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New article about the Rock Stop in the AVA

Stop to Shop at the Rock Stop

By Cat Spydell on April 12, 2024

You’ve all driven past it, that intriguing shop at the old Floodgate building in Philo on the 128, a couple miles east of the Navarro Store. It was always the dinosaur statue in the front lot that made me pay attention, a baby T-Rex replica that was made in Willits years ago and is the most photographed icon on the property (I have a photo of it on my Instagram account!) Besides the dinosaur, there are weekend sales tables set out front full of sparkling rocks and crystals, jewelry, jade, and other mysterious and stunning wares. Welcome to the Rock Stop, one of Mendocino County’s (pardon the pun) hidden gems.

As someone who has traveled throughout California and even to other states to go rock hunting, (often in our Skoolie, which is a schoolbus RV, with several animals on board for company), I was enthralled to discover the Rock Stop when I moved to Philo in 2019. I live on a property called Dragonwood here in Philo, and we have a lot of visitors, and one of the top recommendations I make to our guests is to stop by the Rock Stop. I was concerned about the status of the shop when Covid hit, and was quite relieved that the intrepid owners Sam Gitchel and Heron persevered through the pandemic and have kept the Rock Stop open.

I decided to chat with them and get some more information about their shop, themselves, and their unique and wonderful rocks! What I knew about them already, I gleaned from reading about them online:

Rock Stop: From Our Hands to Yours

We're a Craft Commerce Merchant. Many of our items are unique, one-of-a-kind pieces handcrafted by local and traveling artisans, including in our own, green-powered workshop. We select the finest in natural materials and choice workmanship for our distinctive collections of jewelry, stones, carvings, art objects, and decor.

I found out so much more by interviewing Sam and Heron. When I asked them when and where they met, I learned that they met about 27 years ago at the Fensalden Inn estate sale. For those who don’t know, Fensalden Inn is a lovely bed and breakfast located in Albion. The name Fensalden means “land of the sea and the mistâ… a perfect meeting spot for two people who have such a deep appreciation for nature’s gifts.

Learning more about Sam and Heron and the Rock Stop gave me a whole new respect and appreciation for the place, and for them.

Cat (CS): How did you both decide you wanted to open a rock shop together? Do you have local family or friends that are involved as well?

Sam and Heron (S/H): Sam was prospecting jade and doing gem shows. When his sons got older and did not want to go to the gem shows any longer, we (Heron and Sam) opened the Rock Stop in 2002.

Going forward, Sam and Heron received help from Sam’s son, Sam Jr., and daughter-in-law Sierra, and friends also occasionally chipped in their efforts to get the business started. Things began to fall into place as they launched the new store, as they already knew the old Floodgate building owners where their shop is located, Butch and Buffy (Paula), and also knew that they would be great people to rent from. The Floodgate Store building location has a rich history in the Anderson Valley and is the perfect place for the Rock Stop to attract weekend visitors coming and going on the 128.

Sam lived in Rancho Navarro in the early 1980s, so they were familiar with the area and could feel at home at their shop’s location. Their current homestead is now located in Albion.

Wisely, Sam and Heron set up the Rock Stop schedule so that they could be there on weekends, with the shop’s hours being from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. During the week, they teach organic gardening and sustainable homesteading. They cleverly have advertised on sites called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and WorkAway for work exchange help with their off-grid organic garden and home, which is something I do as well, only via word of mouth, to get help with managing my own 40 acres and at-home animal rescue. It does take a village to live in the country in Mendocino County!

The homestead explains why they keep the Rock Stop hours to the weekends only. When I learned they close the Rock Stop each year for two months in January and February, I always assumed that they were likely in Arizona at the gem shows so prevalent in winter there.

Traditionally, those months are when the big popular gem shows are open in Arizona in Tucson, Quartzsite, and other cities. I asked Sam and Heron where they purchase their gems and stones and about whether they attend those gem shows.  I was told that they do attend sometimes, but most of their merchandise is sourced from their long-time suppliers’ warehouses in California or Nevada. They had this to add:

S/H: We buy items from all over the world! We only purchase from vendors who treat workers fairly. The quality shows that our items are made by “happy workers.” We have made close friends with our suppliers and they supply us with the highest quality merchandise. We have a large lapidary shop on the coast. We create jade items from our helicopter jade prospecting trips. Heron makes beautiful jewelry, and we buy from local artists as well. We also polish and sell massive jade boulders, as well as other beautiful boulders in our rock garden and landscape rock art.

