Rockpile Gets Additions From Oregon Decorative Rock

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.

The Rockpile has grown and shrunk over the years. It has amazing agates, petrified wood, quartzite, and jasper for the kids (of all ages) to sift through.

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.”

Large display of cobbles and pebbles offered at Oregon Decorative Rock.

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.”

Museum host and Rockpile manager John Lillie.

“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!

Garage Sale Starts Friday 5/24 at 1:00 PM

Make your plans to drop by Friday or Saturday to check out the materials we’re selling off in our Spring Cleaning event.

You’ll find a combination of yard rocks, rockpile extras, excess museum store inventory, books, museum equipment, and more. Please BYOB- Bring Your Own Bucket.

There will be no early access. We have a school tour in the morning, please be respectful of their learning experience and wait until we open at 1:00.

2019 May Garage Sale

Volcano Day is Erupting Soon, Should be a Blast

If you’ve always had a fascination for volcanoes and earthquakes, Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals shares your passion. On Saturday, May 11, 2019, we’ve scheduled a full day of events with demonstrations, family activities, and talks by volcanologists from the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory.

We live in a highly volcanic region – most of us in western Oregon can see one or two volcanoes when the weather is right. But what do we really know about these icons? Volcano Day is a good opportunity to learn more about our local geology.

Map of major volcanoes in the Cascades. (Image source: Cascades Volcano Observatory)

Talks and demonstrations will take place throughout the day. We encourage you to try to time your visit for talk and demonstration.

Event Schedule:
10:30 – 11:00 – Talk by USGS Scientists Liz Westby and Carolyn Driedger
11:00 – 12:00 – Trash-Cano eruption & other demonstrations
12:00 – 12:30 – Talk by USGS Scientists Liz Westby and Carolyn Driedger
12:30 – 01:30 – Trash-Cano eruption & other demonstrations
1:30 – 2:00 – Talk by USGS Scientists Liz Westby and Carolyn Driedger
2:00 – 3:00 – Trash-Cano eruption & other demonstrations
3:00 – 3:30 – Talk by USGS Scientists Liz Westby and Carolyn Driedger
3:30 – 4:00 – Trash-Cano eruption

This event is included with regular museum admission. Admission costs $12.00 for adults, $10 for seniors over 60, $8 for kids ages 5-17, $8 for veterans and active military. Admission is free to members and children 4 and under.

The most popular demonstration by far is the famed trash-cano – a simulation of a volcanic eruption done by blowing up a trash can using liquid nitrogen.

How do you simulate a volcanic eruption in a garbage can? Find out Saturday!

Other hands-on demonstrations will be available, including Lahar-in-a-Jar, a demonstration of pyroclastic mudflow.

Lahar-in-a-Jar: A mudflow, or lahar, is a pyroclastic event

In addition, we’ll be honoring the 39th anniversary of the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Local collector Mike Medvec will bring his collection of Mt. St. Helens memorabilia and will be available to discuss the eruption throughout the event.

For those of you who don’t remember the rumbling blast of power that echoed across Portland and down the Willamette Valley, it was a signature event in our history. Many still remember being a long ways away that Sunday morning and hearing a thunderous sound around 8:30 am.

May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. (Image source: USGS Photograph taken on May 18, 1980, by Austin Post.)

Unfortunately, 57 people died in the 1980 eruption, including USGS volcanologist David A. Johnston, for whom the USGS Johnston Ridge Observatory is named.

Subsequent eruptions dumped volcanic ash locally on rooftops as far as Forest Grove. Heavier ash accumulations reached eastern Washington, Idaho, and even Oklahoma. It was a mess. But it was scientifically fascinating.

Ash cloud distribution. (Image source: USGS – https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/msh/ash.html )

Geologists had warned for years that our volcanic neighbors were not extinct, just quiet. Native American legends recalled Mt. Hood (Wyeast) and Mt. Adams (Klickitat) “fighting” over the beautiful maiden Loowit. The mountains hurled rocks at each other, started fires, and shook the earth, according to the stories. Angered, Tyhee Sahale turned all of them into mountains, with Loowit transformed into the once beautiful symmetrical cone-shaped volcano we know as Mt. St. Helens.

