The earth beneath his feet

Warren Rood with his gem class members in the background holds a prized, multicolored Gary Green jasper.

Warren Rood with his gem class members in the background holds a prized, multicolored Gary Green jasper. Photo by Donna Lasater.

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Warren Rood gently holds a celestialite crystal formation at the lapidary lab at Walla Walla Community College.

Warren Rood didn’t have to dig deep to find something he and his children could do together.

He simply tapped his own memories of growing up on a farm with a creek running through it in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“I found jasper and agate that intrigued me,” said Rood, past president of the Gem & Mineral Society and a part-time art director and designer with Fort Walla Walla Museum and Walla Walla Community College.

“Rocks just fascinated me,” he said. “It’s interesting to go back to the things you loved as a kid, those are fun things to do as a family and they help with family communication.”

Rood’s treasures and those of many others will be on display Sept. 8-9 at the annual Marcus Whitman Gem & Mineral Society show at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.

For the Rood family, discovering what the earth has wrought geologically over the eons is a hobby they can pursue year-round — hunting for rocks and minerals in the warm months and researching and working with the collection in the winter.

His own childhood fascination with gems and minerals carried into adulthood, taking a lapidary class in college to learn to cut and polish stone. But he put his hobby on a back burner while he worked and raised his family.

When his children took an interest, he took them to the long-running Gem & Mineral Show. They got inspired and his own interest reawakened.

Once they became teenagers their interest waned a bit, but he kept learning.

Rood acknowledges the hobby might lose some appeal to teenagers because they prefer things that move: “Nature just sits there. Rocks and minerals just sit there.”

But while they’re sitting there — above ground, just below the surface or deep down in the Earth’s crust — nature works on them. One small rock or polished gemstone can be the result of millions of years and massive geologic forces.

Much of southeastern Washington was scoured and shaped by what’s known as the cataclysmic Missoula floods dating back 15,000 years at the end of the last Ice Age.

“In the Little Grand Canyon near Touchet you can see all the different layers laid down by the floods,” Rood said. The layers of sediment exposed by the river are a geologic timeline of change and violence. “There’s a big piece of granite in a field, dropped there by a flood,” he said.

So what minerals can you find here?

Rood said there are a few of particular interest to him. “Iron crystals have been found just past Jubilee Lake, called goethite. It just grew under a heat vent. They found it when they were pulling out basalt for the road. When you get in with big backhoes and equipment, then you find things.”

Another in the area is common opal. “There’s a private pit near Gardena, with a vein of green common opal in the basalt. Common opal is a lower grade opal deposit, more crumbly and not as bright,” Rood said.

The immediate Walla Walla Valley area doesn’t have a lot of other minerals, Rood said. But the larger area east of the Cascades have “a lot of cool minerals. There are thunder eggs, jaspers, petrified wood, agates, and quartz crystals in Idaho.”

Not surprisingly he teaches a jewelry making in addition to his the lapidary class with Quest and Lifelong Learning at WWCC. His geologic favorites are petrified wood and all manner of opals.

Club meetings for the Marcus Whitman Gem & Mineral Society have grown considerably, averaging now about 60 people.

“It’s a healthy family activity and we have quite a few families involved,” Rood said.

His advice for people looking to get started with the hobby is to join a group that can point novices in the right direction to search for and identify geologic treasures. If you just go out there looking he said, “it’s just like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

The Marcus Whitman Gem & Mineral Society meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the Lions Park Field House in College Place.

“Anybody can come,” Rood said. “You don’t have to be a member.”

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