Annual rock show provides casual collectors opportunity to hang with experts

Sean C. Morgan

Robert Rosé spent a lot of the weekend peering through a loupe at crystalline structures in a wide variety of rocks people brought to the Sweet Home Rock and Gem Show for identification.

As he examined various rocks, the retired geologist explained what he was finding, asking questions periodically to determine where the rock was found. That information helped him narrow down what the rocks might be.

Rosé’s efforts were one of numerous activities at the The Sweet Home Rock and Mineral Society’s show, which celebrated its 70th anniversary Saturday and Sunday. Rosé, who retired from a 30-year career with Union Oil as a geologist and has volunteered to identify rocks for the past five or six years, has been a member of the club for 15 years and a lifelong fascination with minerals. He also is a member of the North American Research Group, which is focused on fossils.

Fossil collector Guy DiTorrice of Brownsville helped out Rosé handle the line of waiting visitors with rocks to inspect, identifying possible fossils while also tending to the children’s silent auction. It was DiTorrice’s first year volunteering at the event, his second as a member of the Rock and Mineral Society.

“It’s a hobby that’s occupied my spare time in retirement,” DiTorrice said. He retired from an assisted living career in Eugene and Newport two years ago. After moving to the coast about 20 years earlier, he began giving presentations on coastal fossils at state parks and leading field trips.

He continues to give presentations and provide tours, some paid, some not. He has been interested in rockhounding ever since, as a child, his mother handed him an egg carton and suggested he fill it up with rocks.

He found a lot of limestone, including fossils, which launched his interest in fossils. That’s where he was able to give Rosé a little help with the line.

While Rosé spent much of the day swamped, “it kind of tapered off there at the end,” Rosé said Saturday evening. “Sometimes, I just sort of jam up. People kind of collect around there, and they’re listening.”

He would sort out the rocks while Rosé worked with each visitor, he said. It’s easy for him to sort out the petrified wood and bone fossils, which helps keep the line moving.

As Rosé wrapped up with one visitor, another quickly stepped up with a pile of rocks, and Rosé was right back at it, applying his lengthy experience and knowledge to the task.

“A lot of the information I have in my head about minerals, I got while I was a student at Oregon State,” Rosé said. He is pretty familiar with the types of rocks that can be found in Oregon, most of which are the result of volcanic processes, explosions, eruptions and lava flows.

“Bob is a very serious geologist,” DiTorrice said. He is able to explain a lot about the rocks.

Rosé has seen a number of interesting specimens while identifying rocks at the show over the years.

“One that stands out as the best was a specimen, a piece of metamorphic rock with emeralds on it,” Rosé said. “The specimen (a light-colored schist) was about 5 or 6 inches long. It had maybe a dozen emeralds on it.”

The woman who brought it was aware of what it was and had purchased it from a jewelry store, Rosé said. She brought it by just to share with Rosé because she thought he would be interested.

That’s a key part of rockhounding, DiTorrice said, and that’s one of the reasons he enjoyed working the Sweet Home show.

“I get an opportunity to see what people find,” DiTorrice said. “It’s the sharing part. That’s what brings rockhounds together. Half the joy is finding something.”

The second half is figuring out what the specimen is, and sharing it is part of that process, he said. “At meetings, everybody brings in something they’ve found.”

“There was another interesting thing that came through maybe three years ago now,” Rosé said. “Somebody had found a piece of petrified wood that had been carved with a face in it.”

The specimen was about 2 feet tall, Rosé said. The big question was whether a native American had carved it or if it had some other story behind it.

“It was pretty dramatic, actually,” Rosé said. Rosé could tell the owner what it was, but he didn’t have the expertise to judge its archaeological merits. He suggested the owner take it to an expert to find out more.

Rosé and DiTorrice encountered two fossils Saturday, DiTorrice said. They also had one interesting specimen that looked like a large shark tooth.

It had a crack in it in just the right place, DiTorrice said, but once it’s scratched, it was clear that it was a shale that had been eroded into that shape by Mother Nature.

DiTorrice also was able to identify rocks Saturday that had been shaped by humans. Mother Nature tends to work one side of a rock, while humans chip off material from both sides to create a point or edge.

“Of course, I get some pretty neat agates come across,” Rosé said. He had a couple Saturday. One was a carnelian agate with a ropy, tubular structure.

It had been found within 15 miles of Sweet Home, Rosé said.

“A lot of stuff I see is local. A lot of it comes from people’s garages and people’s yards.”

People dig around their property and will find a pile of rocks, he said. Other times, someone has moved, leaving behind a rock collection, often in a bucket, which are harder to identify.

The rocks may have come from somewhere else, and they may be mixed with local material, Rosé said. “There’s always those people that come in and say, ‘My uncle left me this bucket of rocks.'”

They ask Rosé where the rocks come from. All he can say is, “It came from his bucket.”

“It’s important for me to know something about the context,” Rosé said. If the rocks are from Oregon, he can usually figure out what they are. It gets more difficult without knowing where and how the rocks were found, dug up, in a river, or on a beach, for example.

Motives for people bringing in rocks vary. Some are interested in how much they could make selling them. Others may have a particularly showy specimen or are simply curious. Some are interested in how to show the stone.

As Rosé explains what he sees, he helpfully suggests ways to cut, find the most showy face and display the rocks most favorably.

Most rocks will look the same on the inside as they do from the outside, Rosé said, with the obvious exception of thunder eggs, which will contain interesting crystals and agate.

“More times than not, most of the stuff I see is not cut,” Rosé said. “I’m trying to be helpful.”

Rosé’s tools of the trade include a set of pencil-like objects with pointed tips designed to determine the hardness of minerals, Rosé said. He uses a natural-color lamp to simulate the color of daylight. The blues and yellows in many lightbulbs will distort colors. He also uses a 10-power loupe for magnification.

When someone hands him a rock, “almost always what I’ll do is rotate the specimen, look at all sides, before I use the loupe.”

He then examines the stone with the loupe, looking for texture and the size of the crystals. That will often tell him whether to test the hardness of the material.

“I very much enjoy it,” Rosé said. “I feel I need to disseminate my knowledge to people that are willing to listen. I do it at the meetings, at the show and whenever I have an opportunity.”

Most people don’t know what they’re looking at when they have a rock, he said. “I get a kick out of telling people something about what they’ve brought in.”

Rosé and his wife have owned property east of Sweet Home for 35 years.

After he retired, they traveled for several years, staying in Sweet Home between trips. They settled in the area about 10 to 12 years ago, although they still winter in warmer climates, searching for fossils and attending other shows, including the largest show in the country in Tucson, Ariz., and another show in Quartzsite, Ariz.

Club member Marie Ekenberg said she was pleased with how things were going Saturday during the show.

“Very good,” she said. “Nice even pace, great community support, as usual. I think things went well. It’s Easter Sunday, so you never know who will come, but you get to see all the kids getting wide-eyed about the rocks.”

She said about 2,250 attended during the weekend.

In addition to crowding Rosé, visitors enjoyed watching John Burford’s flint knapping demonstrations and Cathee Bethel making jewelry from cabachons, she said.

The Sweet Home Rock and Mineral Society meets the second Wednesday of the month at Santiam Place, 139 Main St., in Lebanon. A potluck begins at 6:30 p.m. It is open to the public and includes a show and tell prior to the business meeting.

For more information visit, click on the link “Northwest Federation of Mineral Societies” and then “Oregon” to find information about the Sweet Home club; email [email protected] or call Bethel at (541) 990-1845.