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Apr 05

Raise your hand if you like rocks!

Posted on April 5, 2022 at 11:13 AM by Tracey Boswell

Raise your hand if you like rocks!

Do you sometimes pick up and save an interesting rock? Do you buy them in museum gift shops ? Maybe you have a box of rocks in a drawer somewhere. If so, you are not alone. The allure of rocks is difficult to resist. The study of the general physical characteristics of rocks is called lithology. Are you a lithologist? How can you tell what kind of rock you have? Is it a rock or gem or mineral? What’s the difference? Today’s blog highlights federal resources from the National Park Service, United States Geological Society, and the Smithsonian Museums.

Assorted rocks

The National Park Service has information to help you learn about rocks. There are three rock types: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. For details on rock physical properties see this page from the National Park Service. The state rock of Kansas is limestone, specifically Greenhorn limestone, which is a sedimentary rock. Sedimentary rocks are formed by layer upon layer over time. You may recognize these examples of limestone in Kansas.

Limestone Fenceposts

KS postrock museum

Photo from The Post Rock museum in La Crosse, KS, Rush County.   

Rough Cut Limestone


Limestone Walls in State Capitol Visitor Center

KS Capitol visitor center lobby

The National Park Service encourages visitors to learn more about rocks and minerals. Although collecting rocks from the National Parks is not allowed, there are many other places to collect from. Just be sure to ask if you are on private property or in a state park. Rock collecting is also call rockhounding. You can learn more about rock collecting from this brochure, Rockhounding Guide, from the US Department of Agriculture.  Here is the guide for rockhounding in Kansas.

What about minerals? What’s the difference between rocks and minerals? Rocks are aggregates of one or more minerals.  Minerals have an orderly internal structure and a definite chemical composition. The United States Geological society explains the types of rocks and minerals.   The Kansas state mineral is galena, an important source of lead and silver. It is sometimes found with limestone.   

Galena: Kansas State Mineral


And what about gems? Gems, or gemstones, are minerals prized for their beauty and durability, especially when cut and polished. Pearls and amber are considered gems even though they are not minerals, they are organics .

Jelinite: Kansas State Gem Jelinite

The Kansas state gem is jelinite It is a kind of amber, a hardened tree resin. This one  is from the collection of Glenn Rockers.

Have some fun learning about these great examples  of minerals and gems at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Chalcedony gem


Check out the rock gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. 

Research the department of mineral sciences at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  

To learn about Kansas' Geological Past: you can read From Sea to Prairie: a Primer of Kansas Geology by Catherine S. Evans in the Kansas Government Information (KGI) at the State Library of Kansas.

And don't forget this rock.