Perched on a hill off of south Saltese Lake Road in Spokane Valley is Rock Ranch, from which “ooohs” and “aaahs” can be heard resonating across the nearby hills and valleys.
The sounds are attributed to the thrill of discovery as children and adults dig for gems on Gem Hill, test and identify their finds and visit the Mineral Museum where they are schooled on the many uses of minerals and where cases and shelves display beautiful crystal and mineral specimens that scream to be touched.
As they step into a black room, an ultraviolet light is switched on and fluorescent minerals glow and in another room, a giant water spray cleans specimens and saws slice them. “I call it experiential ‘edutainment,’ ” said Rock Ranch owner and rock enthusiast Steve Livingstone, laughing as he added, “And we’re open 24-7 by appointment.”
Livingstone’s name serves him well as he has managed to live his dream which has always been to learn and have fun while doing it and stones and minerals are his golden ticket. “In science and math, we’re losing ground. We can’t compete worldwide. My dad nurtured my affinity toward math and science and I was looking for a way to nurture that in others. So, I developed a Geology Camp.”
When Livingstone graduated from Central Valley High School in 1967, he was voted most likely to do everything. Right out of high school, Livingstone went to Purdue University to study chemistry but he dropped out and joined a traveling carnival where he worked at the tilt-a-whirl. He met his wife Debbie there and he worked his way into management.
For more than 25 years Livingstone has worked in the gaming and entertainment industry. He brought the first video games to Spokane including electronic darts and the crane machine, operated 2,000 machines, and built fun centers including Bumpers. “I created a new career,” he said. He also owned a winery in Spokane.
Fifteen years ago, the Livingstones purchased the Valley property and three years ago, Steve Livingstone retired and went back to school for a while. “I’ve actually attended five universities with no degree.” He took a geology class at Spokane Community College where his teacher Andy Buddington encouraged him to incorporate his love of geology into fun and entertainment.
Since beginning Rock Ranch, more than a thousand children and adults have toured the grounds filled with wildlife and all that nature has to offer. Livingstone inspires visitors with tidbits of information like “if it’s not grown, it has to be mined” and “the thunder egg is the Oregon state stone.”
He explained that the Spokane area might be rich in unique minerals (rocks are made up of minerals) that are most likely buried beneath up to two miles of basalt but you can find quartz crystals and mica on Mount Spokane or Mica Peak.
The gems that are dug up with picks and shovels by eager participants on Gem Hill have been brought in by the truck load, broken up, and buried including iron pyrite, crystals, obsidian, fluorite, agates, petrified wood, and jaspers. Explorers get to take home what they find.
The specimens are purchased by Livingstone or donated by other rock hounds who Livingstone said have helped make this all possible; his neighbor Jerry Booth, a geologist, and rock hounds Keith O’Donnell and Jim Cotant donate items to the ranch and John Johnson, a retired marine and animal control officer, volunteers his time at the ranch and has contributed a lot of his lapidary collection to the digs.
On the 40 acre property also sits a gift shop filled with shiny things and hand beaded items by Debbie Livingstone including sun catchers, jewelry, and wall hangings. She often incorporates beautiful stones into her intricately crafted pieces. And in the near future, a gold mine will be built where visitors can pan for gold.
As a tiny chipmunk snacked on crumbled crackers within arm’s reach, Livingstone mused, “it is all earth’s art.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.