Mt. St. Helens in 1978 was calm and serene. Two years later, it rumbled to life. (image source: U.S.G.S./U.S. Army Corp of Engineers)

Large Mammal Skull Headed to OMSI for Cleaning, Prep Work

What do you do if you’re feeling a little old and grubby? Schedule a trip to the spa, of course, and book a makeover from top to bottom.

In the fossil conservation world, the concept is the same, but the mechanics of making it happen are a bit more complex. For one thing, it can take four strong backs and a truck just to leave home. But thanks to a collaboration with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and the North America Research Group (NARG), the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals recently shipped a 100-lb. fossil skull to OMSI to be prepped for eventual display here.

Fossil skull before its big move from the Rice museum curator space to the prep lab at OMSI.

First, some background. Many years ago, the museum took possession of a 34-million-year-old mammal skull from the famed Chadron Formation of South Dakota. Known at the time as a titanothere, the animal was part of a now extinct group of gigantic rhinoceros-like perissodactyls (odd-toed ungulates, or “hoofed mammals”). These behemoths roamed in herds, primarily in the Badlands area of the United States and Canada. Now usually dubbed “brontotheres,” (thunder beasts) these enormous animals were the largest North American mammals during the Eocene, standing up to 8 feet tall at the shoulder, and reaching 14 feet in length. They were so abundant during their time that entire fossil beds have been found at several locations in the Badlands area.

According to the National Park Service, brontotheres lived in open areas close to the nearly-tropical forests common in western and central North America during the Eocene. They were browsers, meaning they fed on leaves of trees or shrubs. Image from the Badlands Natural History Association.

Brontotheres were browsing herbivores with large “W” shaped molars, useful for grinding and chewing. They had a large bony “Y” shaped horn, which protruded just above the nose. The horn was much larger on males and probably used for head butting. The head was large, but the eyes were small and located on the front of the head. Ears were situated at the back. The body resembled a rhino, but the legs and feet were more like an elephant.

As brontotheres evolved, the core of their horns grew larger and longer. They had fewer incisors, which might have been related to development of a prehensile (able to grasp) lip. Their nasal canals shortened.

Most brontothere fossils are recovered from North America, although some have been found in Asia.

Connected to Famous Bone Wars

Dr. Hiram Prout, a St. Louis physician, described what was dubbed a titanothere jaw in 1846. It was the first scientifically described fossil specimen from the American West and discovered in what is now Badlands National Park. The jaw is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Nature.

The famous fossil hunters O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope gave the varied fossil titanothere-related specimens many different names, based on the shape of the horns. It turned out the horns were highly variable within a single species, and if Cope and Marsh weren’t so competitive about discovering and naming new fossils, in what became known as The Bone Wars, they might have figured the horn variability out on their own. After later paleontologists studied large collections of skulls occurring together from the same areas, they discovered that one shape actually grades into another.

Megacerops sp., North American brontothere from the Eocene. Copyright Nobu Tamara. Low res version licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

Over time, more researchers adopted the brontothere name, but the scientific literature still retains numerous references to titanotheres, so both names are used. The key source for North American brontothere fossil remains is the Chadron Formation. According to the literature at the website of Badlands National Park, the Chadron is found in North Dakota, South Dakota, northwestern Nebraska, and eastern Wyoming. It is named after the town of Chadron, Nebraska and was mapped out by Carl Vondra in the 1950s. The greyish Chadron Formation was deposited between 34 and 37 million years ago by rivers across a flood plain. Each time the rivers flooded, they deposited a new layer on the plain. Alligator fossils indicate that a lush, subtropical forest covered the land. Most fossils found in this formation are from early mammals like the three-toed horse and the large titanothere.

