Grant's Getaways - A Gem of a Museum

Credit: Grant McOmie/KGW

Grant's Getaways - A Gem of a Museum


by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

Posted on March 1, 2010 at 9:01 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 10 at 2:21 AM

In the vast Willamette Valley--with a little imagination--you can travel into a turbulent and tumultuous chapter of geologic history, when gigantic icebergs carried by floodwater that was more than four hundred feet deep floated across the broad-shouldered valley.

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It may be hard to believe, but it’s true! In the blink of a geologic eye, a series of tremendous floods occurred, perhaps twenty times every fifty years for two thousand years--beginning nearly fourteen thousand years ago near the end of the Ice Age.

Gigantic, glacial Missoula Lake (in what is now Montana), backed up by an ice dam several miles wide and half a mile high, burst through its western wall and raced across the plains and valleys between Montana and the Pacific Ocean.

Geologists say some five hundred cubic miles of floodwater and icebergs roared across the Northwest, carrying away anything and everything in its path.

As the ice flowed, it broke into thousands of pieces, and many of the pieces ended up stranded along the flood route.

These “erratics”--a geological term that describes a rock found a considerable distance from its place of origin--range from pebble- to baseball- to car-size boulders that still dot the Willamette Valley.

Near present-day Sheridan, off Oregon 18, one giant berg melted and tipped its load, a massive rock that is called the Belleview Boulder. It is the centerpiece of Erratic Rocks State Natural Site and rests on the shoulder of a hillside overlooking the highway.

As you hike, notice the gently rolling landscape of the surrounding vineyard-laden hillsides. This landscape is a stark contrast to the Belleview Boulder!

Notice the smoothed edges and scratches across the boulder’s surface and its sharp angles compared with the rest of the valley.

It is a fine place for a picnic lunch and a pause to consider so much dramatic history.

There’s more geologic drama based at one of the most interesting historic homes of the Portland area; a home that houses one of the most magnificent collection of rocks and minerals in the region.

The Rice NW Museum of Rocks and Minerals has been a drawing card for rock hounds for more than forty years – it provides even the casual visitor a stunning visual treat.

Traffic speeds by at a shattering pace on Highway 26 in Washington County, while tucked away in the woods, just off Helvetia Road, time slows down.

It’s a home where and Oregonian’s spirit of independence lives, and Linda Kepford, the museum’s assistant director, can tell you much about the man who lived there.

“Dick Rice liked the quality of the materials he chose and this home was built to last – the construction was very good ---he wanted only the best.”

Rice was a self-made timber man who made himself a fortune in the forest also built a home in the woods that staggers the imagination.

Rice cleared the land, dug out the dirt and poured the foundation then built a sprawling 7500-square foot “ranch-style” home in 1951.

It was a gift to his wife, Helen – and a statement that hard work and self-reliance pay off.

The museum’s curator, Rudy Tschernich, explained that Rice built the home to house an amazing array of valuable gemstones and minerals that Dick and Helen collected from across the country.

“They built the basement so they could house their collection. They were very active collectors in both purchasing and going out in the field…their collection became world famous because of some of the very finest specimens that they have.”

The ranch-style home that Rice built over half a century ago was recently selected as the first of its kind to make the National Registry of Historic Places.

A stroll down a hallway can show you why the home is so special. Rare Oregon myrtlewood was used everywhere: the baseboards, the door jams, the window trim, the doors, the cabinets - - was used everywhere.”

It’s a very hard wood, substantial – sturdy and lasts a long time,” noted Kepford. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and the patterns in it are beautiful – and it is a durable wood and something that would last a long time.”

Rice traded his Doug fir logs for rafts of myrtlewood logs from timber owners in Coos Bay.

But there’s more – in the kitchen you’ll see cabinetry built from “quilted maple,” a unique and stunning wood that came from nearby Vernonia.

While Dick and Helen Rice passed away in 1997, after 63 years of marriage, Chester Epperson, a visitor and member of the Tualatin Valley Gem Club, said that the Rice’s legacy gives so much pleasure to so many people who walk through their home.

“The Rice NW Museum of Rocks and Minerals has always been a hidden treasure. The energy of the people who dug the rocks, built the displays, it’s so perfect and you’re just in awe – it’s in the top three museums of the west coast.”