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Showcasing the Eastern Sierra from the ground up

April 30, 2014

Francis Pedneau, one of the founders of the Lone Pine Gem & Mineral Society, with Jim Grandgeorge and a budding rockhound (l-r) at a LPGMS display. Photo courtesy LPGMS

This weekend, the 19th Annual Home, Garden and Recreation Show will once more showcase various local businesses and the wares and services they offer to make living and playing in the Eastern Sierra easier and more attractive.
At the same time, the Eastern Sierra Gem and Mineral Show will expose residents and visitors to lesser known but no less valuable attractions and resources – hidden beauty in the form of geological rarities and wonders unearthed from the harshest or most innocuous of local landscapes.
The two events have served to complement one another for the past 11 years during one of the busiest weekends for the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop, which also sees Laws Railroad Museum holdings its biannual Choo-Choo Swap Meet fundraiser and the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce offering the Taste of the Sierra food-sampling extravaganza.
The Gem and Mineral Show, hosted by the Lone Pine Gem & Mineral Society, kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday and wraps up at 10 in the Douglas Robinson Building.
Saturday, the show runs from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Admission is free all three days.
According to organizer Francis Pedneau, the event is a chance for the LPGMS showcase the Eastern Sierra in its most fundamental yet fascinating form.
“We’re showing people what’s in their front, back and side yards,” he said.
Pedneau, his wife Francee Graham and another couple founded the LPGMS 17 years ago this April. At the time, Pedneau was in his 50s and a novice rockhound. But there was something about discovering treasure in a rough piece of nondescript stone, or unearthing a crystal from layers of desert detritus that appealed to him on both an intellectual and spiritual level.
“I love rocks – I didn’t know it at the time,” Pedneau explained, “and being out in nature. That’s my church. I am always in awe of what Mother Nature can and does do with the earth.”
Neither Pedneau nor Graham had any education in geology, but what they lacked in formal knowledge they made up tenfold in passion and curiosity. They began attending every rock and gem show they could, learning all they could from demonstrators and vendors just as eager to share their knowledge.
Nearly two decades later, the couple, and the rest of the LPGMS, try to give back what they’ve learned to anyone interested in listening. Membership to the club is always open and the annual show is first and foremost an educational effort.
Of all the events taking place this weekend at the Tri-County Fairgrounds, only the Gem and Mineral Show runs Friday through Sunday, allowing the curious and the enthralled plenty of time to take in the displays, sales and demonstrations, and sign up for the annual field trip. This year, the LPGMS will be taking participants to a garnet area southwest of Bishop on Sunday. More information will be available when signing up Friday or Saturday.
There will be plenty to see and do in the interim.
Vendors from all over the West, including Nevada, will be displaying and selling mineral specimens (there are more than 160 minerals to be found in Inyo County alone), various polished rocks (think quartz, obsidian, turquoise), rough rocks, jewelry made from gems and minerals, fossils, fused glass, beads, carvings, tools for aspiring and professional rockhounds alike, and books on geology and the lapidary arts.
There will also be six display cases on exhibit. The LPGMS will have two cases: one filled with 50 different rocks and minerals found in Inyo County by club members and one with large specimens of certain rocks and minerals found in Inyo County. Some of the rocks and minerals, according to Pedneau, include garnet from the Bishop area, aquamarine from the Lone Pine area, topaz from the Lone Pine area, quartz crystals from various locations in the county, Smithsonite from Cerro Gordo and Hedenbergite from the Bishop area.
Four other cases will feature items from the personal collections of LPGMS members: one with carvings made from various materials; one containing fossils; and two cases of notable rock and mineral finds.
The club will also be displaying perhaps its rarest find – a 5.5-foot long fulfgurite weighing 140 pounds.
A fulgurite is sandy soil fused into a tubular shape by intense heat – usually a lightning strike. The result is a porous, root-like tube that is smooth like glass on the inside. The process requires temperatures of at least 3,270 °F and occurs in about one second’s time.
Pedneau and Graham discovered the fulgurite in 2001 east of the river near Lone Pine. Initially, they came across a small portion sticking up out of the ground and “thought it would be a good field trip for the club to see what was under the sand,” Pedneau said. After lots of excavating, the club unearthed the California state record. While longer fulgurites have been found elsewhere in the world, it’s believed the Lone Pine sample is the heaviest.
A second locally discovered fulgurite will also be on display. This fulgurite was found northeast of Bishop in January by a couple out for a walk through the desert. They initially spotted a small piece that they immediately identified as a fulgurite and after some careful excavating, discovered the first piece was merely one of several branches from the main stem, which branched off in several directions over an estimated radius of five feet.
This weekend’s show also includes several demonstrations on how rocks and minerals can be transformed into pieces of art.
A special machine will be on hand to show attendees how spheres can be made out of rocks. Other participants will demonstrate lampwork bead making; lapidary, which is cutting and polishing rocks (“There’s just a myriad of ways to do it, shapes to make and uses for what you make,” Pedneau said); and faceting, which is adding geometric edges to gems – a technique most commonly seen with diamonds.
Geodes will once again be for sale, and will be cut at the show upon purchase.
The LPGMS is also advertising a “Show and Tell” element of the event, which really just means club members will help identify any rock or mineral brought in. “If you have a rock and don’t know what it is, bring it to the show and hopefully we’ll be able to identify it for you,” Pedneau said.
Attendees can also once again take a spin on the rock identification wheel for a 50 cent donation to the club. Correct guesses earn attendees prizes. Children get to pick out free samples from a large display of local rocks and minerals. There will also be games for youth.
Hourly door prizes will be raffled off for free, but winners will need to be present. Sunday at 2 p.m. is the big raffle for which tickets will be sold throughout the weekend. Last year’s prize was a giant amethyst crystal won by a Bishop resident.
Anyone interested in learning more about the LPGMS, or joining the club, will be able to do so at the group’s booth. The LPGMS offers monthly field trips that are popular with its 50-something members.
“People can walk away from our field trips with pretty good stuff,” Pedneau said.

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