Adrienne McElwain learned to love rocks when she was 9 years old and her father bought a rock shop in Salt Lake City.
“I started working there with him and wanted to know everything about rocks, minerals, and fossils,” McElwain recalled. “As I got older I started running the rock shop from time to time and started developing local artist shows at his store.”
That rock shop closed in 2018, but McElwain has continued to pursue the rockhound vocation. She’s been running an event called The Crystal Festival for the past eight years; the 2021 Crystal Festival is happening this weekend on June 11 and 12 at the Blue Crystal Mine in the La Sal Mountains.
The Blue Crystal Mine was once a copper mine. The tailings from the large-scale copper operation contain other attractive stones and minerals, such as blue azurite. Current Blue Crystal Mine owners conduct small-scale mining for these desirable stones, and also dedicate time to reclaiming areas damaged by previous mining operations.
“This mine is so unique!” said McElwain. She explained how blue azurite is used around the world for blue pigment in products like cosmetics and oil paints. Festival attendees who sign up for a rockhounding pass at the event can expect to dig through soft sand to find ball-shaped pieces of azurite from the size of a pea to chunks several inches across.
“This mine site has never allowed the public to just come play quite like this before!” said McElwain.
At the festival, attendees will learn about how an active, family-run mine like the Blue Crystal Mine works—“on a small scale and mostly by hand,” as McElwain explained. There will also be geology classes on Zoom, family-friendly guided rockhounding tours, and vendors offering other classes. A variety of about a dozen vendors will also offer raw stones, jewelry, and finished stone and gem artwork. There will be snacks, bottles of water, and soda for sale—attendees are encouraged to pack a full lunch if they plan to stay for the day.
McElwain said that rockhounding is connected to a deep-seated human urge toward treasure-hunting.
“I like to tell people I am a pirate for a living... I go dig in the dirt, make funny maps that only make sense to rockhounds and come back with bins of treasure!” she said. She is excited to share her passion with other rockhounds.
“I have spent my entire life surrounded by rocks, minerals, and fossils and wanted to create a place where everyone could love them regardless of the reason,” said McElwain.
What: Crystal Festival
When: Friday, June 11 and Saturday, June 12 from 10 am to 6 pm
Where: The Blue Crystal Mine (101 Azurite Road, La Sal)
Cost: Free to attend