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Clubhouse is diamond in the rough for wet fair-goers

March 07, 2001|By KELLY GRANT, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Though rain turned much of the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta into a muddy mess Tuesday, the Imperial Valley Gem and Mineral Society clubhouse served as a diamond in the rough for soggy fair-goers.

"It tells the story from time one," said Dan Rigel of rock and fossil collecting.

Rigel, who has one of the foremost such collections on the West Coast, is showing and selling a variety of his findings.

Scouring the world, Rigel has amassed a sizable assortment of natural treasures. An estimated 165 million year old fossilized pine cone from Argentina sits near a meteorite found in Chechnya, Russia. A fossilized ammonite with an iridescent shell from Morocco retails for $18 while $45 will buy you a dinosaur tooth.

The wisdom and knowledge that Rigel dispenses, however, are free.

"I've been around and around and around," said Rigel, who in addition to owning the Caveman Lapidary company in Oregon, speaks at schools and club meetings about his trade.


The displays that line the gem and mineral clubhouse attract fair-goers of every age.

"I've always liked rocks," said Daniel Heredia, 11, of Brawley.

"I came to see the glowing rocks," Daniel said of the fluorescent rocks on display under black light.

Daniel's friend, Cory Hanks, 11, also of Brawley, hasn't always had the best experiences at this particular fair attraction.

"Last year, we came in here and a kid knocked off a thing of rocks and blamed it on me and my friend," Cory said.

Regardless of past mishaps, both boys enjoyed watching James Egger of the Imperial Valley Gem and Mineral Society cut open geodes for the pair.

At prices starting at just $4, fairgoers can buy a geode and have it cut open for free.

While the outside surface gives little away, the inner designs, colors and patterns are always a surprise.

"There's always something in them," Egger said.

The cutting, which can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour depending on size and composition, is done in a special machine with a $400 blade.

Or you can opt for the faster method, Egger told Daniel and Cory as he held a hammer above their uncut geode.

The boys chose to wait and use the machine.

The Imperial Valley Gem and Mineral Society uses its Imperial Valley Expo clubhouse through most of the year for meetings and displays. The gems and minerals will still be available for viewing after the fair ends as the public is welcome to drop in on Wednesday nights.

Membership stands somewhere between 70-80 people, Egger said. Anyone is invited to join and the club offers membership fee discounts for families and couples.

Staff Writer Kelly Grant can be reached at 337-3441.

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