Into Our Collection

This particular fossil skull came to the Rice Museum five years ago as a donation by a local dentist, who displayed the skull in his office. It was in bad shape, and the movers accidentally broke it during transport, adding further insult. A fossil preparation expert from NARG took over the skull and put in considerable time stabilizing the specimen. He also embedded a crucial metal strut under the hard palate because there was too much plaster to give any meaningful support.

The skull came back to the museum, but it still needed a lot of work before it could go on display, and volunteer help at NARG was then consumed with preparation of a recently discovered thalattosaur, a sea-going reptile discovered near Mitchell, Oregon. The skull gathered dust until recently, when it made its trip to OMSI. But now that the specimen is back in the lab, it’s time for some serious pampering.

Local fossil preparation expert Greg Carr is spearheading the project. He determined that there are three layers of restoration to update, including a coat of white paint over drywall mud and lime mortar, plus several applications of PaleoBond glue. “I plan on cleaning off the drywall mud and smoothing out the lumpy Bondo with a Dremel,” he reported. He will remove some of the lime mortar to expose as much bone as possible, but not endanger the mechanical strength.

Noted fossil prep expert Greg Carr, member of the prominent local fossil club North America Research Group (NARG) will probably need a year to prep the skull for exhibit back at the Rice Museum. Photo by Sue Wu.

“Then we’ll repaint the filled-in parts to complement the bone,” Greg said. “We’ll build a mount to hold the skull about one foot above a strong plywood base, then add lights and mirrors to highlight the wonderful teeth,” he added.

Working about one day a week, Greg estimates it could take a year to get the specimen ready for a public display.

Sue Wu, OMSI Earth Sciences Coordinator, is enthusiastic about OMSI, NARG, and the Rice Museum teaming up. “I’m excited that we can partner with the Rice Museum on this project,” she said. “There are so many great science education organizations in this area. When OMSI can collaborate with places like the Rice Museum, we provide a richer experience for our visitors. Most visitors have never heard of this fossil mammal, so this is a rare opportunity for them to see a skull being worked on. I’m grateful to the Rice Museum for providing us with this opportunity.”

She said Greg is a good choice to lead the project. “He is the perfect person to be preparing the skull. Not only is he a highly experienced fossil preparator, he’s also a fabulous educator who loves showing and sharing with visitors what he’s doing with the fossil.”

Greg and his fellow volunteers already have a nickname assigned to the skull. “Another volunteer named Jack Pollock thinks we should nickname the beast ‘Lumpy,’” Greg said. “It seems very appropriate!”

Mineral Photographer Jeff Scovil Visits Museum for Mineral Glamor Shots

Famed mineral photographer Jeff Scovil dropped by the museum recently to shoot pictures of some of our top specimens, as well as “glamor shots” for regional collectors. The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is sponsoring six-pages featuring the best of the museum’s collection in a supplement to the The Mineralogical Record, to be published later this year. Many collectors in the area are participating in this project as well. Jeff recently set up a temporary studio at the Rice Museum to accommodate all the need for high-quality images for this project.

The title for the upcoming supplement is “Mineral Collectors of the Pacific Northwest.” The goal is to show off specimens from collectors in the northwest community and is open to public and private collections. Dr. Wendell E. Wilson, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The Mineralogical Record, said in a press release that the upcoming supplement will feature the best of collections of mineral enthusiasts living in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Alberta.

Jeff took over the curator’s storage area to set up his photography equipment.

The Mineralogical Record was founded in 1970 by John White, who was at that time a curator in the Mineral Sciences Department of the Smithsonian Institution. Today The Mineralogical Record continues to set the standard for quality content for the serious mineral collector. In 1982, The Mineralogical Record was honored with the naming of a new mineral species: minrecordite. In 1994, the publication won the prestigious Carnegie Mineralogical Award. It’s issues are collectibles in their own right, and are highly prized.

Based in Phoenix, Jeff has written numerous articles about his craft, and he published the definitive book on the subject: Photographing Minerals, Fossils, & Lapidary Minerals. His book shows amateur and professional photographers several techniques for getting the best possible images in both color and black & white. He explains the basic concepts, covers equipment and formats, and goes into detail about
photographing transparent and opaque materials, with advice on lighting techniques, filters, photomicrography, stereo-photography, fluorescence, location photography, and slide presentations.

