Friday, September 5, 2014

Our Visit to Rice Rock Museum

Open: Wednesday - Sunday
Hours: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Adults $8
Kids: $6
Kids (4 & under): Free
Ten or more years ago my friend Stephanie handed me a brochure for the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, then extolled the many virtues of their collection. Knowing I'm interested in natural sciences, I'm sure she thought we'd make a visit right away. However being the poor planners that we are, Charley and I never went—despite that it is conveniently located, affordable, and really, really neat.

This summer wasn't going to get away from me without taking my girls on a visit to this museum. This being the last week in summer, I thought we should maybe get started on that… So Monday we decided we were going. Then I checked their website. They are open Wednesday through Sunday 1-5 p.m. Humm, Monday is out. 1 p.m.-5 p.m.? Seriously? That's smack dab during cranky time—not for the girls—me. My energy level dips early afternoon and I'm usually sporting a low grade headache… You get the idea.

Wednesday came, and we went. The museum was originally the home of the two primary collectors, Richard and Helen Rice. They passed away in 1997, just after they finished the paperwork to turn it into a museum, which it already was in all but name and tax-id. They built their custom home in 1952, and it was probably a mansion by the standard of those days. The entire lower floor was designed to house their growing collections, which now totals over twenty thousand pieces. The house is even sided with “Coconino sandstone from Coconino County, Arizona, an eolian (wind-blown) sandstone deposited in ancient sand dunes during the Permian period (260 million years ago), composed mainly of quartz grains.” (Taken from the FAQ page.)

Despite all of the geologic wonders, I couldn't help but feel as though I slipped into the set the Brady Bunch.

When we first stepped into the Brady Bunch house, the retro-house smell permeates (not-unpleasant) as you gaze at the glass case lined walls, filled with pieces of meteorites and other specimens. Sensing that my attention was elsewhere, Berzo started tugging on my arm and banging on the glass doors. Uh-oh, I thought, this isn't going to go so well. Berzo couldn't see much, being a shorty, and I was worried that everything was going to be boring displays behind glass. If it can't be touched, hefted, smelled, and in some instances, tasted, it may as well not exist to a toddler.

I needn't have worried. Once we passed through the initial hallways, the museum opened up with many items that could be touched and manipulated. Right away there was a large chunk of meteorite on a table. Touching something that fell to the earth from outer space is really not overrated. The table was framed with little doors to lift. Each handle was a different rock that was a possible answer to the question, (which I don't remember) and the display underneath told you if your guess was correct. Berzo lifted them all.

Mom, I'm touching dinosaur poo!
The walls were all lined with glass cases loaded with interesting rock and mineral specimens, the doors of which boomed alarmingly every time Berzo pushed on or hit the glass. We didn't linger too long in the "observation only" areas. Boot's favorite specimen was a fossil hoof and bones from an early horse, and the coprolites. Several coprolites were out for touching, and the girls thoroughly enjoying handling dinosaur poop. They also had an impressive nest of dinosaur eggs. They were so well preserved they looked as though they might at any moment pop open with baby dinosaurs squalling for their parents to feed them.

There was an entire room dedicated to fossilized wood, with lots of ancient forms of palms. Their size and quality were astounding. The fossilized pine cones were pretty darn neat too.

In one of the converted bedrooms there is a gallery of phosphorescent rocks that glow under a blacklight. The room cycles from black-light to white-light for comparison. There was this and so much more in just the house portion.

There is another separate gallery that has what is possibly the largest, opal filled, geode ever found. It is truly remarkable. Even the girls wowed as they ran their hands on this otherworldly stone.

In-between the buildings are paths to explore as well as many of the larger specimens, like a huge basalt pillar, pieces of petrified wood and much more. In the middle is a rock pile that invites burgeoning young rock-hounds to dig for a souvenir to take home—for free. Boots got something that looks like a petrified wood and Berzo got a sparkly blue rock.

I love my rock I found in the rock pile!
The Brady's (oops, I mean Rice's) garage has been converted into a gift shop. Inside are plenty of rocks, books and even fossils in slabs of slate (want) for sale. Berzo chose a pretty yellow crystal called calcite ($2), and Boots got an unopened geode($3). We attempted to crack it when we got home but have been as of yet, unsuccessful.

The museum is located on the north side of Highway 26 just a short dash from Hillsboro. The admission is reasonable at eight dollars per adult, and six per child, (four years old and under are free). We will certainly go back again. Older kids will love it but it is also fun and reasonably safe for toddlers, most of the reachable specimens are tethered by wires and the glass doors are strong, Berzo personally tested them.

We will certainly be regular visitors. See you there.

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