Iowa is generally not thought to be a state that glitters. To the casual observer, she is all flat plains, corn fields, and hogs. She has a long history of mining lead, coal, gypsum, and limestone, however, and part and parcel with these excavations is the discovery of a number of minerals that are prized more for their aesthetics. Many will be surprised to discover that Iowa hides underneath the remains of her prairie soil a clutch of gems and crystals that will take the breath of the even the most discerning rock hound. In a joint effort that blends art and geology, Paul Garvin and Anthony Plaut, both of Cornell College, have collected almost 50 top specimens to showcase in Iowa Gems and Minerals in Your Pocket: A Bur Oak Guide (2012, University of Iowa Press).
Opening like a map, this laminated piece features clear, artistic photographs of these museum-quality rocks. A brief description, location where each was found, size, and where each is currently housed is included. There are a number of geodes, the state rock of Iowa, with their dusty, rough exteriors that belie the shining quartz formations within. There are also plenty of lesser known and more rare finds like agates, calcite, barite, and the holy grail of finds: millerite. My personal favorites are a set of five agate cabochons; milky white bubbles through a sea of blood red with an almost endless depth. Queens would be lucky to have such crown jewels.
Iowa Gems and Minerals serves less as a guide (with the exception of the geodes, the average naturalist is unlikely to stumble upon rocks of this quality) and more of an inspiration, a reminder that Iowa has more to offer, and an invitation to come and see these beauties for yourself. Cornell College in Mount Vernon was the first college in Iowa to form a geology department and The Russell and Elizabeth Anderson Museum houses many of these minerals.