Jan 29, 2013

It's Gneiss to Meet You!

Quartz and Granite. Now really. Between the two which sounds like something you want to hold and admire? "Quartz" has this lovely rolling feel in the mouth ending with a little elegant buzz. It starts and ends with rare letters making it a valuable word in Scrabble (24 points!!) .

"Granite" on the other hand sounds hard, irritating, and just plain undesirable. GRR. GRRan-ITe. The only time I remember the word "granite" being associated with anything good was in the Flintstones cartoons when "Gary Granite" came to town. That and granite countertops. I'm dating myself of course.

This week's Outdoor Hour Challenge had us focusing on these two specific rocks. Once again I had to smile with gritted teeth at the idea of rock study. (The grit was from the rocks I bet.) But Mei's enthusiasm was infectious and so we gathered up our supplies. 

Finding samples of these two should be no problem in our area. The Appalachians are chock-full. Quartz I knew. It's everywhere. We also could cheat because I had purchased a beautiful pink quartz at the Penn's Cave gift shop last summer. But not so sure about the other. Free to gather whatever she found, Mei picked up several interesting-looking samples right from the rock-paved farm road near home, delivered from a near-by quarry.  

But first some general knowledge.
Interactive Rock Cycle: thorough and fun!

Mei spent a LOT of time on the Interactive Rock Cycle site the Outdoor Challenge directed us to. It was great and there was even a test at the end that I could print out and include in a portfolio of her work (we're not textbook peeps).We were beginning to draw conclusions about our mystery rocks.

Our fav lenses especially the Carson Microbrite (right)
Now for the hands-on stuff. Using the printable from Barb's site, we recorded the various aspects of our rocks and compared with the field guides we had. I really like the simplicity of the DK Pocket Guide to Rocks and Minerals as a starting point. Another guide that I love is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic. It covers EVERYTHING in our neck-of-the-woods from skies, to rocks,  to plants, animals, insects, even weather. They publish similar guides for many other regions in the U.S.

Field Guides to rock on with.
Other areas available too!
Well, in the end the beautiful--did I say BEAUTIFUL?--black-and-white stripey ones were Gneiss. (pronounced Nice) They were very nice Gneisses too, don't you think? According to my Audubon guide, "gneiss is a metamorphic rock common in the Appalachians; forms from granites and other rocks rich in quartz and feldspars."
Gneiss. And a little moss.
Since we have taken up the hobby of geo-caching, we have discovered that we are in the middle of several interesting geological formations. One of them is the Baltimore Gneiss formation in Patapsco State Park. The other is at Fox Rock Quarry in (ta-da) Granite, MD. An interesting story tells of the Smithsonian Institution in the mid-1800's sending a Dr. Owen on an inspection of building material sources. On arriving he wrote of the granite
 "For about a mile square at this locality is an outburst of quartzose, granite of magnificent quality, both as regards beauty of appearance, compactness of structure and uniformity of color, texture and composition. I have never seen anything superior in this country. Indeed, I doubt whether it can be excelled in any country. It cannot be surpassed for strength and durability by any building material in the world."
Well, don't we feel special!  As soon as my foot is finished healing, we intend to find both caches and see the examples first-hand. Go to GeoCaching.com to learn more about this fun, educational hobby!
However we WERE able to meander over to a neighboring quarry, Vinci Stone, to talk with their friendly saleswoman and learn a lot about what goes into the business of beautifying our properties with Nature's mineral reserves. 

Landscape and building stone from across the country
 and around the world
We were especially captivated by the beauty and variety of materials, especially when it came to the granite that was displayed for countertops. (See?? Pale green and peach! It can be gorgeous.)
And then lo and behold, we were pointed to the mammoth block of LAVA! It had been shipped from California, and is looking for a good home if anyone on the East Coast has use for a black rock the size of a Volkswagen. 
Granite counters and a lava boulder just her size

So we have another nice page in our nature journals and a lot of new knowledge. And I have a better attitude toward rocks. (But I'd still rather paint clouds. ;-)  )
Thanks, Outdoor Hour Challenge! To see what others are learning about rocks visit the Outdoor Hour Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study!

Got rocks in YOUR socks? Tell Mother All About It!



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