The Oreodont skull that Crystal Cave co-owner John Breckenridge is holding was unearthed in South Dakota. It’s 20 to 34-million years old and the Oreodont is considered part of the camel family. Breckenridge says the Oreodont was food for predators because it had very few defense mechanisms.Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The owners of the Crystal Cave Mineral Exhibit in South River continue to add to their collection at their museum to make sure visitors always have something new to see.

Although the thousands of gems and minerals are the dominant feature, the museum also has a number of prehistoric attractions, like skulls, to enhance a visit to Crystal Cave.

A recent acquisition is an Oreodont skull which roamed South Dakota 20 to 34-million years ago.

Co-owner John Breckenridge says the Oreodont was a member of the camel family “and appears to have been nothing but a feed animal” for other beasts of the time.

“It had short legs, no claws or horns to protect itself,” he says.

Breckenridge says in contrast to today, an animal like a deer can run fast and jump to escape its attacker unlike the Oreodont.

The Oreodont sported canine-like teeth, but that’s about it in terms of protection, and it would have been on the losing end of who gets eaten.

Julia and John Breckenridge bought the skull from an individual who found three Oreodont skulls in South Dakota.

John Breckenridge says the couple knew they bought the real McCoy because the skull’s teeth passed the fluorescent test.

“That’s one of the tests,” he said.

“If the teeth are not fluorescent, then it’s a made-up fossil”.

Another new addition at the museum is an Amethyst Tower about a metre tall.

Julia Breckenridge says seeing amethyst this large is rare although the couple have seen them this size in the past.

This particular stone is from Brazil but was purchased by the Breckenridges in Arizona.

There’s a story the couple tells on how the acquisition came about.

Each winter the husband and wife head out to different parts of the world to look for minerals to add to the museum.

Last year their destination was to have been a two-month stay in the California desert.

However two weeks into the hunt for minerals, Julia Breckenridge fell into a rabbit hole while taking pictures and seriously injured her leg.

The injury was serious enough that the couple had to return home.

But before leaving, John Breckenridge made a stop in an Arizona town where he knew a person had the Amethyst Tower for sale.

He surprised his wife by buying the rock, in part because he wanted her to feel better following her injury, but also because the tower was in 

the shape of a leg, and the Breckenbridges would have a story to tell others.

Julia Breckenrdige studied geology at the University of Toronto and speaks knowledgeably about the museum’s artifacts.

For example, she can explain why amethyst comes in different colours, how it’s formed and why purple amethyst needs to be kept away from sunlight.

“It’s the purple amethyst that catches people’s eyes,” she says.

“And purple amethyst is the most common.  But if you have this type of amethyst, you have to keep it out of sunlight because it’s not stable and will lose its colour”.

Breckenridge adds the Amethyst Tower draws a lot of people.

The museum has only been open for six years, but the collection is the culmination of minerals, crystals, gems and fossils the Breckenbridges have amassed over 60 years while travelling the world.

The Breckenridges say their collection rivals the one at the Royal Ontario Museum, and to this day that claim has not been disputed.

The museum is open year-round and is busiest during the summer.

On any given summer weekend 200 to 400 people a day will see the exhibits, and on weekdays the number entering the museum is between 150 to 200 people each day.

Julia Breckenbridge says they employ three to four people during the summer to guide the public through the exhibits and answer questions.

However, to alleviate the staff’s workload, Breckenbridge has created 67 audio recordings each 15 to 20 minutes in length going into great detail about the various exhibits.

“Some people are not interested in the chemistry of the minerals,” Breckenbridge said.

“They just want to see the beauty. But the recordings go deeper, and we have people who stay for hours taking it all in”.

The recordings are accessed by the public holding their cell phones up to the QR code and listening to the audio through their phone’s speaker.

Visiting the museum used to be free but, the Breckenbridges found it necessary to introduce a $5 fee for adults and $1 for children five and over to help cover expenses.

Crystal Cave is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The public is welcome to take pictures of the exhibits.

By Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 30, 2024 at 11:38

This item reprinted with permission from   North Bay Nugget   North Bay, Ontario
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