News

The Rock Show: One man’s mission to school the nation on the thrill of discovery

Houston Wade holds a 1-carat Colorado diamond that his crew dug out after working through seven feet of cow dung at one of the “Lost Lakes” in Colorado. The “lake” is more dung than water as cattle daily relieve and refresh themselves at the site.   - Samuel Wade photo
Houston Wade holds a 1-carat Colorado diamond that his crew dug out after working through seven feet of cow dung at one of the “Lost Lakes” in Colorado. The “lake” is more dung than water as cattle daily relieve and refresh themselves at the site.
— image credit: Samuel Wade photo

Islander Houston Wade is a gemstone hunter and, by default, an adventurer.

He has visited countless ghost towns, had guns waved in his face, been mistaken for a cattle thief in the night, had his underfooting on the side of a desert cliff give way while hauling $10,000 worth of equipment up its steep face, and has driven off a bluff into Class 3 rapids.

And after all that, he’s lived to tell the tales.

It’s no wonder that two years ago when a friend told Wade to submit his gemstone hunting adventures to Mike Rowe’s reality show, “Dirty Jobs,” a seed was planted.

It was a comment that inspired a whole pot of possibilities for Wade, who recently launched a Kickstarter to transform this more-than-a-hobby into what has the potential to become a Discovery Channel-esque TV show.

“My goal is to demonstrate that people have an innate curiosity,” Wade said. “And if you give them smart TV they’ll feel something from it.”

When Wade graduated from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 2006 with degrees in geology, geography and astrophysics, he envisioned himself continuing on to the University of Washington for graduate school in astronomy, as if he didn’t have enough academia under his belt already.

Instead, not a whole year out of college, Wade realized that, though he understood the science of rocks from his studies, he had never actually gone out and found something.

At the time he didn’t foresee that this raw curiosity would later have him traveling around the country pulling precious gemstones from canyons, desert sand and mine shafts deep underground.

He started small. He took a gold sifting pan and went to the creek located next door to That’s-A-Some Pizza.

And bam! His pan picked up glacier gold dust that had found its way down from Canada. It was just that easy.

Sure, the dust didn’t have much worth, but he was hooked.

“Life takes you on these journeys,” Wade said. “This wasn’t even my hobby at all.”

Over the years it has escalated. At first he spent his time gold mining, but after too many run-ins with money-hungry, gun-toting miners, he changed tracks and took up gem hunting.

People who know Wade are familiar with his quirky, unfiltered personality that takes shape in funky Hawaiian T-shirts, a recent mohawk and his forest green pick-up truck, named “Dentosaurus Rex” for its many off-roading dents.

The explorers he meets on his gemstone expeditions are more his brand. They’re interested in the science and the hunt, not so much the money or backcountry weaponry.

“Rock is also a lot harder to find and a lot harder to break,” Wade said. “Even with modern technology it makes me appreciate what people managed to do with essentially Bronze Age materials.”

So in between his jobs as a math and science professor at the Art Institute of Seattle and weekend waiting at the Harbour Public House, he takes mini-trips throughout the year and at least two big trips in the summers to places like Colorado, the Dakotas, Nevada and Utah.

This summer will be a bit different.

With his new pilot series, tentatively dubbed “Get Your Rocks Off with Houston,” Wade will take viewers from their couch to western Utah in search of Bixbite, a red gemstone that’s said to be worth a thousand times more than gold.

“People don’t realize that we have enough gem wealth to pay off the national debt,” Wade explained.

Bixbite is considered the rarest gem in the world, and it can be dug up in our very own U.S.A.

For every 150,000 diamonds found, one Bixbite is found. Often called red emerald, this little red-purple stone is commonly found at a size of .15 carats or less. It has been discovered just a few times weighing more than one carat.

Wade has a couple little guys in his résumé of discoveries and hopes to uncover more in Utah where he has mapped out virgin ground.

Of course there’s more to it than digging in dirt with wenches, pry bars and possibly explosives.

There are a few things about gemstone hunting that Wade explains are key to his trips, and he plans on covering them in “Get Your Rocks Off With Houston.” He will talk about the gem and its qualities, what measures it will take to get to the location where the gem is thought to be and how they plan on retrieving it, and lastly, the history of the places they pass along the way.

Where mines are, he says, there are often ghost towns. And with ghost towns there are often good stories.

“It’s fascinating how fast a force of humanity can extract everything and leave and move on,” Wade said.

About a year ago, Wade started actively searching for producers for his show. A few seemed promising, but fell through, including one who wanted to turn his educational idea into “The Big Bang Theory in real life.”

Running around the desert acting like a nerd wasn’t what he had in mind. Instead Wade plans to show his audience the accessibility of rare stones, whether it be opals, turquoise or bixbite, in more of a “Myth Busters” fashion.

At this point he has enlisted David Merwin of Merwin Productions to provide the production equipment — “He is like the super helper man,” Wade said — and he has recruited some of his most digitally inclined students at the Art Institute to provide the filming expertise.

His Kickstarter fundraising goal is $24,000, which will be used to take a crew of people out on the road. They need to raise the money for gas, food and incidentals in case something happens; Wade knows all too well that accidents can happen.

“There’s always risk,” Wade said. “You just don’t think it’ll happen to you.”

In fact, around this time last summer, Wade was on his way to a ghost town about 30 miles south of Winnemucca, Nev. called Star City.

The road up to the town was easy at first. Then it got bad. Then it got worse.

On one side was a sheer cliff and on the other side was about a six-foot drop that ended in water. He got out to see if there was a place he could turn around. About 500 yards up the mountain he found one, but soon the path under the front driver’s side tire gave way and he began rolling down the side of the mountain.

There had been moments of realization before this that death might come sooner than imagined. But this was the first time he actually thought he was about to die.

By steering into his demise instead of out of it, Wade explained, he somehow managed to drive his Ford F150 — or “Dentosaurus Rex” — through the Class 3 rapids back onto land with just a broken running board at the end of it.

If he can manage his goal of $24,000 to take a crew out to Utah, he will be taking the “Dentosaurus Rex” to filming locations starting this August or September.

His Kickstarter can be found under the pilot name, “Get Your Rocks Off With Houston,” on Kickstarter.com.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Jul 25 edition online now. Browse the archives.