Deer Creek kids turn into rock hounds
A 3,000-pound thunder egg with a huge opal inside! Agatized dinosaur poop! A giant shark tooth! A petrified baby dinosaur! An 88-pound emerald!
All this and more await Deer Creek students on their field trips to the Rice Northwest Rock and Mineral Museum, and on June 2, it was the third-graders' turn.
The museum, located at the Helvetia Road/Brookwood Parkway exit off Highway 26, is actually a house and shop that were owned by Richard and Helen Rice. Their interest in rocks and minerals started when they first picked up agates and jaspers on the Oregon coast and had them polished, transforming them into beautiful stones.
The Rices became active in several rock and mineral organizations, and in 1952 started construction of their dream house designed to showcase their growing collection, constructing lighted, built-in showcases in the basement and using natural materials in the construction of their home.
Later the Rices along with other local rock-hounds formed the Tualatin Valley Gem Club. In 1996, when they were in their late 80s, they incorporated the museum as a non-profit, private, operating foundation, and all the rooms in the original house were converted into galleries.
The garage became the gift shop, and Richard Rice's workshop became the Northwest Gallery in 2005. Individuals and groups have loaned the museum additional specimens, including petrified wood, meteorites and fossils.
Vicki Botieff, a volunteer, led Dan Fuglee's class around the museum, telling the kids they were going on a treasure hunt to look for such objects as the state rock and a moonstone.
In the Northwest Gallery, Botieff pointed out that "everything in this gallery came from the Pacific Northwest. Everything you see today came from the Earth. Man can enhance it, polish it or cut it into facets if it is a gem. Man can make it look prettier, but man can't make it."
Botieff explained the difference between rocks and minerals, but the kids were already ahead of her, answering correctly all the tough questions she asked them.
Minerals are created by geological processes, feature a crystal structure and include gold, quartz and diamonds; rocks are made up of minerals and fall into three different categories: igneous, which include basalt, granite and pumice; metamorphic, which include slate, marble and quartz; and sedimentary, which include chalk and sandstone.
Botieff gave the kids a lot of fun facts, saying, "Crystals help make your body grow. Calcium comes from calcite, which our bones need, and fluoride comes from fluorite that we need for our teeth. Do you know what makes paper shiny in books and magazine? Barite makes paper shiny but it looks like a bar of dirty soap. Cat litter is made from zeolites, which are also used in fish tank filters."
She told the kids that "Oregon looks the way it does because it has so many volcanoes," and a map in the Northwest Gallery lights up depending which button is pushed to show where the various elements are found.
"The state gem is the sunstone, and it is as rare and expensive as diamonds," Botieff said. "That's why there is only one light on the map all the way at the bottom of Oregon by Lakeview showing the one location where it is found.
"We say the Earth burps agates because they come up through deep fissures in the ocean and can be found all over the beach."
In the house's living room, Botieff showed the kids a video about expeditions to find rocks and minerals, and she held up and passed around different rocks, including a large pumice. "It's super light, and it's not hollow but it's full of holes," she said. "Cavemen cleaned their teeth with it and ground them down to little nubbins. And pumice is what they use to clean your teeth."
Downstairs in the house, Botieff explained that "every museum has its 'crown jewel,' and ours is the Alma Rose. It is pure rhodchrosite and is as rare as diamonds. Ours was found in Colorado in a silver mine. Mr. and Mrs. Rice spotted it and had to have it. It cost $800,000."
Not quite so valuable are meteorites, which Botieff called "the dust bunnies of outer space" and added that "if you find part of a meteorite, you are finding a piece of a planet or moon."
The kids were really excited in the Rainbow Gallery, where the lighting changes from blackout to low light to bright light. When the lights go out, shelves of rocks behind glass glow with bright colors, which continues for a few seconds after the low lights come up.
"This is fluorescence," Botieff said. "Our eyes cannot see it unless we add ultraviolet light."
In the fossil gallery was Tucker, a perfectly preserved dinosaur baby from the Cretaceous period of Earth's history. Botieff explained that while he was 2 feet long, his parents were up to 6 feet long and 3 feet tall.
In the prettified wood gallery were many specimens on loan from Dennis and Mary Murphy.
"Petrified means that something living turned to stone," Botieff said. "Our youngest specimen is 3 million years old, and our oldest is 359 million years old."
Looking at sections of petrified tree trunks, a boy asked, "These are all slices. Where is the rest of the trees?" (Probably in other museums.)
"How would we get these slices cut?" Botieff asked. "We would need a diamond saw. The Murphys couldn't find anything big enough so they built their own."
Following the tour, the kids got to peruse the gift shop, where many small specimens only cost $1 or $2. And magically, dollar bills appeared in the teachers' hands to help out students who weren't lucky enough to have a parent along as a chaperone.
Kids, parents and teachers enjoyed sack lunches out on the lawn, and then the kids got to root around in the special rock pile, where each student could choose a rock no bigger than their fist to take home. "You never know what you're going to find," Botieff said.
Before everyone boarded the buses to go back to Deer Creek, some of the kids revealed their favorite part of the trip, which included seeing the video in the living room, the gift shop, the rock pile, playing tag after lunch and "everything."
The Rice Northwest Rock and Mineral Museum is located at 26385 N.W. Groveland Drive, Hillsboro; visit ricenorthwestmuseum.org or call 503-647-2418.