Jamie Brezina knows a lot about Jewel Cave National Monument, just southwest of Rapid City, where he is a student at the South Dakota School of Mines.
As a mining engineering student and rock hound who searches for crystals, agates and other natural minerals, the Omaha native knows the rules at national parks like Jewel Cave: Take no samples.
But late last spring and early summer, highway crews widened the road leading to the park. Earth-moving equipment cut into some of the geologic formations above the cave where, over the eons, flowing chemicals and underground heat created the colorful and interesting minerals that are on display
inside the cave.
So Brezina and others spent lots of Saturdays and Sundays sifting through the road debris and chipping at exposed rock to find collectibles such as calcite crystals, which are made of calcium carbonate, and his specialty, agates.
"It was a one-time thing," Brezina said. "It was pretty cool, to get a piece of that."
Because the road passes over the cave, highway planners spent years studying whether the road work would affect the cave.
"They didn't want to change the dynamics of the cave," he said, but wanted to create a safer, more direct route to the park.
As the work progressed, crews cut through limestone formations where mineral-bearing water cut passageways and created the stones over thousands of years. Some of the material was used as fill beneath the highway.
Brezina found some unusual agate specimens in the exposed limestone. As the work finished, most of the excavated areas were covered with topsoil and seeded. "You'll never see it again."
He said he might write an academic paper on the agates he found during the search because there are unanswered questions about exactly how they were formed.
This weekend, Brezina will bring some of his Black Hills finds, plus fossils from Germany, Montana and elsewhere, to the Omaha Gem, Jewelry and Mineral Show at the Westside Community Conference Center, 108th and Grover Streets.
He's a member of the Nebraska Mineral and Gem Club in Omaha, which sponsors the show.
Other club members, plus several dealers, will have displays for viewing and for sale on Saturday and Sunday.
Activities include a fossil and gem dig and a "rock derby" race track for children. Admission is $5 or $3 for senior citizens, with children under 12 free. Proceeds fund college scholarships for geology students and related activities.
Contact the writer:
"It was a one-time thing. It was pretty cool, to get a piece of that."
Ja m ie Brezina, of Nebraska Mineral and Gem Club
OMAHA GEM, JEWELRY AND MINERAL SHOW
Where: Westside Community Conference Center, 108th and Grover Streets
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday Admission: $5 general public, $3 senior citizens, free for children under 12