on September 27, 2014
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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 Location

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A markerLocation of Gem-O-Rama -
82999 Trona Rd, Trona, California
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Los Angeles, CA, USA
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Las Vegas, NV, USA
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Gem-O-Rama

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 Information
Gem-O-Rama Information

Gem-O-Rama Rock and Mineral Show

Pretty little pseudomorph at the gemorama Gem and Mineral show
Pretty little pseudomorph at the gemorama Gem and Mineral show | Source

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 Show

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Dirty Jobs

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

Dirty Jobs at Searles Lake
Dirty Jobs at Searles Lake | Source

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

Mineral Collecting near Death Valley
Mineral Collecting near Death Valley | Source

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

Collecting Crystals at Gemorama
Collecting Crystals at Gemorama | Source

Me Collecting Crystals from the Mud Piles

AlishaV Collecting Crystals from Mud Piles Dirty Jobs
AlishaV Collecting Crystals from Mud Piles Dirty Jobs | Source
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Gem-O-Rama Blow Hole Trip

Collecting Minerals near Death Valley California
Collecting Minerals near Death Valley California | Source

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

Blow Hole Field Trip Gemorama
Blow Hole Field Trip Gemorama | Source

Collecing Crystals from Blow Hole at Gem-O-Rama

Collecting MInerals at Gemorama
Collecting MInerals at Gemorama | Source

Minerals Collected from Blow Hole Field Trip

Minerals Collected near Death Valley California
Minerals Collected near Death Valley California | Source
Fiskars 3 Piece Softouch Garden Tool Set (7067)
Fiskars 3 Piece Softouch Garden Tool Set (7067)

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

Standing in Brine Pool at Gem-o-rama
Standing in Brine Pool at Gem-o-rama | Source

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.

Collecting Halite

Collecting Rocks and Minerals Near Death Valley
Collecting Rocks and Minerals Near Death Valley | Source

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.

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.

Fulton Corporation TW48WB 48-Inch Long Wrecker Pry Bar
Fulton Corporation TW48WB 48-Inch Long Wrecker Pry Bar

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

Collecting Crystals from Gemorama Salt Pools
Collecting Crystals from Gemorama Salt Pools | Source
Youngstown Glove 08-8450-80-L Waterproof Winter Military Work Glove, Large
Youngstown Glove 08-8450-80-L Waterproof Winter Military Work Glove, Large

Some of the crystals are sharp and when digging around in them it's nice to have something on to protect your hands.

 

Gem-O-Rama Poll

What's your favorite part of Gem-O-Rama?

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Where to Stay

Valley Wells Recreation Area
Valley Wells Recreation Area | Source

Trona Campground

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.

Source

Halite

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

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Hanksite

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.

Hanksite

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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

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Borax

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.

Borax 20 Mule Team Detergent Booster, 65 Oz.
Borax 20 Mule Team Detergent Booster, 65 Oz.

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

Nahcolite is also known as baking soda and NaHCO3. Many people don't know that baking soda is a mined product.

Thenardite Specimen

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Thenardite

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.


Trona

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

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Sulfohalite

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.




Peterson First Guide to Rocks and Minerals
Peterson First Guide to Rocks and Minerals

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 Hanksite from Gem-O-Rama
Cleaning Hanksite from Gem-O-Rama | Source

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.

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.

Free admission.

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.

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles
Trona Pinnacles | Source
Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley
Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley

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.

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.

Get a UV Flashlight

Streamlight 51010 Twin-Task 3C 9-Inch UV Flashlight, Black
Streamlight 51010 Twin-Task 3C 9-Inch UV Flashlight, Black

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

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    • Nara White Owl profile image

      Nara White Owl 8 years ago

      AlishaV,

      Great lens, I have gone to quartzsite ,az. and I try to make the gem show in Cal.

    • AlishaV profile image
      Author

      Alisha Vargas 8 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Thanks! I haven't been to Quartzite yet, I keep meaning to but something always comes up. Maybe this year.

    • Tyla MacAllister profile image

      Tyla MacAllister 8 years ago

      This sounds like great fun. I'll have to get to California and check it out.

    • profile image

      Kate_Downs 8 years ago

      Wow... what a fascinating lens. My bf has been filling my head with ideas of mining for gems and researching gems ever since he took some geology courses back in college. I can't wait to share this information with him. I really appreciate all the links and information. Your photos are wonderful. Excellent lens.

    • AlishaV profile image
      Author

      Alisha Vargas 8 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      [in reply to Kate_Downs] Actually, the funniest thing about the entire event is that we are actually collecting minerals, not gems. I have no idea why they called it Gem-O-Rama, but after 60 years, I don't think they can really change it :-)

      I got started with one geology class in school too. It sort of escalated from there and soon I had switched my major and started spending weekends digging in dirt. Watch out! Geology may snare you too!

    • crystalguy profile image

      crystalguy 8 years ago

      Thanks for posting this lens. I have heard about this trip for years and never got the scope of information that you have presented here. Great pictures! Five Stars!

    • SPhilbrick profile image

      SPhilbrick 8 years ago

      Great lens and resources ! I would LOVE to do this. Road trip ! :-)

    • Rusty Quill profile image

      Rusty Quill 8 years ago

      Hey that does sound like a ton of fun! Thanks for the info!

    • profile image

      whispersoftly 8 years ago

      Hi Alisha I see some eHow gang on your site. I have been to Quartzsite in 1990, it is huge, much bigger now I hear. It was fairly easy to get around then, I sold some jewelry, stained glass and western wear. Had a good time campin on the blm land and learned a LOT about desert pitfalls. The gems here are the ones the vendors bring. There were onyx mines here till the 1970s. You can still hike up to them.and see where onyx is still there, but be prepared to climb up a hill about the length of 2 football fields, STRAIGHT UP. I did it, with several stops along the way. A great climb. Y'all come see us.

    • VarietyWriter2 profile image

      VarietyWriter2 6 years ago

      Interesting.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 6 years ago from Covington, LA

      Boy, I would love to do that. Maybe one year. Very interesting lens.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 6 years ago from California

      Wow, this sure looks fun. A friend of mine is a gemologist (sp?) and told me about this a couple years ago. Fascinating and looks like a great field trip since I'm not that far away. Blessed by an Angel :)

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 5 years ago

      Looks like a load of fun. I have a gem shop in Pretoria South Africa www.valleygems.co.za

      Warm Regards

      Chris

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • profile image

      ohcaroline 5 years ago

      Sounds like a blast. I could see myself there digging in for the good stuff.

    • profile image

      AngryBaker 5 years ago

      sounds like a road trip!

    • profile image

      teresa-ray 5 years ago

      The count down is on my calander and I will be at Gem-o-rama. What is better than crystals in a mud pit! Grandkids are gonna have to be there too. Im used to finding sharks teeth and mammal bones so crystals etc will be a nice change.

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 4 years ago from Florida

      We love mining for gemstones!

    • JeffGilbert profile image

      JeffGilbert 4 years ago

      Some parts of the world with good geology have programs like this. Where I live it doesn't exist. Great lens!! :)

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