Dusty Atkinson, left, uses an 8-ton jack to split rock geodes and reveal their crystalline beauty for customers from Kentucky in Gondola Square on Friday. Atkinson and his father, Leo, of Steamboat, are the Geode Guys. They were taking part in the Art on the Mountain festival which continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday.

Photo by Tom Ross

Dusty Atkinson, left, uses an 8-ton jack to split rock geodes and reveal their crystalline beauty for customers from Kentucky in Gondola Square on Friday. Atkinson and his father, Leo, of Steamboat, are the Geode Guys. They were taking part in the Art on the Mountain festival which continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday.

Art on the Mountain continues today and Sunday in Steamboat

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Past Event

Art on the Mountain

  • Sunday, July 4, 2010, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Gondola Square , 2305 Mount Werner Circle, Steamboat Springs
  • Not available / Free

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Past Event

Art on the Mountain

  • Saturday, July 3, 2010, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Gondola Square , 2305 Mount Werner Circle, Steamboat Springs
  • Not available / Free

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— Dusty Atkinson was doing a brisk business Friday, cracking dragon eggs in Gondola Square for refugees from the heat and humidity of the American South.

Atkinson, who operates a business called The Geode Guys with his father, Leo, was taking part in the Art on the Mountain festival, continuing 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and from Sunday.

He was using a simple handle-jack that exerts 1,600 pounds of pressure to crack open spherical rocks called geodes, revealing the crystals inside them.

“We used to call these dragon eggs when my dad and I worked renaissance festivals,” Atkinson said. “They’re really geodes from Chihuahua in Mexico.”

Whether one calls them dragon eggs or geodes or thunder eggs, as they do in the high desert of Oregon, the rocks that resemble misshapen baseballs seldom fail to yield up a surprise. Atkinson is so confident in his geodes that he guarantees to his customers that their purchase will reveal a crystalline hollow when he pops them open with his jack.

Geodes are formed by gas bubbles trapped in molten lava, he said. Throughout many thousands of years, different minerals seep into the void in the hardened gas bubble, producing colored crystals under the right conditions. He’s able to guarantee his customers they’ll come up crystalline because his suppliers in Mexico handpick the geodes from mines excavated as deep as several hundred feet in volcanic rock.

“They always send us the lightest geodes, which means they are hollow” and haven’t filled in with solid rock, Atkinson said.

His un-split rocks were priced from $10 to $200 based on size and whether they were multiple bubbles (geodes with several conjoined nodes).

That means his customers were assured of two geological souvenirs for as little as $5 apiece once the rock was split.

Atkinson pops the rocks by inserting the spherical geodes into the sharpened steel jaws of a custom-made device he calls — what else? — the geo-tine, as in guillotine.

“This is our own system,” Atkinson said proudly. “It’s unique to us.”

After clamping the steel jaws on the rock and encasing it in a wire cage wrapped in a bungee cord, he pumped the jack handle slowly four times until the rock was cleaved with a loud crack.

Seconds later, customers from Kentucky and South Florida were holding their geodes in their hands and admiring their smoke-colored crystals.

Art on the Mountain features amusement rides for children as well as the booths of artists and craftspeople such as Steamboat’s own Joanie Barbier, who sells uniquely designed children’s clothing.

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