24 August, 2011

First Rule of Great GeoTrips: Start at OMSI and Build

When you have a gajillion friends in Portland and an intrepid companion who isn't all that interested in geology but willing to suffer through a bunch of rock pounding so he can see some scenery, and you can get an extra day off work, it's not a bad idea to start your geo adventures at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Especially when two of your friends have two rambunctious grandkids. OMSI is a scientific wonderland for kids - plenty of activities, interactive exhibits, and things to keep them entertained while the adults do boring stuff like... play with all the exhibits.

And I'm all for a museum that posts signs like this one on its perimeter fence:

Sign outside OMSI, Willamette River side
There's tons of stuff to play with. There's an earthquake house, which we all had immense fun with. The Van de Graff generator - a big hollow metal ball with a crank - intrigued pretty much everybody. Anything that can make pie tins fly, people's hair stand on end, and create big blue sparks is a surefire win. The exhibit showing the development of a fetus from blastocyst to full-term baby is a must-see for those who can stomach it - we're not talking replicas here, but actual human fetuses preserved by Gunther von Hagens, he of Body Worlds fame. All of the embryos and fetuses in the display didn't survive due to natural causes or accidents. They're fascinating, but disturbing, so steel yourself before taking a look.

There's far more - machines and such, which my intrepid companion will likely blog about in a bit. Glacial Till and I, being geo-nerds, hightailed it to the Earth Science Hall. We were pressed for time and too busy meeting in meatspace for the first time to get really in-depth, but we saw some wonderful stuff.

Oreodont, John Day Fossil Beds
This is one of the first things you see on your way to the rocks. It's the closest we got to the John Day Fossil Beds. I'm not sure which species this is, much less genus - there were ten genera in the Blue Basin. Oreodonts have got nothing to do with the famous cookie, despite the name - oreodont means "mountain teeth." Nabisco's snack food name also comes from the Greek, but from the word meaning "appetizing." I'm not sure how appetizing oreodonts would have been. They were a bit like pigs or sheep with long tails, but are more closely related to camels.

A fossil makes a nice transition between the living stuff and the rocks. Moving on to the minerals, then, we find something a little ironic. I moved from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest, in part because of all of the wonderful young geology, and when I go on a geotrip to look at Oregon rocks, I find mostly rocks from Arizona. This amused me so much I'm a bit afraid for my sanity.

Azurite and Malachite
Here we have some lovely azurite and malachite specimens, overwhelmingly collected from Bisbee, Arizona. These are copper minerals, which are produced when copper ore deposits weather, so it should surprise no one when I tell you that Bisbee is an old copper mining town. Few things make me want to go back to Arizona, but the rocks surely do. Especially when I see rocks like these.

Aragonite from Queens Cave, Arizona
I couldn't locate any info about Queens Cave on the intertoobz, but I'll take a wild stab and say it's probably in southern Arizona. There are a lot of limestone caves down that way. Aragonite, along with calcite, is one of the common crystal forms of calcium carbonate. You can find it in the shells of mollusks and the endoskeletons of corals, as well as in stalactites. And no, it wasn't named by a Lord of the Rings fanatic with poor spelling skills, but for its type location, Molina de Aragón.

This next one might remind you of Michael Klaas's Sunday Science series:

Garnet Mica Schist
We've discussed garnet mica schist in some detail previously, so I'll spare you repetition. Just realize that the garnets in this specimen are enormous - easily the size of gumballs.

One doesn't normally think of talc as a rock, not if they grew up with talcum powder. But a rock it is, and sometimes forms lovely little patterns like this. It's also interesting, being a metamorphic mineral. This is what happens to serpentinite and related rocks when carbon dioxide and water are present.

Pretty neat stuff, goethite. It looks kinda gothic, doesn't it? It's basically iron hydroxide, formed from oxidized and weathered iron-rich deposits, and really was named for the famous author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Miami, AZ isn't quite as awesome as the Florida version, but it's got goethite, so that's a little bit of all right, then.

Ye olde micaceous mineral habit
Glacial Till enjoyed this quite a lot - a nice example of the micaceous mineral habit. Micaceous is a fun word. And it's entertaining to think of minerals having habits. If you ever played with mica in a science class in school, and got to peel away a layer, you've had direct experience with the micaceous mineral habit.

How awesome is it that Evelyn just did a post on lepidolite? Means someone wiser than I gets to tell you about it. That huge hunk of muscovite in the background is a bit of yum, too. And the chrysocolla there from (drumroll please) Miami, AZ is not only pretty, but interesting. Its name means "gold glue." I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn it is yet another of the copper silicate minerals. If you've got the impression by now that Arizona has a fuck of a lot of copper minerals, you're not wrong.

This photo didn't turn out as well as it seemed on the camera screen, but this sample of neptunite really does look like dessert. It looks precisely like some chocolate and cream confection you'd have for a post-dinner delight. Of course, not many desserts are silicate minerals "found within natrolite veins in glaucophane schist within serpentinite in San Benito County, California, USA." Still, yum.

There's a whole room there for florescent minerals.

Esperite and Fluorite
The esperite is especially pretty under the blacklight. Take a deep breath and repeat after me: "complex calcium lead zinc silicate." This mineral has a lot of stuff going on. And, of course, fluorite lent its name to fluorescence.


Calcite, that ubiquitous mineral that we encounter so often, is quite lovely under a blacklight. I shall have to get one, now I've got some calcite.

Here we have willemite - a lovely minor ore of zinc. It's a rather eerie green, isn't it? Wild.

That's it for the minerals, alas. But I've got plenty o' fossils for ye before we leave OMSI, and we're soon to have a great many gorgeous rocks in the field. I just wish we could have kidnapped Glacial Till and Michael Klaas away from work and brought them with us - they're both amazing people, enormous fun to wander about with, and there's nothing I want more now than to get them and Helena out on a monster field trip with Lockwood. Maybe next summer, we can manage it. At the very least, we should invade OMSI in one big bunch and then go in search of beer.

Tremble, Portland. Tremble before our combined geoawesomeness!


Suzanne said...

i wanna go! i've been wanting to go to the osmi but haven't yet.

i don't wanna wait until jujube is old enough to enjoy the kids stuff while i'm enjoying the grown-up kids stuff. after reading this, i wanna go now!

thanks dana -- can't forking wait for the next one...

Anonymous said...

That was a fun visit, even if it was short. I really hope we get to have our own trip and spend a few days together breaking rock and drinking beer. Kind a like a geologist sacrament.... :)