February 21st to March 5th, 2011



It has been some time since I have had the time and inclination to write one of these trip reports. Itís a good idea for me to recap the trips and some of our customers seem to like these, so here it goes again.

Faustino and I left Tucson on Monday, February 21st after talking to Gilberto, one of our employees, who resides in Zacatecas. Gil indicated that there was a reason to go south. With all of the problems going on in Mexico, it requires thought and planning to do these trips safely. And we have to insure that there is ample reason to travel, since it is so expensive. Iíve said it before and I donít think folks believe me, but traveling in Mexico is expensive.

Our first stop was in Cd. ( Ciudad means city ) Juarez, just across the border from El Paso. Top-Gem maintains a warehouse there and has three employees working at producing the peacock ore, the acid washed calcites, etc.  I had wired myself some traveling money to our Mexican bank account so I could get a good exchange rate. We had a breakfast meeting and then Faustino and I left to go on south.

Our first stop was Mapimi, Durango, which is the home of the famous Mina La Ojuela. We bought only a small lot of hemimorphite. The wulfenite with mimetite is just starting to be produced again but the quality is very poor and the prices are ridiculous. There was no fluorite, no rosasite and no adamite. My vendors there tell me it has been very quiet.

The next morning, we drove to Mina Navidad to see how our creedite miner was doing. He had about 40 banana boxes of creedite wrapped up and ready to go. About 50% of this will be donation material and the other 50% will grade from poor to excellent, with less than 1% being top grade.

We stayed the night in Gomez Palacio, Durango, which is a fairly large and almost modern city and is the gateway south to Zacatecas and beyond. Our next stop was going to be the fabled amethyst area near Las Vigas, Veracruz. Itís a two day drive from Gomez. We spent the night in Zacatecas and continued on to Perote, Veracruz which boasts nice? hotel and OK restaurants. On the drive to Perote, we can often see Orizaba, the highest mountain in Latin America. From memory, I think it is over 5,000 meters high, which is higher than any mountain in Europe.

Next morning, we looked at a lot of amethyst in Altatongo. The amethyst color was light to OK but the pieces all had good geography. Of course, the price was very high Ė higher than retail here in the states. In about three hours, we reached an agreement and decided to continue on to Piedra Parada.

Piedra Parada, the village where the amethyst miners live, is reached on a Ok dirt road from Las Vigas, which sits on the main highway from Perote ( one lane on each side and very winding ) to Xalapa ( sometimes spelled Jalapa ).

We arrived about noon and started to be shown material. The way it works with these people is that there are informal groups of diggers who work the areas in an on again Ė off again manner. The membership in these groups changes constantly and one person can be in several groups. To make a deal, each member of a particular group will be in attendance and all members will have a say in the final sales price. So, you need to have a complete agreement with all parties.


These negotiations can take hours. We finished our day well after dark, wrapping the amethyst specimens in the moss that grows abundantly in the area. Remember, we are at 9,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation and get lots of nice, wet sea breezes, so thereís plenty of moisture, even when it doesnít rain. The hills are steep and the fog is a constant worry. Driving down to Las Vigas that night was really difficult, with thick fog almost to Las Vigas.

Next day, we continued on to Xalapa to look at one final lot. It was the same lot Jason had seen in November. This time, however, the price was more equitable so we ended up taking this one too. Altogether, we spent in the neighborhood of $54,000.00 with an expected return of about $68,000.00. Not much profit, but I knew that going in. I just like to have amethyst for my customers so I sucker for it every once in a while. The prices seemed almost moderate compared to prices asked the last two trips. Of course, we didnít buy anything those other trips.

We spent the night in Xalapa and the next morning give our shipment to a freight company, MutliPak, for transport to our Cd. Juarez warehouse. The cost for the shipment was about $900.00 with the insurance.

After our time in Xalapa, we traveled to Veracruz City. Faustino and Gilberto had never been there so we decided to drive down to the ocean and have a seafood lunch. From there, we traveled in the direction of Mexico City but only got to Puebla, where we would take the new freeway to San Juan del Rio, thus avoiding driving into Mexico City, which is a real nightmare.

Our next stop was going to be in Vanegas, Zacatecas, where the man who mines the orange calcite lives. We spent the day selecting 5 metric tons of the best grade and then packaging it in double thick plastic bags to keep the sun from turning it white.

We continued north to Monterrey, then toward Monclova. We stopped to see the mine owner whose property produces the good green and pink optical calcite. There was none to be had, so we continued on toward Melchor Muzquiz, Coahuila. We took a short detour ( 70 kilometers each way )on a rough dirt road to visit Ejido Mesilla de Leon, where our agent collects and buys the fenster ( elestial ) quartz. He had about 150 kgs for us. We review this, packed it up and continued on to Muzquiz.

In Melchor Muzquiz, we stopped to see the widow of a long time vendor of the various fluorites from the area. The man had died two years ago but we convinced the widow that she could continue in the business. She has been doing well. We purchased about 4,800 lbs of the dark purple Muzquiz fluorite from her and packed this ready for shipment. It took her about three months to accumulate this quantity. Thatís faster than I can sell it but, from what I hear, the mines do not have much life left and the fluorite may start disappearing in a couple of years, so I am buying now.

We also picked up 1,200 kilos of a unique breccia that occurs just north of town on the ranch of a dentist in Muzquiz. Top-Gem has a school study material client who likes this particular breccia. We got this together with the 2,200 kgs of fluorite and delivered this to a small privately owned freight company to deliver to a long haul trucker in Monclova. It is just not wise to travel with anything in your vehicle. There is just too much trouble with the local cops, the state police, the highway patrol and the federales. Each one wants a bite and if you donít pay, the load can be jeopardized. Sometimes even if you do pay!

From there, we drove back to Gomez Palacio, Durango, spent the night and traveled north to Naica, Chihuahua, the home of the Cave of the Giants. One day I will go inside but so far it hasnít worked out. The mine at Naica is producing more anhydrite than I have ever seen. There are lots of singles and small groups. There are large specimens also Ė to 12Ē x 12Ē, weighing up to 10 pounds. We havenít seen much anhydrite for 5 ore 6 years and now there seems to be an endless supply. We know if wonít last, but now is the time to buy it. By the way, the reason it is named anhydrite is that it has the same chemical formula as gypsum Ė without the water Ė thus anhydrous gypsum!

We drove into Delicias, Chihuahua and put the Naica load with the trucking company and started our journey north and home again. Altogether, we spent 13 days on the trip, drove about 5,800 miles and saw nearly everyone we needed to see. We arrived back in Tucson at the reasonable hour of 7:00 PM, just in time for dinner and a rest.