Combining rock hounds and people who try to recreate the practices of the early days of the West sounds incongruent at best.
Organizers of the Festival of the Old West, though, say the goals of the Rock and Gem Show and the Mountain Man Rendezvous align perfectly — both aim to preserve practices of the past to educate the leaders of the future.
“The objective of our event is to share the historical highlights and reintroduce to our children where our ancestors came from, so we authenticate that pre-1840 way of life,” said Blair Hope, organizer of the Mountain Man Rendezvous. “And with the Rock and Gem Show, those are talents that are long gone, so there’s a lot of talent and art there. You walk in there and the art they have there, from the bead work to the rock sculptures to the gems, it’s amazing, and they show how it’s done. All of the events complement each other.”
The Rock and Gem Show has been put on annually by the Tooele Gem and Mineral Society for the past 45 years, said Larry Higley, organizer of the event, and the rendezvous joined in about 15 years ago. Higley said the annual event may only be for one weekend, but takes the rest of the year for planning and preparation.
“It’s a lot of work throughout the whole year,” he said. “We collect rocks for rock bags throughout the year, break them up so there are some samples of rocks, different samples we have in our rock bag. We all go out on field trips throughout the year. It doesn’t all come together in just a week or two.”
The end result is worth the effort, he said, particularly when the focus is on educating young people, and not-so-young people, that rocks are more than annoyances in the garden.
“It gives the kids a chance to see different types of rocks, and adults and bigger kids, too,” he said. “It’s important, actually, because in life we use a lot of rocks in building materials, in building houses and whatever we build. It’s an education thing for youngsters and oldsters, and for us old rock hounds it’s just a way of life, I guess.”
Higley himself did not know of the variety and versatility of rocks, he said, until he was “drafted” into the club, which currently has about 45 members, in the 1980s. The past three decades have been eye-opening, he said, and he has learned a lot about the formation and makeup of the earth, both locally and abroad.
“Different things cause different colors, different things conform the rock, whether it has iron or no iron, that kind of stuff,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things that form different colors and types. It’s interesting to try to figure out how some of these things are formed, and there are theories on how these things are formed. There’s a lot of geology involved.”
Hope said he was drawn to mountain man-era activities after seeing a demonstration as a Boy Scout on a trip to Fort Bridger, Wyo.
“I saw all the arts and crafts and the people using their hands and I was hooked,” said Hope. “I love history and I love working with my hands. It’s such a great idea, and now that I’m a parent, and we’re in the age of technology, it’s even more important. Events like this can teach them that there’s something else to do besides play X-box.”
The rendezvous features demonstrations of mountain man arts, such as leatherworking, as well as a black powder shoot and blacksmithing. Hope said the demonstrators give presentations at schools and for other groups throughout the year in addition to the rendezvous.
Hope said new this year there will be a display and demonstration of life from the Colonial era to near-present time as an effort to create a sort of living history. Civil War-era cannons will be demonstrated, and the display will have hands-on activities and games for youth, he said.
The Festival of the Old West will be at the Dow James Building from Sept. 28 to Sept. 30. Hours on Sept. 28 and 29 will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 30. Admission is free. Food vendors will be on-site. Door prizes will be awarded throughout the festival, and American Indian dancers will perform Friday and Saturday evenings.
Hope said he believes the overall outcome and goal of the event is not only to educate, but to do so in a way that is effective and fun.
“It’s a great event, it’s a free event, and there’s something to do for all ages,” he said. “It’s a great asset to the community.”