Friday, June 2, 2023

University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum

Corona de Tucson

June 2, 2023 

Calcite with quartz and amethyst

A day date is always fun to add to the calendar.  This week we ventured north to downtown Tucson to check out the U of A Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum.

The museum is located in the restored Pima County Historic Courthouse along with a great Visitor Center and the famous Dillinger courtroom.  We didn't quite know what to expect before arriving at the museum and were we ever surprised. 

This 12,000 square foot state of the art exhibit space has three major galleries: Mineral Evolution, Arizona Gallery, and a Gem Gallery.  It should be noted that all exhibits in the museum were either donated or loaned to UArizona.

 Mineral Evolution:   

I don't pretend to understand much of anything I read, but I do remember that minerals found here have continuously changed for 4.5 billion years.  That's a really long time !

Our planet only has about 50-60 minerals in common with its neighboring rocky planets Mercury, Venus and Mars. These were the first minerals to have existed among the ingredients that formed the solar system.   Earth differs from the other planets in mineral diversity as approximately 100 new minerals are discovered each year with a total of 5,000+ that are unique to Earth.  Diamond is believed to be the first mineral ever formed.  

Diamonds are beautiful, shiny, and costly, but  they didn't come close to grabbing my attention at the museum.  I can only share a few...

Clinochlore...a Greek word meaning oblique and green

A zoom on one of the finest large crystal quartz clusters ever found...
Ron Coleman Mine, Arkansa

my birthstone...March

Joe's birthstone...November



Bisbee, AZ

The Mineral Gallery has a large display of fossils including the body fossils of Arizona's State Dinosaur...a Sonorasaurus...a plant eating giant that roamed the earth about 100 million years ago and was discovered in the desert south of Tucson.

4. a rib and     5. a vertebrae

Fresh water fish fossils discovered in Wyoming...

Quartz, petrified wood...Arizona

And there's a nice display of meteorites from the moon and Mars.  Also included was a piece of the Apollo 15 lunar sample (a moon rock). 

As you approach the Arizona Gallery, there is a beautiful collection of paintings "Capturing the Essence of Mining" from 1923.  

Arizona Gallery: 

As you would have guessed, this gallery was full of Arizona mining history.   

In the 1890s as gold and silver mines fizzled out in Arizona, copper was discovered.  It remains the most abundant and valuable metallic mineral product in our state today.  

It was no surprised to learn that turquoise is our state gemstone.  It has been used for hundreds of years in Native American jewelry.  And still today, Navajo Indians believe this stone is sacred and that it brings good fortune.   What I didn't know was that turquoise is formed when water filters through rock containing copper and is often unearthed during copper mining. 

Inlay with shell and turquoise: Salado Culture
Keystone Ruin, AZ
1200-1450 CE 

We also learned that while Arizona is sometimes referred to as The Copper State, and copper is the most abundant mineral mined, it is not the state mineral.  It is the state metal.  Check this out...the state mineral is Wulfenite.  

This somewhat uncommon  bright yellow, orange, orange-red, or red mineral is often too thin and soft to cut for jewels making rare faceted pieces greatly prized by collectors.  The red of wulfinite, especially from the Red Cloud Mine (which dates back to the 1800s) in Arizona has been called one of the richest colors in nature.   

We didn't see a red sample, but the orange, yellow and butterscotch pieces were beautiful. 

Gem Gallery:  

Who doesn't appreciate a beautiful gem stone?  This gallery gives a simple explanation of how minerals are transformed into timeless gems.  Displays included explanations of the seven basic crystal systems and how every mineral on Earth has at least one of the seven structures, how gemstones sparkle and shine by interacting with light, and how minerals are shaped and polished by skilled experts. 

The Treasury:

The last area we walked through doesn't need an explanation.  Exhibits on display were some of the most beautiful and unique pieces we have ever seen.

Title: Da Vinci
Beryl var. helidor
carved by Alfred Zimmerman
Gold work by Henry Dunay

These gorgeous boxes were inlaid with a variety of minerals...turquoise, quartz, opal, gold, malachite, etc...found from places all over the world.

