Most gem and mineral collectors will tell you there's nothing like the thrill of the hunt. They find intrigue in thrusting their hands into the dirt to hopefully recover some of nature's most precious gems.
This weekend, the Withlacoochee Rockhounds will offer visitors an opportunity to do just that at the 32nd annual Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show. Folks with a hankering to try their luck at panning for moonstones, agates, tiger's eyes and opals will be able to do so for a small fee.
Club member Jerry Johnson, who has helped organize the event the past several years, said the activity is something the club has been wanting to provide at the show for some time.
Club member Bill Litts will be on hand all three days to show would-be rockhounds the panning process, which involves separating prospective gems from earthen ore in a water sluice, much in the manner used by old-time miners.
"People are always asking how we find gems in the soil," said Johnson. "It's not rocket science, but there is a skill involved. It's just takes a little effort and patience, and the knowledge of what you are looking for."
Johnson, who has served for seven years as president of the Withlacoochee Rockhounds, hopes the interactive demonstration will give the public a special glimpse into the world of gem and mineral collecting.
"It's always worth keeping in mind how rare and unique gems and minerals are in nature," Johnson said. "When you look at a nice collection of gems or precious metals, you're looking at something that probably took years for that person to accumulate."
The show regularly attracts dozens of exhibitors and collectors from throughout the country who come to buy, sell and trade, among other things, minerals, gems and fossils. Although still a popular hobby in the United States, dwindling public and private dig sites mean fewer and fewer specimens are finding their way into the marketplace.
"You can still find decent stuff for not much money if you look hard enough," said Johnson. "One of the nice things about our show is that people can still find a good bargain or two."
IF YOU GO
The 32nd annual Withlacoochee Rockhounds Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Sunday at the SNPJ Hall, 13383 County Line Road, Spring Hill. Admission is $3. Children 12 and under get in free. Call 688-7810.