Do you like crystals? I usually try to take a week in October to go rock hunting. This year, I was obligated to go to New Orleans for the combined American Federation of Mineralogical Societies and South Central Federation of Mineral Societies convention in early October. I knew the convention and show would take half the week, with a 13-hour drive one way, so I decided to find somewhere to rock hunt along the way and make it an entire week's trip.
When I was a kid, I found smokey quartz crystals in Colorado, the biggest ones five or six inches long, double terminated, about three inches around. I think I liked them because I found them rather than because they captured my imagination. The reality is that I don't know what I did with them, and they have been lost to me, likely left behind in a move.
After doing a little research, I decided to go to Mt. Ida, Arkansas, and look for some crystals to replace the lost ones from my youth. Mt. Ida is not a direct route to New Orleans from Lubbock, Texas, but I figured I would take a day to drive there, a couple of days to dig, and then another day to New Orleans. Since I did not know where I would start looking once I got there, I used YouTube to gain first-hand knowledge from people that had been there already. Since Mt. Ida is the self-proclaimed "Quartz Crystal Capital of the World," many videos are available.
Mt Ida is a town with a population of just about 1000. My wife and I rented the "Whispering Pines Cabin by Kat," about seven miles East of town. Somewhat ironic, but after we made our reservations, I found out that the cabin was on the property next to the Fiddler's Ridge Rock Shop. If we couldn't find some crystals ourselves, we were assured of finding some at the shop.
Contrary to its name, the town of Mt. Ida sits at just 643 feet above sea level. There is public land where you can go collect if you know what you are looking for, but there are also several open pit mines where you can pay a fee to dig. Most of the mines allow digging through the tailings, but a few are real working mines where you pay a fee to be a hard rock miner.
Since we had never dug crystals, we were unsure of what we were getting into, but I wanted to come home with nice specimens. We chose the Twin Creeks Mine (known for water-clear crystals) and paid for a pocket. They have two sections where you can pick the tailings pile for a small fee or pay more and be assured of finding better crystals. The unusual thing about Twin Creeks Mine is they let you take whatever you find, regardless of the value. A pocket dig is considerably more than the findings dig, but it was worth it.
So a pocket turns out to be an area on the sandstone wall that reveals a seam of crystals or, really, a clay streak where the crystals will be found. One of the employees had taken a large track hoe and dug the face off a cliff wall to expose the pocket, and then we were left with the task of getting the crystals out of the wall.
We scrambled up the rock pile to the cliff base's bottom about 15 feet from ground level and surveyed our working area. The mine employee told us "to look at your feet" where crystals were all over the ground. The smaller points we found on the ground are pretty, but clusters and plates of crystals were the most exciting ones to find. We had to dig out the good stuff with a chisel, sledgehammer, and a big pry bar I bought just for the occasion, and I only smashed my thumb and one forefinger once apiece. We worked at it from nine am until about noon and decided to take a break and eat a sandwich.
After lunch, we got back to work, and as I got further up the wall and into the seam, I started to figure out what I was doing, and we had better success. I was getting bigger chunks off the wall and pushing the smaller stuff off the ledge, where my wife sifted through and collected what I missed. The mine closes at 4 pm; by that time, we had collected three 5-gallon buckets of crystals.
We loaded up and drove back down the 1.5-mile, well-maintained road from the mine to the county road and then about four more miles to the cabin. We intended to sort and clean some of the stones, but after sitting down for a short while, those intentions went out the door.
We have been back home for one week and still have crystals covered with clay. One seasoned digger said to wash them off best you can, then let them sit in the sun, dry out for a couple of days, and do it again as often as it takes. We will soak them in oxalic acid to remove the rust stains when they are finally clean. Having the display pieces we want may take a while, but I count this trip as an excellent rockhound memory.