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The Short Version: For a day date that offers plenty of sparkle and shine, you may want to visit the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals just up the road from Portland, Oregon. You’ll find beautiful gemstones and art made from the elements as you wander through the former home of rock and mineral collectors Richard and Helen Rice. Among more than 20,000 specimens (ranging from agates and crystals to meteorites and thundereggs), couples can find a variety of topics to spark conversation while learning about the fascinating history of Earth.
While a diamond ring is a widely recognized symbol of a couple’s devotion to each other, a diamond is far from the only gemstone that can represent love. There’s also rose quartz, moonstone, jade, and lapis lazuli, just to name a few.
If you and your love interest would like to be closer to those stones, or simply have an educational and fun date, head to the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, Oregon.
The gallery, once the home of avid rock and gemstone collectors Richard and Helen Rice, is filled with more than 20,000 mineral and rock specimens. The impressive collection has the power to create a memorable day and spark intelligent and intimate conversations.
“It’s really fun. We have a pretty nice fossil collection, and people can stroll through at their own pace,” said Garret Romaine, Operations Manager at the museum. “It’s inspiring to see the range of fossils we have and to ponder the age of the Earth and how long we’ve been around. It makes you feel special and humbles you at the same time.”
Located about 25 minutes from Portland, Oregon, the museum welcomes around 30,000 visitors each year, and they range in age from their late teens to retirees who often visit in groups sponsored by local clubs.
“We’re not just something for the older generation. We have rockhounds coming in with their discoveries, and plenty of materials are still out there,” Garret said. “We’re in the West, so we have a lot of public lands. Couples may see our displays and get ideas for where they can explore on their own. That’s always very exciting.”
Richard and Helen built the home that is now the Rice Museum in 1952 with their rock collection in mind. Their interest in rocks blossomed on the Oregon coast, which is known for its agates.
“They started getting interested in collecting rocks, minerals, fossils, and meteorites. Eventually, the collection grew so large that they moved out of the house and used it just for the collection. They donated their building and turned it into a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Now, their collection is displayed in every room” Garret said.
Indeed, education is at the center of everything the museum does, and many local elementary school students visit the museum each year. The kids enjoy picking through a rock pile overflowing with agates, jasper, and other minerals to find one they can take home with them as part of the admission price.
Hosts explain the principles of how fossils, petrified wood, and thunder eggs are formed. The museum has many specimens of each on display, and weaves each one into an overarching narrative on earth science.
Of course, learning doesn’t stop when school ends. That’s why the Rice Museum is a natural for a creative and inspirational date spot.
“We attract rockhounds, fossil collectors, and amateur geologists,” he said. “We get a wide range of visitors, and it is a good-sized museum. A couple can walk around and, often, can have a room or an exhibit to themselves. They can observe and ponder what is there, together.”
The staff at the Rice Museum is made up of people who are passionate about geology and love to talk about it. Every weekend at 2 p.m., guides host a tour through the museum that is also part of the regular price of admission.
“It’s nice to have someone who can explain what you’re seeing in detail. We have a group of former teachers, former education workers, and retired geologists who work at the museum in addition to a team of volunteers from the rock and gem clubs around Portland,” Garret said.
Many members of the staff have been with the museum for more than 15 years, and, sometimes, they even inspire visitors to volunteer.
“Our people are dedicated to our mission to expand the museum experience and educate people about geology, rocks, minerals, and meteorites,” Garret said.
Along with learning the science of rocks and minerals, there is an artistic element of a visit to the museum. It starts with its collection of crystals, which many couples find stunning. Crystal formations are like a type of natural art, formed over thousands of years and producing colors including copper, blue, green, pink, clear, and rainbow.
“They are examples of nature’s beauty, and that resonates with couples,” Garret said.
Some of the highlights of the exhibits include the famous Alma Rose rhodochrosite from Colorado, South American emeralds, copper minerals, and crystals that formed from gold and silver. Also displayed are diamonds and rubies, as well as lesser-known — but just as eye-catching — minerals papagoite and paravauxite.
While the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals always offers an interesting backdrop for a date, it also holds events throughout the year to give visitors a little extra incentive.
The museum holds a Mystery Mineral Day each year, where people can bring in rocks and minerals they’ve found and receive opinions from a panel of experts who will help identify them.
“You may think you’ve found a meteorite, but it could just be a meteor-wrong,” Garret joked.
In addition, the museum hosts an annual Summer Festival and a Fossil Fest, and, on Easter weekend, it holds the Thunder Eggstravaganza. Visitors can check the museum’s calendar to learn more about upcoming events.
Even if you don’t plan a date around an event, the staff always rotates exhibits and adds new ones throughout the year, so you can have a fresh experience.
“Soon, we’ll have a prestigious exhibit from the collection of Jim and Gail Spann, who are noted rock collectors. Some of their items are on display at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, so we’re looking forward to that,” Garret said. “We are also a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, so we are working with them to bring in some exhibits and specimens from Washington, D.C.”
All of the beautiful examples may even inspire you and your date to head out into the wilderness to find some gems of your own.
“Because the museum was started by rockhounds, we have a whole museum store filled with books written for rockhounds. So, you can be inspired by what you see and go on an adventure and find some of your own,” Garret said.