Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sparkle plenty

Finding crystals is easy.

Finding diamonds is hard.

Diamonds and crystals are yours for the finding when you travel to Arkansas.
Finding a diamond is a bit like winning the lottery but the world's only public diamond mine is relatively on the level so you might as well try.
At Crater of Diamonds State Park, two miles southeast of Murfreesboro on Arkansas Hwy 301, it costs $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children ages 6-12 to dig. Equipment rental - plastic stools, screens for sifting and buckets for collecting - costs more depending on how elaborate and serious your search will be.
The "mine" is like a roughly furrowed field into which diamonds and other rocks have been washed by rain from the volcanic vent. Periodically the park rangers turn over the dirt to facilitate fresh finds. They also give visitors free lessons on how to go about diamond finding.
There are three ways: Fill up buckets with dirt and bring it back to a water station and wash the clay from, hopefully, the stones. Take your bucket, spade, screen and stool out to a likely spot and dry sift. Walk down the furrows looking for the telltale clear opacity of a diamond (the way the biggest are found).
Heat and patience levels dictate how diligent your search will be. People - usually the most patient - do find diamonds here.
Tip: If one member of your group flags before the others do, there's a large swimming pool, a gift shop, vending machines, bathrooms and air conditioning at the nearby park headquarters.

Crystals are much easier to find and "harvest". Mount Ida is the area for these pleasers. Drive along the road toward town and pick a rock shop that appeals to you. Go inside and they can direct you to a crystal mine. The map will cost $10-$20 per adult per day, $5 to $10 for children, and will take you up a winding mountain road to the top where the owners have dumped tailings from the open pit.

Tip: I had good luck at Jim and Kathy Fecho's Fiddler's Ridge Rock Shop.
Crystals and clay go together so the "digging" is dirty and messy but there's usually a good breeze and the finding is easy. Just look for the glint of sun off a crystal facet.
You can keep as many crystals as you find and want.
Of course you can eliminate the driving and dirty digging by picking out a crystal you like at the shop and buying it, but that's no way to have fun or impress your friends.
These are neat day excursions for anyone staying in the Hot Springs area.
Tip: If the kitsch there gets you down, consider shifting your stay to a more resort-like setting. Mountain Harbor is a delightful facility with rooms, cabins and houses for nightly or weekly rental. You'll find the country's only floating Subway, an excellent restaurant, a grand spa, unfortunately with unavoidable stairs, and even horseback riding. It's on the very large Lake Ouachita and if stationary rooms are too tame, try a houseboat.
If you prefer the state park route, you can rent cabins and yurts in DeGray Lake Resort State Park or rooms at the lovely lodge. The restaurant there is good, the boating is fun and the fishing is fine. There's a pool, horseback riding, even a golf course. In-room massages can be arranged.
You'll have earned a bit of pampering after digging for those sparklers.


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