Located just outside Portland in the city of Hillsboro, Oregon, the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is home to the largest collection of gems, petrified wood, meteorites, and fossils in the Pacific Northwest.
The museum is housed inside the former home of its founders, Richard and Helen Rice. The couple, who married in 1932, were avid collectors and mineral enthusiasts and winners of the Woodruff Trophy, a prominent award for rock collecting. Helen, who was president of the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies from 1959 to 1960, is credited with helping the federation achieve its nonprofit status. Starting with a small sample of agate rocks found along the Oregon Coast in 1938, the pair collected and studied rocks, fossil, and gems. In 1952, Richard constructed a ranch-style home for the couple, featuring unique architectural and interior design elements and displaying pieces of their mineral collection.
The Rices founded a private museum in 1953 to display their growing home collection. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Rices established the Tualatin Valley Gem Club along with several friends and fellow enthusiasts. The Gem Club was instrumental in the early days of the museum. Throughout the next several decades, the Rices hosted free classes, lectures, and other activities at the museum site as they continued to grow their award-winning collection.
When the couple passed away in 1997, care of their home and collection were passed to the nonprofit. Later that year, the museum site, named the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, opened to the public. The Rice Museum is still housed inside Richard's original house, and all rooms have now been converted into dedicated galleries. The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, and in 2015 the museum became a Smithsonian affiliate.
The museum is regarded as having the most comprehensive collection of rock and mineral specimens in the Pacific Northwest. More than 25,000 annual visitors explore its 10 galleries, often in conjunction with its school tour program. It sits on a 23-acre plot of wooded land, encompassing two buildings with 7,500 feet of exhibit space. The former Rice home serves as the primary exhibit building, with a second exhibit building located in the gardens that was the former location of Richard's woodshop. The home's garage area now serves as the museum's gift shop.
Most of the museum's galleries are housed in the main building. The Main Gallery is home to over 4,000 gems, crystals, and unusual minerals from all over the world, including the Alma Rose rhodochrosite, a rare red crystal found in Colorado. The Dennis and Mary Murphy Petrified Wood Gallery is one the largest collections of petrified wood in the nation, featuring an educational audio exhibit detailing the petrification process. A meteorite display houses a variety of meteorites, centering on the iron-filled Gibeon meteorite, found in Africa. The Fluorescent Exhibit Room is commonly referred to as the "Rainbow Room," referencing the array of colors displayed when its minerals are energized with fluorescent ultraviolet light.
The Fossil Gallery is home to dinosaur eggs, mammoth tusks, a baby psittacosaurus skeleton, and many other prehistoric specimens. In the Lapidary Arts Gallery, polished wood carvings and gems from around the world are displayed. The Agate Gallery includes a display detailing how to tell the difference between a naturally colored agate and a dyed agate, and the Mineralogy Gallery focuses on the reproduction and uses of minerals with interactive educational displays. The Fred Van Sant Faceting Display features the work of renowned gem faceter Fred Sant Van, displaying his original faceting machine.
Outside the main building, housed inside the former workshop, is the Northwest Mineral Gallery. The gallery focuses on the mineral heritage of the Pacific Northwest, featuring a large collection of thundereggs, the state rock of Oregon, including the largest opal-filled thunderegg in the world. The museum's large outdoor grounds are also available for visitors to explore, with several gardens, rock walls, winding paths, forests, and lawns. A large rock pile located on the grounds provides an opportunity for visitors to discover and take home their own rock specimens.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The museum hosts a yearly summer festival, featuring a variety of demonstrations and bringing in music, food, and rock clubs from around the country. A Thunder-Egg-Stravaganza celebrates the state rock in April, and a Mystery Mineral Day celebration in February allows participants to bring their own rock samples to be identified by experts. Throughout the year, a series of all-ages programs and workshops are presented on geology, mineralogy, faceting, and geohazards. The museum is dedicated to supporting local rock clubs with programming, meeting space, and education, and offers school tours for local students as well as a portable earth science program, available to all schools within a 3-hour radius.
26385 NW Groveland Drive, Hillsboro, OR 97124, Phone: 503-647-2418