Greetings From: Deming, New Mexico

MsBoyink views geode samples with Christopher Blackwell at the Basin Range Volcanics Geolapidary Museum and Rockshop in Deming, New Mexico. Paul Colburn is seen working in the background.

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

It was rockhounds all the way down.

I had a rockhound on board. I had to keep checking her storage areas, lest she eat up all the weight capacity in the RV by squirreling away what amounted to a gravel driveway.

We were staying at Rockhound State Park just outside of Deming, New Mexico. Most state parks tell you to “take only pictures, leave only footprints.” 

Not Rockhound State Park.

There, you can cart off 15 lbs of rocks per person. At no extra charge. The entire park area is open to exploration and sampling. 

We got the RV situated in a site, then drove to another spot for rockhounds. 

The sign out front read Basin Range Volcanics Geolapidary Museum and Rockshop.

Fancy name for a modest, flat-roofed building connected to arrays of solar panels and water tanks.

The sign said open. There was a pickup truck parked in the gravel drive. 

We parked and stepped inside.

To darkness.

Just for a second.

Then the battery-operated lights came on, revealing worktables, bins, and shelves. 

Rocks everywhere.

And not just any old kind of rocks.

Geodes.

Many uncut.

And many cut, the polished inner surfaces displaying a rainbow of colors, varying textures, and shapes.

The rocks were memorable.

But for me?

It was the men.

Paul and Christopher.

Paul wasn’t the social one. All I remember of him was seeing him tucked in a corner, sitting on a five gallon bucket, focused on a task in front of him.

Christopher greeted us and showed us around the various displays.

Christopher could have been an extra in a cowboy movie. He was tall and gaunt, with long gray hair pulled back in a pony tail. His bearded face showed the signs of someone with a long history of being outdoors in the New Mexico sun. Talking about geodes dropped some years from his countenance, but then he used a walker while showing us his outdoor specimens.

Christopher Blackwell shows us more of his uncut geodes.

While Christopher talked with MsBoyink and the kids, I wandered around the museum with my camera. I photographed some geodes and looked at various papers and posters visible on the wall.

Two things became clear.

First, these two men weren’t just enthusiasts. They were professionals. 

Paul discovered his first “thunderegg” geode at age 11. At 15 years old he left home to become a fulltime agate miner. He became known as the “Geode Kid” and went on to author a number of books about the formation of thundereggs and his experience collecting them. Christopher joined him in the 1970s, and together they owned rock shops, mines, and the museum. What we were touring was very much the “life’s work” of two highly focused and intelligent individuals.

Second, these men held beliefs that directly contradicted our own. Relationship beliefs. Religious beliefs. Political beliefs.

If were you to pack Christopher, Paul and the museum up and relocate it all to another area in the country (including our hometown) they would be quickly run out of town.

But we didn’t travel to meet other people just like us. 

As homeschoolers, we heard horror stories of freshly-graduated homeschooled kids who imploded once outside of their highly regulated bubbles.

We wanted to break out of the bubble as a family, and explore a more diverse world than our hometown offered.

We had mixed success. RVing is largely a white, middle-class bubble of its own. 

But that day in Deming, we met people who were very unlike us. We interacted with respect. We learned a bit of each other’s story. We didn’t seek to change, just understand.

My rockhound bought a small, cut geode from Christopher. Many moves and many years later it remains one of her few souvenirs from our travels. She remembers nothing more than meeting men who shared her love of rocks.

What I treasure is the lesson of the geode. Gray and unremarkable on the outside, the real beauty only becomes visible when you get a glimpse of the inside.

May we all have the patience, and diligence, to see people for more than what’s on the outside.

A cut geode reveals its inner beauty.

Paul “The Geode Kid” Colburn passed away in 2013. Christopher Blackwell continues to run the Basin Range Volcanics Geolapidary Museum and Rockshop in Deming, New Mexico.  Learn more at zianet.com/geodekid.