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Annual event rocks Turlock
Largest gem show in state offers 'something for everyone'
Gold panning is one of the many hands-on children's activities offered at the Gem, Jewelry and Rock show set for Saturday and Sunday. - photo by Photo Contributed

A picture capturing an exploding nebula millions of miles in space and the fossilized jaws of a prehistoric giant shark don't have much in common, but the people who are bringing these exhibits to Turlock share the same passion for natural wonders.

The Stanislaus County Fairgrounds will be full of awe-inspiring sights as the 48th annual Gem, Jewelry and Rock Show comes to town Saturday and Sunday. This event, organized by the Mother Lode Mineral Society of California, drew 8,500 visitors in 2013, and is the largest show of its kind in the state.

"We amass a lot of different people with a lot of different interests who have an extraordinary passion for what they do," said event organizer Terry McMillin.

Gems and jewelry will play a feature role at the two-day show with 42 jewelers expected to be on site and at least one expert in identifying gemstones. The Modesto Junior College lapidary and jewelry classes will also have their works on display.  Rock hounds will also see enlightening exhibits at the show, especially in the fluorescent tent where all the rocks and minerals are aglow.

Along with the fluorescent tent, other special exhibits include the Black Hole Imagining Tunnel and the Tethys Ocean Project.

The imaging tunnel , prepared by Robert Caton, highlights his astrophotography of exploding nebulas and other amazing space phenomena.  Also included is a selection of photos from many of the world's most famous astrophotographers, including Rob Gendler's composite of the Horsehead Nebula in infrared. 

The Tethys Ocean Project showcases amazing marine fossils.  The famous Coelacanth is a featured exhibit this year.  The ancient fish lineage started 350 million years ago in the Devonian and was mistakenly thought to be extinct for almost 100 million years.  The paleontology world was literally rocked when one was found in a fish market in Madagascar in the 1930s. Also on display will be the giant jaws and teeth of the extinct Megalodon, one of the largest sharks ever to have hunted the prehistoric oceans. Guests can compare the "Meg" to the modern Great White shark. 

While the show is for all ages, there are special activities aimed at entertaining and educating children.

The Touch and See display includes most of the rocks discussed in the State Earth Science standards. Children are able to get hands-on with rocks, minerals and fossils that they soon see mentioned on a standardized test sheet.

"To touch it and hold it, it's a locked memory," said McMillin about the educational experience.

Gold panning, bead bracelet making and soapstone carving are other hands-on opportunities for kids at the show. The most rewarding activity, however, is the Treasure Hunt.  Children are given a list of items to "hunt" for around the showgrounds. Once they check off all the items, the list can be exchanged for a goodie bag from the treasure chest.

Guest speaker Richard Wade will talk about both astronomy and dinosaurs at this year's show. During his dinosaurs talks, at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. Sunday, children will discover how a fossil is created. Wade will explain the geologic time scale from periods to eras to eons. His presentation includes a full-scale model of a T-Rex skull, as well as a 7-foot model of a brachiosaurus leg bone.

"It's an educational family event, with something for everyone," said McMillin.

The Gem, Jewelry and Rock Show will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, 900 N. Broadway. Admission is $6 for adults and children 12 and under are free with a paid adult.