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Arizona gems make sundial glimmer
Written by Staff Reporter   
Wednesday, 02 January 2008 13:42
If Peter and Gillian Martin of Cornville need another clock, they can always use the one in their backyard.

The 12 hours of Peter Martin’s sundial are divided by the beautiful and unusual rocks, gems and minerals he’s collected in Arizona over the past five years.

It also reflects the hobby he has come to love as a member and past president of the Mingus Gem and Mineral Club.

He made the sundial with his grandchildren from England in August 2006.
His neighbor, Lou Bourque, welded the gnomon device that casts the sundial shadow.

The grandchildren, Robert and Andrew Martin, calculated the latitude of the Cornville location, since the shadow casting edge of the gnomon device must point in that direction.

“I did it because it was a fun and educational thing to do with the kids,” Martin explained.

“He’s been very enthusiastic and creative,” fellow club member Jim Van Wert said. “He did a very useful job of tying in his love of rocks and gems with an activity he could do with his grandkids.”

Van Wert, who owns Jim and Ellen’s Rock-n-Shop in Old Town Cottonwood, said Martin has “been a real asset to the club and to our hobby in general.”

If you want to start your own collection of Arizona rocks and gems, you don’t have to take years to find them all in the field since they are probably available for purchase in Van Wert’s store.

In Martin’s backyard, the afternoon begins with the pyrite tipped gnomon device casting a shadow over Mingus Mountain jasper and continues passing over slag from a Cottonwood smelter, Sedona red rock, petrified wood, quartz, welded tuff from Camp Verde, agate from the New Mexico border and more.

Martin is using marble to replace the Searles Lake, Calif., salt crystals that melted in the rain.

Martin, who lived most of his life in England, knew his new home would be the perfect place for the sundial project with his grandchildren.

“In any other state it’d be wrong half the year,” Martin said. Here, daylight savings keeps the sundial on track. “We have about 340 days of sunlight for it to cast a shadow.”

Public sundials in the area can be found at the Sunset point rest stop on Interstate 17 and Red Rock State Park.

The sundial is impressive enough but Martin has also created a lengthy backyard trail with rock, gem and mineral borders from his travels around the state and even other countries such as Australia.

Walking the trail is like taking a colorful lesson in Arizona geology including Sedona red rock, Dragoon Mountain quartz, Ash Fork sandstone, Parks obsidian, Mayer onyx, Verde Valley basalt, petrified wood and more.

The Bureau of Land Management allows a person to remove 25 pounds of rocks, gems and minerals a day or up to 250 pounds per year on BLM managed land without charge.

Predictably, the inside of Martin’s home contains some of his most precious gems and minerals.
“I started off before Peter,” said Martin’s wife Gillian, who had some educational background in geology and helped him collect a lot of the materials.

After retiring, the pair took extended road trips in an RV that became rock-finding excursions.

When Gillian weighed her RV on a trip to Oregon she was pleased to find they could still collect “another half ton of rock,” some of which can be found on the backyard trail.

Ironically, despite their beauty, the rocks and gems aren’t worth much monetarily. The Martins’ prize piece is a chunk of crystals and chemicals from a dried lake in southern Australia, worth about $1,000.

The Martins are hardly alone in their love of gems and minerals. The Mingus Gem and Mineral Club meets twice a month. Their next meeting is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 3, at the Pine Shadows Clubhouse.

For more information on the club, go to


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