To that, I can attest: I own several pieces of jewelry I have purchased at the Rock Stop over the years, and many stones and gems as well, and I have given away many pieces as gifts. I had my eye on a large pink colored polished bench years ago, but I didn’t purchase it before Covid closed things down and I missed my chance to own it. There is something magical that happens when you park in the lot in front of the Rock Stop and go inside. It draws you in with dazzling displays. Each item seems to speak its own language, and tells a story of its origin, should you care to listen.

I was intrigued by the idea of helicopter prospecting and looked into it further. On the Rock Stop brochure, it is mentioned that the family takes pride in its products and suggests further reading on their helicopter jade hunt adventuring, located on the webpage CaliforniaJade.com. I loved the following passage I found there, because I have been known to “fight for Mother Nature” in the past.

Here’s the helicopter jade collecting story from Sam and Heron themselves:   Jade Hunters: Journeys to Jadeland

The gathering is a joyous occasion. We excitedly and happily helicopter into our week-long adventure with family and friends in the remote wilderness of one of the inaccessible gorges of the Trinity Alps.

It is both a wonderful and spiritual journey. All jades are surface-gathered and no damage is done to the earth. Our tools are our hands and small pry bars. We only take what our Mother has given us each visit. We dig no exploratory mines.  Wherever our path takes us we leave nothing but footprints. The camp is super clean upon our departure as is everywhere we have been for the week. All that came in by the helicopter goes out by the helicopter. The rare jade we are lucky enough to find comes out with us by helicopter as well. Everyone has excellent memories and rare jade to take home with them.

The Rock Stop features the extremely rare botryoidal jade, which is described as “bumpy, grapey … brain-like,” and even “ugly at first sight but later curiously beautiful, baroque, flowerlike, clustered, singular nuggets of green gold that defy description,” by Duke McIssac, via the online article* Botryoidal Jade: Rarest of the Rare Jades* on The Canadian Rockhound site. McIsaac also calls it “A miniature moonscape. Definitely rare! It is an anomaly of the mineral world.”

I found that learning about Sam and Heron’s process to acquire jade was most exciting. I appreciate the dedication the Rock Stop family puts into their personal acquisition of their products. While jade seems to be a prevalent item sold in the Rock Stop, I asked Sam and Heron what their favorite gemstones were. They replied: “We love it all!” Though they are specialists in California jade, Heron loves agate as well. Their favorite thing to sell in the shop are the pieces they make themselves. I myself have spent endless hours in the Rock Stop admiring the tailored jewelry and designs they sell. It’s hard to pick just one thing! Luckily they offer little baskets you can carry through the store and fill up as you walk the aisles admiring the items for sale.

When I asked what they would like everyone to know about the Rock Stop, this was their answer:

We love what we do. We love our customers and the stories they share. It is our pleasure to supply fine creations by Mother Nature.

The Rock Stop has been in the same location for over 20 years, and they have been actively involved in the community, even adopting a stretch of the 128 highway before Covid in the Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program, that provides an avenue for individuals, organizations, or businesses to help maintain sections of roadside within California's State Highway System. One thing they love about the Rock Stop is that many of their returning customers grew up coming to the shop as children, and now they are adult customers bringing their own families. Tradition is time-honored in this unique hub of the area.  It’s safe to say that Sam and Heron are outstanding “diamonds” in this community! We are lucky to have such an interesting family living here in the area that offers such a charming place to visit, an adventure in itself.

As it says in their brochure:

ROCK STOP

Glorious gifts from Mother Nature.

We will rock you!

Yes, they will rock you! Stop by the Rock Stop next weekend, and bring a friend! You won’t want to miss it.

Online sites for the Rock Stop:

YouTube: Rockstop707

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