Places We Love: A Real Gem at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Among the many iconic exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the collection of minerals and gems stands out as a breathtaking maze of wonder.

Cmhns Gem MalachiteAt the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the dinosaurs have majesty and the Egyptian artifacts have mystery — but the minerals and gems have the magic.

Always updated but fundamentally unchanged for decades, the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems is usually among the first areas of the sprawling museum that will catch your eye. As you enter, the exhibit opens with a simply labeled, floor-to-ceiling collection of minerals.

Cmhns Gem Unknown1Whether you’re 5 or 50 years old, your reaction will be the same: What are these?

Minerals from China, India and Romania sit alongside those from Ohio and Tennessee — and a dedicated collection of Pennsylvanian treasures is just ahead — demonstrating that, while these artifacts may be rare, they are not exclusive to far-off places. Gorgeous slices of natural magic may well be below your feet; here, inside the museum, they’re right in front of your face, too.

GemsYou’ll see things you can’t believe exist, certainly can’t believe formed naturally and definitely can’t believe are here in this room. Crystals with intricate patterns, minerals in brilliant colors, gems of unimaginable delicacy — all created with nothing but pressure and time.

There’s a depth of detail in the displays and collections that follow; you can get a crash course on geology just by taking a long stroll through these rooms. (Don’t miss the display on fluorescence and phosphorescence, a dimly lit secret-within-a-secret.) All of that information and illuminating science leads to a pair of breathtaking collections: the mirrored mineral gallery, where the illusion of depth suggests an endless corridor of brightly colored wonders, and the aptly named Masterpiece Gallery, which contains some of the most rare and remarkable pieces in the collection.

Cmhns Gem CarnelianIf you’re lucky, you’ll get a quiet moment away from the groups and crowds at the museum — a chance to pause and contemplate. These treasures waited thousands of years for you; take your time with them.

Insider’s Tip
When you make it to the third floor of the museum, search for the Section of Mystery. (Yes, you should open the door.)

While You’re in the Neighborhood:
A few blocks up Craig Street, you’ll find revamped Oakland staple Butterjoint, one of our Best Restaurants. Try the Sauerkraut Balls.

Categories: Things To Do, Visitors Guide