An adventurous trip to Brazil brought 60 tons of semi-precious stones back to Ohio Caverns’ rock shop. Visitors to Ohio Caverns may now 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, candleholders 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’s 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 own 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 with hopes of coming home with a three-year supply. After a 28 hours travel time, Grissom found himself in the mining town of Soledade, Brazil among buyers from Germany, Japan, China, Australia and elsewhere.
“It’s a very desert-like climate but this town is built on the rock business,” Grissom said. “It’s in Brazil’s southernmost state before crossing over 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 around town because my Portuguese is terrible. I know a little Spanish so there are some similarities but not enough,” explained Grissom.
The advantage that in-person buyers have is that they can personally inspect each individual 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 used in part to fulfill online orders by wholesale rock buyers around the world.
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 huge 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 cooperate and work together.
Grissom ran into one exception where a large family had a rift within it. After the patriarch of the family 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, place on flat train cars and transport by tractor trailer without ever having to be unloaded and reloaded. It took 10 weeks for Grissom’s hoard to get to Ohio. Part of the process included an inspection by customs at port in New York. The containers were transported to Columbus, Ohio by train and then by semis from there 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 80-foot flume. Water is piped out of the tower and splashes its way 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 real gemstones, minerals and fossils. The mining sluice is easily accessed by those with limited mobility.
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 found 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 located in a quiet park setting 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 largest semi-precious stone collection or to see the one-of-a-kind wonders in America’s most colorful caverns, visit www.OhioCaverns.com.