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Dig this


Families head out to find fortunes in public mines. Barring fortunes, at least they'll discover some fun.

Heide Brandes June 15th, 2011

Want to find a fortune with nothing but a shovel and a little sweat?

Scattered around Oklahoma and Arkansas, gems await digging up by ambitious hands. From diamonds to garnets to quartz crystals, public mines and digs can offer not only an afternoon of fun, but a potential to uncover a small fortune.

And it’s not diamond dust we’re talking about. A visitor to Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park recently found an 8.66-carat white diamond, the third-largest diamond found since the park became public.

At Oklahoma’s Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Enid, selenite crystals are the bounty. These crystals are a form of gypsum that sucks up wet sand and clay into an hourglass shape found only on Oklahoma plains.

CLOSE TO HOME

A flat area of mud covered by a thin layer of salt, the 10,000-acre plain of salt within the 32,000-acre Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is completely devoid of vegetation. The only thing that grows are the crystals, which continue to form inches below the salt-encrusted surface.

Crystal digging is permitted April 1 through Oct. 751-2800

15, sunrise to sunset. Collectors can remove up to 10 pounds of selenite crystals, plus one large cluster, per day.

“This is the only place we know of where selenite crystals exist with the hourglass sand inclusion,” said Greg Birkenfeld, refuge manager. “No one knows why it forms that way.”

The refuge offers a designated dig area for visitors to harvest selenite at no cost. Most of the treasure is found mere inches to 2 feet beneath the heavy salt crust.

“We have about 100,000 visitors a year, and 30,000 of those come to dig crystals,” Birkenfeld said. “Do we ever worry about running out? Well, we have seven different dig areas, and we let each area rest for six years so the crystals can reform.”

Geologically speaking, the crystals form in a blink of the earth’s eye. If the rains are heavy, the crystals form closer to the surface.

Visitors are advised to shovel a hole about 2 feet across and 2 feet deep to reach wet sand. After digging, allow 2 or 3 inches of water to seep in. To find crystals, gently splash water against the hole’s sides until a crystal formation is found.

“Definitely bring a hat, water and sunscreen,” Birkenfeld said. “There are no trees out there, and the sun reflects off the salt.”

For more information, visit saltplains.fws.gov.

DIAMOND EYES

Diamonds of all colors can be found at southwest Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park, but the three most common are white, brown and yellow.

“The Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only place in North America that the public can search for diamonds and keep what they find,” said Waymon Cox, park interpreter. “The park is actually a 100 million-year-old volcanic crater, which makes it unique. The diamonds form deep in the earth, but the volcano brought them closer up.”

The park has a history of famous finds. The Strawn-Wagner diamond, found in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro, Ark., weighed 3.03 carats in the rough and was considered the “most perfect diamond” the American Gem Society ever certified in its lab.

In 1924, a 40.23-carat white diamond, the Uncle Sam diamond, was uncovered there and remains the largest ever found in North America.

Visitors also can find more than 40 types of gems and minerals.

“Two or three diamonds are found every day; so, yes, there’s a good chance of finding something,” Cox said. “We get 1,500 to 2,000 visitors a day during the weekends and during spring break, but in the summer, it slows down a bit.”

The park is open daily, sunup to sundown. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, a water park also is open. For more information, visit craterofdiamondsstatepark.com.

CRYSTAL-CLEAR

In western Arkansas, the primordial Ouachita Mountains were considered a mystical place by Native American tribes. Shamans pointed to “power points” in the mountains where the earth’s energy was strong and sacred, and the crystals they found there had powerful spiritual significance.

Today, families and tourists travel to the Hot Springs and Mount Ida areas of Arkansas to dig up the quartz crystals found in those mountains.

Many “dig-your-own” crystal mines are open to the public. Most are pits and stripped hillsides exposing quartz veins that slip through these ancient mountains.

For more information, visit arkansas.com/things-to-do/crystal-hunting.

 
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