Tucson’s house of curiosities in the middle of the desert

Richard Ratkevich, owner of Tucson Mineral and Gem World. (Photo by: Genáe Gonzales/Arizona Sonora News)

And there it was: just an old, small wooden building in the middle of the desert.

Tucson Mineral and Gem World is home to over 100,000 rocks, minerals, fossils and artifacts. Some of the strangest items in the store include bat skeletons, the preserved body of a cobra and a human skull.

The skull, once used for medical purposes in the early 1900s, has drills on both sides of the forehead. Besides those more peculiar objects, there are thousands of different rocks, minerals, gems, fossils and jewelry covering every inch of every wall. Many of the individual items come from people who sell private collections to the store.


The front of Tucson Mineral and Gem World. (Photo by: Genáe Gonzales/Arizona Sonora News)

“I used to sleep with skulls under my bed when I was a kid,” said Richard Ratkevich, one of the owners of the rock shop.

Both Ratkevich and his brother Ron grew up learning about minerals from their father, who was part of a mineral club and the owner of a rock shop over in Long Island, New York. As they grew older, the Ratkevich brothers would go on road trips with their father to collect rocks and purchase others from shops in other states.

In high school, the two volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History with part of the fossil lab crew. They also spent many summers traveling to Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota digging for fossils. Shortly after that, they moved to Tucson because their father got a job at Kitt Peak and built the rock shop in 1968.

Some of the most expensive objects in the store are the collection of minerals from Naica, Mexico. Each of these large minerals are at least worth around $2,000 because of their value and scarcity.

“You cannot get them anymore, period,” said Ratkevich. “They are no longer on the market.”


Some of the minerals sold in the store. (Photo by: Genáe Gonzales/Arizona Sonora News)



A medical human skull from the early 1900s. (Photo by: Genáe Gonzales/Arizona Sonora News)

Ratkevich’s biggest priority is spreading knowledge about rocks to his customers. He hopes that the people walking in and out of his shop take some sort of interest in the rocks and further explore these types of objects when they leave.

One customer went up to the counter at the front of the store to purchase a couple of small rocks. He asked how much they were and had his wallet out, ready to pay.

Once Ratkevich saw the two small rocks in his hand, he paused for a second, and then said, “Oh, just put them in your pocket and have a good day.” Surprised and delighted, the customer left the store.

Genáe Gonzales is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at genaeg@email.arizona.edu.






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