Title: Dreamer
Quartz carving
artist: Thomas McPhee
base: Nicolai Medvedev

Arizona is internationally famous for its minerals. There are over 900 mineral "species" found here.  Every year folks from all over the world come to Tucson for the Gem and Mineral Show which began in 1955 as a small club show organized by rockhounds.  In 1993, there was talk of Tucson discontinuing the show.  As you might have guessed, Alfie Norville's (1929-2015) vision and foresight provided key elements and an outstanding venue for the globe's top gem dealers.   Today, the gem show is recognized as the largest, oldest, and most prestigious mineral show in the world.  And the museum, appropriately named, is spectacular.  From the original 50 minerals to the 5,000 (and counting) in a span of 4.5 billion years is a lot to take in and pretty amazing.  

And to include the gorgeous art humans have made with these minerals is a fitting end to the experience. 

Magnificent Jeweled Tapestry...a team of 10 artisans spent 18 months combining the most sought-after gemstones with 15.9 kilograms of 18K gold to create a one of a kind masterpiece. The design utilizes 26,649 fine-cut gems sourced from across the globe.  The stones are all brilliant cut ovals, size-matched, and mounted flush with one another creating a continuous flat surface. 

Our downtown walk included El Presidio Park...

Title: Exchange At The Presidio
The figures depicted on this monument represent the "Mormon" Battalion and the residents of Tucson.  They personify the uncommon dedication, courage, and desire for peace that was demonstrated here. In addition, they symbolize the harmonious blend of cultures in what is now the City of Tucson.

The Historic Pima County Courthouse...

Pima County, one of the four original counties in Arizona, was created by the 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature with land acquired through the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1853.  

The historic courthouse was built in 1930 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Spanish Colonial Revival style architecture is beautiful.

We also perused Old Town Artisans.

Old Town is located on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson...the fort built by the Spanish in 1775 and is situated on the block that was the stables area near the north wall.

The north wall still stands...

  Construction of the adobe buildings began in the 1850's.  

Our lunch choice was La Cocina Restaurant and Pub or LaCo as the locals say.  It is tucked away inside the walls of Old Town Artisans.  It's colorful, quint patio setting surrounded by tiny shops and galleries stocked with local crafts makes for a fun and yummy place to have lunch.    


It was so nice to be out and about with Joe discovering new places right here at home and revisiting some old favorites.   Day dates rock !  (Tee hee!)

Our only other outing this week was a trip to Green Valley to take Dover for a two month follow-up with Dr. Huang.  

We are happy to learn that Dover's blood work is well within the normal range and she is no worse even though the lymph nodes in her neck are somewhat larger.  She remains on a two month cycle for follow-ups .  Jack's results from the EKG were also in and Dr. Huang was happy to tell us that he is also holding steady.  We don't expect his heart condition to improve...the plan is to keep it from getting worse and it hasn't.  He will stay on his medicine and much to his delight, can continue playing ball and is good to go until October when annual shots are due.   

Back at the oasis,  we were happy to see the Ladder-backed Woodpecker return.  

Their small size and agility make them skillful foragers among the thorns and spines of plants like cholla and prickly pear.  

Only the female has made several visits on different days and enjoyed the buffet of seeds, suet and oranges.  She does fly away most times with a mouth full of goodies.  

Joe and I have commented how pleased we are that all the birds that visit seem to respect each other and get along.  This week, however, we have noticed more and more White-winged dove in the yard.  

One minute, they are hanging out at the seed feeder and the next they are on the ground flapping their wings and chasing the other birds away.  As much as I respect their rights to be here and all they do to pollinate the saguaro, there is plenty of desert out there and I wish they would move on !

The Cactus Wren has been so busy.  We can hear the babies in the fronds on the palm tree just outside our fence.  

Gamble's are still hanging out...and still no babies !

On Wednesday, I was looking thru pictures on the computer.  I just happened to notice a nice chunk was missing from a volunteer prickly pear cacti we have on the side yard. 

A few minutes later, movement outside the window caught my was a roadrunner enjoying a nice afternoon snack !  When I raised the blind to get a photo he ran away and was gone by the time I got to the yard.  

We had glorious clouds...

The firecracker plant puts a smile on my face...

We flipped the calendar...

Coffee, sunshine and birds...

