May 21, 2006

Amber stones in the Northwest

Amber stones
Originally uploaded by dierken.

I've always been fascinated with minerals and gems, so this last Thursday I was very excited to go on a school field trip with my son to hunt for amber near Tiger Mountain.
There is a geologigist - Geology Bob - that conducts field trips for groups and schools to hunt for rocks, crystals, fossils and other cool things. From what I could hear (my ears are plugged up from a cold), back in the 70's he discovered a field of amber stones here in western Washington, which is astounding - there are only five places in North America that have amber deposits. Because he has been involved in local geology for quite a long time, he has received a permit to go onto state park land to conduct these geology tours for educational purposes. We learned about how amber is formed - ancient tree sap sinks into a swamp, gets covered in sand and mud, is pushed down into the Earth a quarter mile for ten million years, and then somehow surfaces again. It appears there are two earthquake faults in the area that are pushing together and squeezing material up to the surface. This area has coal, fossils and suprisingly some amber. Digging is fairly easy and when the shool kids find the shiny clear flakes and pebbles, they just holler with excitement - it was very fun. The class was full of third and fourth graders, and some of them were already planning on selling chunks of coal and real amber for a milllllion dollars on eBay. I just love that wild enthusiasm. They weren't even very disappointed to discover they would be lucky to get one or two cents - they figured they would need a hundred pounds, or maybe even five hundred pounds...