Friday, December 3, 2010

A Temple of Turquoise in Kingman, Arizona: Colbaugh Processing!

I have a new Mining New Mexico post in the works, but in the meantime I have one final turquoise-related discovery to add to my "Turquoise Trilogy"!

When I relocated to Santa Fe from Providence, I had hoped that the numerous museums and galleries in Santa Fe would provide ample work opportunities in my field of museum art handling and exhibit installation. Alas, the economy has not been kind to the arts in Santa Fe, and after three months in the city and no likely prospects for work, the difficult decision to move on west to the San Francisco Bay area was made. While I was sad to be leaving the "Land of Enchantment," I looked forward to making a few stops along the trip west, one of which, in Kingman, Arizona, was Colbaugh Processing Inc., the processing facility and retail shop for a renowned Arizona turquoise mining operation.

After a restful night in the sleepy Route 66 town of Seligman, AZ, we headed out early, bound for Kingman, about an hour west. The facility wasn't difficult to spot; the cheery little building was painted in hues that left no question as to the nature of their business: Turquoise!

I might have been content to poke around all morning in the parking lot, which was liberally peppered with colorful leftovers from mining and processing operations:

That's alot of turquoise!

Eventually I diverted my attention from the mineral-rich parking lot towards the door marked "Office," behind which a small world of wonder awaited:

Tables were crowded with bins of turquoise from Kingman as well as several other mines. Much like pearls and opals, turquoise, in its raw natural state, is susceptible to damage and discoloration by exposure to detergents, excessive sunlight, cosmetics, perfumes, and our skin's natural oils. Recognizing that many folks would like to maintain the color and integrity of their stones without, for instance, removing turquoise rings and bracelets every time they wash their hands, Colbaugh specializes in stones that have been stabilized, a process by which the turquoise is saturated with an epoxy resin that renders it nearly impervious to harm by the various factors mentioned above. Colbaugh stabilizes their turquoise on-site, and the retail shop offers everything from colorful chips literally swept off the workshop floor at the end of the day and sold by the pound, to massive, weighty hunks of turquoise, the size of which I had only ever seen in museums.

For the purist, bins of completely natural, unstabilized stones of every size are offered as well:

Below the tables are buckets brimming with even more turquoise:

The walls are laden with lush swags of turquoise beads in every shape and size imaginable:

In fact, every surface in the shop is crowded with colorful mineral wonders!

Need an exceptionally fine specimen to brighten up your curio cabinet? Done!

Inside the glass counter are samples of turquoise from around the world (I didn't notice any Cerrillos turquoise, but I might have just overlooked it!):

The friendly gal behind the counter went out of her way to answer my many questions and patiently weighed and priced each of the "prize specimens" I excavated from the bins of rough, natural turquoise. Priced at between $100 and $250 a pound, I expected that my generous selections might have been very expensive, but I picked out three nicely sized pieces for only $15.00 and treated myself to an additional 1/2 pound of the "floor sweepings" for only $7.50.

Colbaugh Processing leases the right to collect turquoise from an active local copper mining operation; copper is the element that imparts the blue hue to turquoise, and the two minerals are often found in tandem. I was giddy from my visit to Colbaugh Processing as we headed north out of Kingman towards the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. My turquoise fever now very much reignited, my heart skipped a beat as I spied the mine site in the hills a few miles north of the shop:

There was no time to stop and explore, but opening up my brown paper bag of floor sweepings that evening at the hotel in Bakersfield was tantamount to the suspense and excitement of Christmas morning: I spent a blissful hour excitedly picking through my little pile of sweepings, marveling at the color and variety of tiny treasures therein. If ever you find yourself near Kingman, I promise you'll find a little chunk of heaven (or a bucket full, depending on your needs) at Colbaugh Processing!

My "floor sweepings." Not bad, eh?

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