Rock The Holidays at Ohio Caverns
The folks at Ohio Caverns travel the world to hand-select the best rocks to import and sell at the Ohio Caverns rock shop. It is the greatest selection of semi-precious gemstones known in Ohio.
This year marked the fourth importation from Brazil, but Morocco and other parts of Africa have been added to the travels. These direct importations allow Ohio Caverns to offer the most competitive prices, whether the consumer wants to spend as little as one dollar or as much as $7,500. The rock shop now displays new items as well as guest favorites.
This global search began years ago with an adventurous trip to Brazil that brought 60 tons of semi-precious stones back to Ohio Caverns’ rock shop.
Visitors to Ohio Caverns may purchase hand-selected, cut, and polished agate, amethyst, citrine, quartz, and many other rock types as show pieces or in the form of bookends, lamps, candle holders, and a lot of jewelry.
The journey to bring such a collection to Ohio for the first time was a learning experience for Tim Grissom of Ohio Caverns.
“It was a trip to remember,” Grissom said. “And it wasn’t easy.”
The venture began out of need. For decades, Ohio Caverns had a supplier out of Indiana for its amethyst and other pieces to retail in their gift shop. Amethyst is especially popular because of its brilliant purple color. It’s a quartz-based mineral best known for being the birthstone for February.
“Our supplier threatened retirement,” Grissom laughed. “But we didn’t take his forewarning seriously enough to develop a contingency plan.”
A couple of years ago, that supplier said it was no bluff. He’s retiring. The folks at Ohio Caverns were fortunate enough to negotiate the purchase of their former supplier’s remaining inventory. They hoped it would last a few years. They sold it all in half that time but already had a new plan in the works.
Believe it or not, rock pedaling is big business and very competitive. Rather than settle for mail-order rocks that serious suppliers passed over when hand-selecting their inventory in person, Grissom and others at Ohio Caverns decided to go directly to the source. They wanted to hand-select the highest grade of semi-precious stones, hoping to come home with a three-year supply. After 28-hour travel time, Grissom found himself in the mining town of Soledad, Brazil, among buyers from Germany, Japan, China, Australia, and elsewhere.
“It’s a desert-like climate, but this town is built on the rock business,” Grissom said. “It’s in Brazil’s southernmost state before crossing to Uruguay.”
Trucks pour in from the nearby mines and deliver semi-precious stones to the competing family businesses to cut and polish them into showroom quality.
“I had to employ an interpreter to navigate town because my Portuguese is terrible. I know a little Spanish, so there are some similarities but not enough,” explained Grissom.
The advantage of in-person buyers is that they can inspect each piece to ensure it’s of the highest quality. If a particular piece doesn’t have enough color, you can replace it. The rejects are likely partly used to fulfill online orders by wholesale rock buyers worldwide.
Grissom learned about each vendor in town first-hand. These are family businesses. It is highly competitive from one family business to another. The families running these competing businesses are enormous because they’ve been at this for generations. Within one family, there may be different variations of the same product, but everyone within an extended family business cooperates and works together.
Grissom ran into one exception where a large family had a rift within it. After the family patriarch died, his heirs feuded over the business he left behind.
“The division within that family was in plain view,” Grissom said. “They built a wall straight down the center of the building!”
Once the buying adventure was complete, Ohio Caverns’ order filled three intermodal containers designed to stack on cargo ships, placed on flat train cars, and transported by tractor-trailer without ever having to be unloaded and reloaded. It took ten weeks for Grissom’s hoard to get to Ohio. Part of the process included an inspection by customs at a port in New York. The containers were transported to Columbus, Ohio, by train and then by semis to the final destination in West Liberty, Ohio. Click here for a 3-D tour of the rock and gift shop at Ohio Caverns.
The gift and rock shop inside the Ohio Caverns visitor’s center also sells bags of rough to sift through to find semi-precious stones. These are used outside at an authentic gem mining sluice. Mining is for all ages. Bags of rough come in 3, 5, and 8 pounds. So, if you want a hands-on mining experience, you can get your hands a little wet and dirty, hoping to score iron pyrite (fool’s gold), aventurine, quartz, calcite, amethyst, and much more. For the budding Paleontologist, there are even fossilized sea creatures in rocks and shells to find.
The authentic wooden gem mining sluice has a 13-foot tower and an 80-foot flume. Water is piped out of the tower and splashes through staggered planks of narrow chutes. Along the flume, people gather with their bags of rough. There, they slide wooden plates into grooves at the sides of the channel as they pan for genuine gemstones, minerals, and fossils. Those with limited mobility easily access the mining sluice.
Ohio Cavern’s is known as America’s most colorful caverns. It offers one-of-a-kind treasures such as the Crystal King. The Crystal King is the largest and most perfectly formed pure white crystal stalactite in any cave. A rare discovery at Ohio Caverns is its helictites or “soda straws.” These resemble curly straws hanging from the ceiling. Somehow, they grow longer in a way that seems to defy gravity, twisting in weird directions up, down, sideways, and all around. These are the only known caverns in the country where dual formations are found. This oddity consists of iron oxide tipped off with milky white calcium carbonate. Ohio Caverns is a quiet park covering 35 acres of countryside. It has a playground and two large pavilions for sheltered picnicking.
To plan a visit to buy a piece of Ohio’s most extensive semi-precious stone collection or to see the one-of-a-kind wonders in America’s most colorful caverns, visit OhioCaverns.com.