Our world...

Sally struggles with decisions...

Dover stays close by...

And Jack plays ball...

Congratulations to the cutest, sweetest and smartest graduating first grader on the planet...Felix received the Academic Excellence Award in Math...and the Silly Putty Award too ! 

We to go Felix...we love you !

And the cutest, sweetest, smartest little sister cheers him on...Edith is happy her mom and Felix will be home for the summer ! 

Until next time,

Do you find the bunny?



  1. Always look forward to your blog & this one is over the top- the pics & info on the minerals/gems of Arizona plus knowing all this right in the city centre- just outstanding.Really appreciate your’s & Joe’s interests & “eye” for the unique- thanks for sharing.All the best to you,the dogs & the patio birds,lol.

    1. Thank you for following our blog and thank you for commenting. The museum had some of the most beautiful specimens we have ever seen. It’s really hard to absorb all the information and see all the exhibits in one visit. Downtown Tucson has a lot to offer…

  2. WOW--what interesting museums and that mosaic made from gems is amazing!! Glad the pups got good vet reports and that is a cute graduate!

    1. Hi Janna…thank you! It’s nice knowing all is as good as it can be with Dover and Jack for a few weeks. The museum is beautiful and best seen in person. The lighting and reflections on the glass sure makes getting photos difficult. The tapestry was magnificent…so glittery in the case and all those gems. Felix is growing up way too fast!

  3. You two always find something of interest and different for your day dates. The museum certainly contains a great representation of the various minerals and gem stones found on earth.
    i didn't realize the Doves would be so aggressive defending the feeder. Silly birds there's plenty for all.

    1. Good morning Jeff. The museum is amazing and I am so glad we went. Even if you aren’t a rock hound, it’s worth a visit. Only the White-winged Doves are aggressive at the feeder and on the ground. The Mourning Dove are quite social and mind their own business.

  4. Oh my we will both enjoy this wonderful museum! It's on the list for our return to Arizona. Loved all the pics and the interesting information. There's such a variety in that large quartz piece! You always find the cutest, most quaint spots otherwise hidden in the big city. Happy to see the clan getting good news from the vet - they look happy too :-))

    1. Thank you Jodee! I’m glad you are interested in the museum. It is amazing! We almost changed our minds and don’t go to the museum. Admission is $10.00 for seniors. I’m glad we went as it was worth the cost. Even on a warm day, the patio at Old Town was very comfortable with all the shade…I love eating there! I always have a debate in my head…Cafe a la C’art or LaCo…so we switch back and forth.

  5. What a fantastic post! I love all kinds of rocks. I could have spent all day there just studying each piece. Thanks for so many wonderful photos and the information on the minerals. I found that opal strip interesting. I've always like opals with their floating colors. The tapestry is quite the piece. Glad you included the close up. We've had just one quail family that I've managed to catch coming for seed down the neighbors bank. They had about ten little ones. So darn cute. Glad to hear Dover and Jack both got good news! A great week of good news for the Taylor household.

    1. Thank you Pam. Joe and I love rocks too! We were there nearly 3 hours and could have easily stayed longer, but we were hungry. All the minerals were well displayed and eye catchers. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but the butterscotch wulfinite was at the top of my list. If I’m not on the patio, I’m peering out the window…those baby quails have to show up soon!

  6. I've never heard of the museum you toured, thank you so much! It would right up my alley, I love rocks in their natural state and up close behind glass! The opal was really interesting and I love the fantastic green "Dreamer" sculpture. I can feel the calm of your home and how much you love living your life there. Kudos to the tan clan, keep up the good work sweeties!

    1. Thank you Sue! The museum had its grand opening in Feb ‘22. It was located in the lower level of the Flandrau Science Center on campus from 1993 until then. We had not heard of it either until last year. It is world class and definitely worth a visit. My photo doesn’t do the “Dreamer” justice…the detail and clarity is incredible. It was really hard to get good photos because of the lighting and reflections.

  7. How cool is that?!? We have never been into rocks or gems but I can see the fascination. Good to hear the pups are holding steady!

    1. Good morning guys! Thank you! All the beautiful colors and compositions sure grabbed my attention…such a big variety!