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Gemologist Takes Rocky Road

November 21, 1987

County residents talk about their occupations, attitudes and experiences in the Reflections column. Dana Gochenour says the rigors of mineral prospecting leave most people cold. But the Orange County native , who caught the prospecting bug while rockhounding with a retired geology teacher , found a hobby in the hunt and parlayed it into a business in his hometown of Tustin. A former firefighter, house painter and retail jewelry store owner, gemologist Gochenour, 38, now pulls aquamarine, tourmaline and crystal quartz minerals from mines he leases with brother Ken in Riverside County and in Arkansas. He extracts and cleans specimens, sets the minerals in jewelry for retailers and tours gem shows with his wares. Although Gochenour-mined specimens can be found in museums and private collections, the brothers are scrambling to keep pace with a quartz crystal craze. They saw the turquoise and silver fad take a fall when they owned a shop in Colorado, and they expect a similar fate for the current crystal trend. No matter, Gochenour says. He will be scouring remote mountain sites in search of small claims, just for the sport of it. The following remarks by Gochenour were taken from an interview with Times staff writer Nancy Reed.

You go tramping out there, beating around the brush. It is really like treasure hunting--you are like an old prospector with your water on your back.

There are a lot of rock clubs that go in their Winnebagos to known locales, but there are not many people who really go out there and bust the brush and live with the rattlesnakes and spend weeks on end out there in the dirt.

You can't just go around blasting anything you want. You go to the little sheriff's office and get your permits. So usually we work by hand. You carry a small GI shovel, screwdrivers, about five different size crowbars, and I have a portable gas drill for after you establish a claim.

It is not very much fun, you know, getting scraped up and knuckles busted and scratched up. It is something you have to do. But once you find something, well, that's like Dick Tracy.

Crystals are my thing. They are not worth as much--you can't go to the bank with them, but there are people who buy good crystals.

In gold mining, every hand is against you. People want to take it away from you. They want you to sell it to them, or they actually want to murder you for gold.

Five of us were on this gold-mining expedition once--we leased a part of the American River--and after we started making money, it was like that movie "Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

You started hiding from each other--fighting over little grains. It was horrible. Friends could hardly be friends anymore, and everyone was carrying guns. Somebody got murdered up the river for their gold.

I first noticed the quartz crystal trend in 1983, when the Rajneesh people were at their peak in Oregon and tried to buy up some quartz mines in Arkansas. And I started selling a lot of the hand-held pieces.

There is a wide spectrum of people who use them for holistic, therapeutic purposes.

The main reason my customers use them is in meditation. I haven't really studied it. I don't like getting into philosophical discussions with people because they sometimes get argumentative. I had people come up to me who had designs for copper and crystal objects that they swore would communicate with aliens.

At the trade shows, people close their eyes and move their hands across the crystals to see which ones "like" them or send out vibrations.

I have been shocked twice by crystals, and there wasn't any carpet or anything. But I'm a skeptic from way back. People hold crystals to see what feels good to them and they hold crystal pendulums over the other crystals. The pendulum is attached to the aura in them--or whatever--and a crystal that has an affinity for them will move the pendulum to the right or to the left. I have had people faint with crystals in their hand because it was just so powerful.

There does seem to be a certain amount of energy flow with these crystals, but I in no way know what they actually do. I just love them because they are beautiful.

I won't get rich doing this. I made a lot more money as a painter. But making a living doing something you like has got to be the goal of every human being in the world.

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