Back in March, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a guided quarry tour in Texas, which was hosted by the Marble Institute of America (MIA). This was the third MIA-hosted trip I have taken in the past year, and at the conclusion of each tour, I always walk away with a sense of awe.

Participants in the latest event had the opportunity to experience the extraction process at Cold Spring Granite Co.'s Texas Pink quarry in Marble Falls, TX, where workers used large-scale drilling equipment to free stone from the earth. This provided a dramatic prelude to a tour of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, built in the 1880s using the same Texas Pink granite.

The tour also included a visit to a relatively new quarry site for a classic material -- Texas limestone -- as well as a nearby limestone mill. Once again, the event made the transition from extraction to application, as the group made stops at two limestone fabrication shops that specialize in custom work and hand carving. One company, in particular, was comprised of a talented group of sculptors. To watch these men and women take a limestone block and transform it into an intricately detailed architectural ornament was unbelievable. It is craftsmanship that is very rare to find these days.

The company owners, who are members of the Stonecarvers Guild, explained that when the business was first started, they actually trained local students -- talent was difficult to find. But now that the company has established a reputation, stonecarvers from around the world seek them out. Watching these artisans at work offers a deeper appreciation for the beauty and potential of natural stone.

My first MIA tour included visits to Vermont and Canada -- exploring some of the great granite and marble quarries owned by Rock of Ages and Vermont Quarries. And last summer, we were back on the road again, visiting several of Cold Spring Granite Co.'s quarries in Minnesota and South Dakota as well as a quarry and fabrication plant owned by Dakota Granite.

Many of these quarries have been operating for more than a century and are linked to historical projects. As a publication that focuses on the use of stone and tile in design, we often write about how materials enhance the overall look of a space, but we don't have the opportunity to explain the entire process. There is a great deal of work that goes into making those finished products -- from clearing a quarry bench to drilling the blocks out to fabricating the pieces.

In short, there is a story behind virtually every stone material on the market today, and the MIA and many other industry organizations -- such as VeronaFiere, organizer of the Marmomacc trade fair in Verona, Italy -- regularly offer trips or seminars such as the ones I have participated in. They offer valuable insight into the stone industry and how it relates to architecture and design, and they are readily available to professionals in the field.