One of the most popular attractions at our museum is the Rockpile, a regularly-stocked 10×10 area containing agate, jasper, petrified wood, quartz crystals, sunstones, and other collectibles. We try to maintain a regional flavor to the material, but that’s not always easy. Plus, there’s good stuff from other locations that the kids enjoy. So we recently made a trip to Oregon Decorative Rock in Beaverton to see if they might help us spice things up. They have the largest selection of natural stone in the Pacific Northwest, and if you haven’t been there, you should make the trip.
Over the years, the Rockpile has expanded and contracted in size. At one time, it was a couple feet high. Last year, a local group of Scouts set up a project to screen out the dirt and rehab the mound.
The collectable material is hidden among more common rocks, making it a treasure hunt at times. Kids get one free rock from the Rockpile as part of their admission, and senior citizens who can no longer mount their own expeditions to collect in the field still get a little surge of excitement picking through the pile. With so many people touring the museum, it takes a lot of material to keep things interesting.
Rockpile Manager John Lillie said journeying to Oregon Decorative Rock was a real treat. The abundance was almost overwhelming, he reported. “I was really happy to see the wide variety of material on hand,” John said. “I realized immediately that they had kid-sized rocks that would make the students really happy.”
Oregon Decorative Rock manager Jim Reed was a huge help, and gave the museum a nice discount. Reed said he’s a big fan of the museum, and he hears about it from customers all the time. “I’ve have hundreds of customers mention you guys,” he told John. “We’re happy to help,” he added.
John returned to the museum with interesting new material. Some of the new additions to the Rockpile include polished black quartzite from Mexico, polished white and yellow quartz from the Southwest, and a striking blue-green aventurine from Montana that is still rough. The new black, white, and green mix makes a nice contrast to the current material, and response has been positive.
John has completely overhauled the Rockpile storage, inventory, and accounting process, and he is making a huge difference. He is semi-retired and energetic, and is a former project geologist who specialized in environmental remediation in his career. He now stays busy part-time at the museum as a host and serves as an interim museum store manager. The Rockpile is his favorite job. “Occasionally we get material from local rockhounds that goes right to the pile,” he said. “It’s fun to talk with them, and I try to get enough information about what they’re bringing in that I can tell the students what they’re looking at.”
“The aventurine has already been a big hit,” John continued. “The kids can spot it from a long way off, and it just seems to call to them.” If you’re not familiar with aventurine, that’s understandable. There is only one good occurence of aventurine in the Pacific Northwest, located on public land near Omak, Washington. The green aventurine sold by Oregon Decorative Rock is found in the gravel beds of the Yellowstone River, and is called Glacier Green. It is actually a form of quartzite, containing interlocking grains of quartz and other minerals. Small flecks of mica are sometimes contained in the stone. It can also come in red, but the characteristic green-blue is extremely popular.
The museum welcomes donated material from local rock clubs and rockhounds to keep the Rockpile interesting, but please don’t dump material directly to the pile. We’ve had problems in the past with obsidian shards and sharp jasper pieces that we didn’t know were in there until it was almost too late. It’s very important that you check with a museum employee when you donate rocks – you get a form for your taxes, and we can track the donation.
Note also that we are not set up to purchase collections. Families contact us regularly asking if we can buy their rocks and gems, ranging from unidentified specimens to yard rocks. We rarely see anything that we need, so we suggest visiting Treasures in the Grove, the nearest rock & gem shop in Forest Grove.
Stocking the Rockpile with Pacific Northwest material will always be an important part of what Richard and Helen Rice envisioned when they got things started here. Still, it’s fun to experiment with material from a supportive local business and spice things up. We’ll be going back to Oregon Decorative Rock soon, to see about landscaping material for our paths and gardens. They’ve been “All About Rocks” since 1976, and we speak the same language!