According to his website, when Jeff got his first camera from his father at high school graduation, it was the beginning of a lifelong passion. Jeff grew up in Connecticut and had been collecting minerals and fossils since he was eight years old. He started college majoring in geology, but switched to anthropology and archaeology. After one field season on a dig in New Mexico he became the site’s laboratory photographer. Jeff studied what little there was published on archaeological photography; finding the literature minimal, he started researching scientific photography from other fields and applied what he learned to archaeological materials.

After three years in the photo studio at the dig, he renewed his passion for minerals with camera in hand. Initial image results were disappointing but Jeff kept at it and started gaining recognition for his work. He photographing other collector’s articles for the popular magazines in the hobby such as The Mineralogical Record and Rocks and Minerals.

The Alma Rose, Sweet Home mine, Alma, Park County, Colorado. On exhibit at the Rice Museum and photographed by Jeff Scovil in 2016

Jeff’s approach was summarized in an excellent Vimeo recording produced by Daniel Buckley for the Arizona Centennial’s virtual museum, arizonaexperience.org.  “The most important thing…is that a mineral is a geometric solid…. I’ve developed a technique where I photograph on a piece of non-glare glass suspended above the background so that I don’t get reflections. I can light from behind, from underneath, and through the glass. Crystal faces are frequently extremely lustrous, so you’re trying to avoid burned-out highlights. Then I have another light, which is for the background. I usually have a third light, which I call a ‘kicker.’ The more you diffuse [the background light], you’re going to have fewer problems with reflections on faces. This little kicker adds sparkle back in and increases the color saturation and gives the specimen lots more life than you would get otherwise. Once you light the crystal, the actual definition of the crystal faces and the other attributes of the specimen is done with a variety of small cards that range in specularity from completely matte to highly reflective. So trying to balance the lighting can really be a task.”

Jeff uses a variety of lights, backlights, filters and reflection surfaces to get the perfect shot.

Jake Slagle at Mineral Bliss sums up Jeff’s many credentials: “A recipient of the 2007 Carnegie Mineralogical Award, his work is everywhere in just about every issue of Rocks and Minerals, Mineralogical Record, and the mineral and lapidary magazines of France, Germany, Spain, Poland, and Russia, as well as in numerous books about minerals. The posters for most of the larger shows around the world (including eleven for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show) bear his work, and he’s photographed the collections of scores of museums in the US and around the world.”

At Jeff’s website, you can see multiple examples of his fine work. You’ll find extreme closeups of malachite, agate, fluorite, and garnet, as well as stunning images of complete minerals, fossils, meteorites, lapidary, archaeological artifacts, and more.

Start Hot Dates With Cool Rocks

If you’re looking for a science theme to spice up your next date, the Museum has you covered. DatingAdvice.com recently interviewed us for a feature article about turning a visit to our collection into a memorable experience for couples. It’s a fun read.

To recap, pondering the mysteries of universe together can start with our fossil display, our meteorite collection, or the gold and gems in the Main Gallery. If you want to surprise your significant other with interesting jewelry, you could get inspired about ring settings from a visit to the Harvey Gallery, with it’s amazing faceted gems. The Museum Store has several field guides if you want to plan a fun expedition together to collect your own material.

Get inspired for a unique jewelry creation in the Harvey Gallery.

Also, keep in mind we are available for facility rentals if you want to celebrate a wedding, renew your vows, or stage a memorable family reunion. From first date to Diamond Anniversary, we’re here for you.

Forest Health Project Underway – Pardon Our Mess!

One of the best parts of working at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is the park-like setting on the grounds. We love our rocks and minerals, but we’ll talk at length about any of the earth sciences. For example, it’s common to see us commenting about deer on the lawn, elk in the fields, coyotes along the treeline, or raptors circling overhead. Lately, we realized we had to address some long-overdue management of our forested stands. We love our trees, but there are problems to fix.

