Mt. Hood Community College hosts the 52nd annual Rock, Gem and Craft Show, which includes a thunder egg hunt, this weekend
by: John Klicker, Keene Clay arranges a collection of rocks, gems and agates at his office on Monday, March 31. The collection will be on display at the Rock, Gem, and Craft Show on Saturday and Sunday, sponsored by the Mt. Hood Rock Club.

Rocks offer more than meets the eye. What may appear rough and ordinary on the outside may contain an intricate tapestry of colors and otherworldly patterns once stones are cracked open and explored.

It's that adventure - first of finding rocks and then discovering secrets they hide - that drives a real rock hound. Many of these ground-level adventurers will gather this weekend at the Mt. Hood Community College gym to share their latest findings and love of geologic collectibles at the Mt. Hood Rock Club Show.

The annual show, which features a raffle, door prizes, auctions, jewelry making and a treasure hunt, will be held 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 5, and from 10 to 5 Sunday, April 6.

The club has operated in the Gresham area as a non-profit educational organization since 1952. With about 170 members from age 8 to 90-plus, the club continues to attract members even as video games and other less earthy pursuits beckon the younger generation.

For Keene Clay, the attraction to rocks is rooted in childlike curiosity.

'I can't look at a rock without wondering how it got formed, what was the process behind it,' he said. 'I got into this by reading, and I read because I got into rocks.'

Clay recently gathered with some 'rock-hound' brethren at his Mt. Hood Vision Center office, where he practices behavioral optometry, to organize displays and talk about the upcoming show. He enjoys the fact that geologic activity from 17 million years ago continues to provide treasures and attract a growing number of rock fans to the annual show. Where about 675 attended the event in 1995, including six rock dealers, the 2007 show attracted around 2,500 people and 21 paid dealers.

'It's increased in size dramatically,' he said. 'It's a good family activity.'

The thunder egg hunt, one of the event's highlights, typically attracts hundreds of children to the Mt. Hood campus. Kids will scramble for 1,000 pounds of polished rock cased in 1,200 plastic eggs. Children will also be able to gather a variety of striking polished rocks through a treasure hunt and spinning wheel game.

Adults can marvel at and purchase a plethora of unique jewelry, mineral samples, beads, gems, agate and other rock-based crafts. The 72 cases of rock displays will show findings from digs throughout the Northwest and around the world.

Clay and East County cohorts Kala Wellman and Merlia and Lamar Tilgner have scoured from the heights of Mount Hood to below the Willamette River waterline in their quest for scintillating stones. Washington, Montana, eastern Utah and Arizona are other fruitful destinations beyond Oregon borders for these local lapiderists.

'This hobby gives you an excuse and opportunity to go to places in Oregon and Washington that you have never been, while finding and exceeding the limits of your cell phone range,' Clay said in a news release.

He once returned from Arizona with more than 2,000 pounds of rocks. 'It's never less than 1,000 pounds.'

Lamar Tilgner also enjoys the traveling and geologic phenomena, but craftsmanship is perhaps his greatest joy in the world of rocks.

'What God created, I can enhance it,' he said, noting that rock hounds combine the geologic discipline with elements of arts and crafts. 'It's all of the above. We do artistic things. I'm not an expert in any one. I'm a jack of all trades … and master of none.'

Tilgner, who joined the Mt. Hood club in 1972, is particularly proud of his shiny spheres of Owyhee picture jasper. The stone is found in the Owyhee mountain area on the Idaho-Oregon border. Whittling the once-rough rock specimen down to a round ball yields unique artistic patterns that resemble abstract hand paintings. The spheres will be priced between $60 and $70 at the rock show.

'It's mother nature's painting,' he said of the 'silicafied mud' patterns. 'We try to enhance things.'

Tilgner also makes decorative bolo ties with Botswana agate and wire jewelry with his wife, Merlia. The couple, whose house is filled with all kinds of rock figurines, will give wire-wrapping demonstrations at the show. Even their coffee table is a slab of petrified wood - fossils in which mineral elements replaced space occupied by decaying wood.

Tilgner exudes the same rock-based enthusiasm he had as a kid when he'd come home with a pocketful of shiny stones.

'This is a fun hobby,' he said. 'You get a lot of satisfaction out of it.'

Rock Show details

The 52nd annual Rock, Gem, and Craft Show will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Mt. Hood Community College gym, 26000 S.E. Stark St. (at the south end of campus). Sponsored by the Mt. Hood Rock Club, the free-admission show will feature 26 rock dealers and 72 display cases of collectible rocks. Other activities include the Saturday thunder egg hunt for children 12 and younger (2:15 p.m. Saturday), as well as a silent and oral auction (2 p.m. Sunday), raffle, door prizes, jewelry making and guessing games. For information, call Chairwoman Gail Bumala, 503-760-1825.

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