Did you ever enjoy owning a pet rock? In 1975, Gary Dahl started
a nationwide fad when he went to a builder’s supply store in San
Jose and found a round gray pebble that sold for a penny.
Did you ever enjoy owning a pet rock? In 1975, Gary Dahl started a nationwide fad when he went to a builder’s supply store in San Jose and found a round gray pebble that sold for a penny. By writing a manual on the care and feeding of the low maintenance “pet,” he sold a million rocks for $3.95 apiece in just a few months (more than two and a half tons.) Although pet rocks quickly became a passing fancy, some of us have never quite gotten over our enjoyment of rocks.
That was quite evident at the most recent Rock and Gem Show held in the tiny town (185 homes) of Spreckels. Located 30 miles south of Gilroy, it is the only town in Monterey County designated a “historic district.”
The 1955 movie, “East of Eden,” starring James Dean, was filmed in Spreckels, and the town’s well cared for Victorians, Craftsman-style bungalows, and storybook cottages give you the impression that you may have indeed stepped back in time.
Spreckels is now the location of the annual Salinas Valley Rock and Gem Show each March, which draws rock hounds from all over California.
“I’ve hunted rock from South Dakota through Utah and Montana, and Arizona to the east,” widower C. R. Smith told me. “I used to really enjoy using opals and jade to make jewelry for my wife.”
He’s been coming to the show since 1952. “I’ll be 90 next February,” he added.
There are rocks on display that form shooting star shapes, rocks that hold dinosaur fossils, fluorescent rocks, and rocks whose colors and designs suggest particular images, such as “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” a brown rock with white swirls in it.
Another rock’s shape has given it the name of “Hound Dog Head.” There are demonstrations on how to cut and polish rocks, and a Wheel of Fortune game where kids can win rocks of their own.
Surrounded by porcelain jasper and crazy lace agate, Marsha Shebley explained to me, “We have gotten into lapidary because we enjoy it, and it is very therapeutic and relaxing.” She and John Wills were there from Los Molinos (near Chico) to work at the Rock Show.
“We started out taking a class one night a week. Now we’ve gone on lots of rock hounding trips, to places like the Mojave Desert, Nevada, Oregon and Black Butte. Locally we have also gone to Big Sur, Clear Creek, and New Idra on the other side of King City.
“We really enjoy the peace and quiet when you go camping and rock hunting, no phones or TV, and lots of fresh air. You also get very dirty – and tired – but it’s fun tired, if that’s possible.
“When you find a good vein of some rock and have to figure out how to get it out without any damage, it’s fun and it makes you think, especially when you have a limited amount of tools and can’t just run to the store.”
Rock hounding is a return to a slower pace, and in that way, maybe Spreckels is the perfect place to hold a rock show. The pet rock gave people a few moments of absolute pleasure and distraction in a troubled world. Those who enjoy rock and gem shows have found a way to extend that pleasure.
If you think about it, that’s no small accomplishment.