The end of summer has been really busy for me, and Fall got off to a good start with my trip to the Denver Gem and Mineral Show, where I was buying stones for my website, www.heartofstonestudio.com. Every time I mention this show, which is held annually in mid-September, people ask how it compares to the Tucson show, and is it worth going to? This is my second year going, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you about it.
The Denver show can't really compare with the February Tucson show--it's a fraction of the size, held in six or seven venues instead of Tucson's dozens. Having said that, I think that it still has merit. I'm finding that several of my suppliers now make it a point to set up in Denver as well as Tucson, so it's a worthwhile trip for me to visit them and stock up mid-year between Tucson shows.
Let me tell you a little bit about the shows. Five of the six venues are within a mile of one another, and all of these are located in an industrialized area just north of the junction of interstates 70 and 25, which is about ten miles north of downtown Denver. Two of the shows are at hotels--the Holiday Inn and Best Western (although the sign at the top of the hotel says Quality Inn) which are within walking distance of each other. These two shows feature minerals rather than gemstones or finished jewelry, although a small percentage of those are available. Here, international dealers rent rooms and fill them with spectacular (and pricey) collectible mineral specimens. Some rough material is also obtainable. These shows are the first to open during that week. I suggest that if you're driving, you get there either a half-hour before the 10am opening time, or after 4pm, because the parking situation is horrific. These shows don't require any registration, and as far as I know, they are open to the public. Dealers will sell at retail prices, but will usually give wholesale discounts to qualified buyers who bring evidence of their resale tax status.
Three other shows are ten blocks away at the Denver Merchandise Mart. The Mart is a huge complex, and unless you know where you're going, the shows are somewhat difficult to find. The upside is that parking is relatively plentiful.
Toward the rear on the west side of the Mart complex is the Pavilion building, the site of the International Gem Show. This wholesale show starts a couple of days after the mineral shows, and the noontime opening was crowded and disorganized this year. The show is a mix of mostly finished jewelry, some cabochons, a few dealers in faceted gems, and some Asian dealers selling bead strands. It's not a huge show, but it does have a decent variety.
The day after the Gem show starts, the Fossil Show opens at the Mart's Plaza area, which is on the opposite (east) side of the complex. This was the first year I attended the Fossil Show, and I was just blown away by it. Tucson has fossil venues, but to me they seemed more spread out and haphazard, whereas Denver's Fossil Show appeared large, well-organized, and in an attractive setting. Interspersed among the booths were full fossil skeletons of a 12-foot tall cave bear, a baby tricerotops, and several others. You could find 3-D trilobites complete with waving antennae, ammonites the size of hubcaps, bug-filled amber, and hundreds of fossil fish, including one whose bony head was turned as if to swim out of the limestone background. It was more fun than a museum, because you could buy the specimens if you wanted to.
As I entered the fossil show, which is open to the public, I was dismayed to see a dozen schoolbuses disgorging hundreds of grade-school kids, but the show was so large they really didn't make viewing difficult. What's more, it was neat to see a 15-foot-long duck-billed dino skeleton walking among the crowds, bony tail waving above everyone's heads--It was a clever reproduction made by a dinosaur educator who straps himself into a harness inside the pelvis and literally makes the creature "come alive" to schoolchildren. If you and/or your kids are fossil aficianados and can get to Denver during this time of year, the fossil show is highly recommended. Plus, interspersed among the fossils were booths with slabs, cabs, carved stone boxes, mineral sculptures and art pieces. This was a very big, and very good show.
Across the street from the Mart was a small miner's show that specialized in cut slabs and rough material. There were two other shows that I didn't have time to attend. One was the weekend Gem and Mineral show which was open to the public. Another was a bead show in a venue close to the airport. But that was pretty much it.
In all, I would consider Denver a smaller but representative taste of Tucson. Plus, it is more manageable than the crowds, crammed hotels, and general insanity of the Tucson show. If you want to try the Denver shows next year and you're not planning to spend much time downtown, I would recommend staying to the north of the venues, preferably in or near the suburb of Westminster, which is literally a ten-minute drive (traffic permitting) from the venues and about 40 minutes from the airport. Motel accomodations are also available a few miles outside the Denver airport, but the drive in to the venues is longer. Parking is easiest at the Merchandise Mart, and a shuttle is available from there to the other locations.