The Helvetia elk herd is a welcome sight every winter at the museum.
Forests surround the museum looking west; left is US-26. Note the stand of diseased timber on the right, with bare trunks, stunted tops, and leaning trees.

One concern has been the frequency that the large trees come down in winter wind storms. The Northwest Gallery took a major hit two years ago when a middle-aged Douglas Fir crashed into the roof. Last year a dead branch fell among some school kids exploring the rock pile. Nobody was hurt, but we didn’t want to go through that again.

Trees from the compromised stand landed on the roof of the Northwest Gallery during a 2017 wind storm.

We contacted the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) for insights and explained our concerns centered on safety and environmental management, rather than an economic boost. During a lengthy tour, ODF Stewardship Forester Kevin Nelson from the Forest Grove office walked the entire 28-acre property with us, and told us some of his concerns.

The Southwest Stand is in good shape, but could use some thinning to improve overall health. The Front Yard area is fine, and requires no work. The Compromised Stand has problems that have to be addressed.
  1. The large stand located south of the Northwest Gallery has multiple problems. Dubbed the “Compromised Stand,” it has served as overflow parking for major events, which, in retrospect, was not a good idea. Years of parking cars there has compacted the soil and damaged the tree roots, resulting in unhealthy trees. Several of the larger trees displayed signs of significant rot. The younger trees underneath appeared stunted and in poor health. ODF approved removing most of this stand to convert to dedicated parking.
  2. The trees growing at the bottom of the lawn, dubbed the Front Yard stand, are in good shape, so no action is required there.
  3. The Southwest Stand appears to be in good shape as well, but in serious need of thinning, and showing signs of distress. Our ODF contact stipulated that he would not sign off on high-grading the good wood out of that stand; instead, he advised an “addition by subtraction” approach to remove rotting or undersized leaners, fixing crowded spots, etc. He also advised against keeping some of the larger trees along the edge of the stand that threaten the main museum building. He pointed out a thriving section of Western Red cedar that he recommended leaving as-is, and believes we’ll end up with a truly park-like setting when the job is complete.

With all the permits in place and consultations concluded, Salmon Creek Construction began removing the compromised stand on February 8. They immediately confirmed our worst fears: many of the larger trees were weak and dangerous.

New view east from the Northwest Gallery. Note the large dark middle of the log in front – it had severe rot inside and was not healthy.

In addition, we have some up-to-date advice for the rest of the acreage to the north, which was logged and replanted with Douglas Fir with mixed success many years ago. ODF advised against restocking any more Douglas Fir seedlings, due to extended droughts and changing climate. Way back in Oregon Territory history when Joe Meek homesteaded on the property directly west of the museum, Douglas Fir was a dominant species across the Tualatin Plains. Now, foresters recommend replanting with an Oregon variety of Ponderosa Pine, which is much more resistant to drought. Since six out of the last ten years have experienced drought-like conditions through the summer, he was concerned that we would waste our time stocking with Western Redcedar or Douglas Fir. So we’ll be removing 60-70 unhealthy trees from the front, and replanting with about 300 Ponderosa Pine seedlings in the back, with a mix of local oak. We’ll retain the oak habitat, with a long-term goal of creating some nature trails for public use.

Plot of the museum’s acreage, which abuts US-26 to the south. The open patch to the north was cut and replanted years ago, and could use more trees as long as they aren’t Douglas Fir.

We are sorry to see the trees go, but it was time to act. We anticipate Salmon Creek will be done with the Compromised Stand very quickly weather permitting), so patrons shouldn’t be affected once the trees are down and we turn the slash pile and stumps into much-needed chips. The plan is to address the Southwest Stand from the back, via the service road, further reducing impact to the public. Once the logging is complete, we can apply for a permit, hire an engineering firm to address grading, and lay down a thick bed of gravel in time for our major events this summer. If you’d like to help with our expenses during this operation, feel free to click the Donate button. We appreciate your help!