One of the most spectacular things about Central Washington is its geology. We’ve got everything from a sleeping volcano called Mount Adams, to basalt columns made of solidified lava, to Union Gap and Selah Gap.

CWU geology lecturer Nick Zentner told us the Yakima River was in place at least 10 million years ago when Central Washington was flat. “Then ridges grew (due to tectonic squeezing) on both sides of the river to form gaps,” he added, so the river is older than the gaps!

Much of the rich dirt that makes our area so great for agriculture was deposited by the epic Missoula Floods about 15,000 years ago.

But you don’t have to be a scientist to get excited about geology. If you or your kids have ever stopped to pick up a rock and said “Ooohh look at this!” you’ll probably love the 59th annual Parade of Gems. It’s happening at the Central Washington State Fairgrounds April 24, 25, and 26. It’s a great way to get your kids interested in the wonders of minerals, rocks and the earth we live on.

The show will feature dozens of booths and vendors, with displays of every kind of rock you can imagine and scores more you’ve never seen before. They come in a dazzling array of colors — sliced, polished, crystalline, or in their natural state.

Though people come from across the nation to display their wares, many of the displays focus on things you can see and find here in our area. This year, there will be a special display to mark the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. The exhibit will feature many original photos, and artwork inspired by the blast.

There are tons of activities for kids, including grab bags, a chance to make rock animals, and a “Wheel of Fortune” where every spin gets a prize. (Which is a cool rock, of course.)

And here’s something really cool: Kids can watch a gold-panning demonstration and pan for gold themselves, learning how to separate the rock and sand at the bottom of a river from gold flakes. As you shake the pan, continually adding water and separating the rocks out, the gold will go to the bottom of the pan. Soon there’s a glimmer — a flake of gold!

“There’s a flash in the pan!” smiled Billy Bourgeois, who worked the gold-panning station last year. Yep, that’s where that expression came from. Gold is 19 times heavier than water, and looks for something hard to sit on, which is why it tends to drop to the bottom of the river where the water runs slower, he explained.

All the rivers in our area have gold in them, and there are a couple of annual gold-panning events around here that you will learn about at this show. Just one of the great things you can find at the Parade of Gems.