Though I was thrilled to finally get to camp with Nathanael, the thing that really drew us to Arkansas was diamond hunting.
Crater of Diamonds State Park claims to be the only diamond mine in the world where average people can dig around (with a state park entrance fee) and keep anything they find. A former diamond mine, the park has been open to the public as a state park since 1972. Nathanael and I thought diamond hunting sounded like a really fun thing to try out, and a neat way to get to know this part of the country a little bit.
|From Crater of Diamonds State Park Website|
|As evening fell on the first day of the hunt.|
The park website is fairly detailed, but before embarking on our adventure we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. We were both a little concerned that the high temperatures might make the day of digging feel really long, but we were pleasantly surprised by the visitor friendly arrangement of the diamond field.
Notice the funny green tint of the soil? The diamond rich soil within the "crater" is distinct from the light brown soil elsewhere in the area.
If you are in the mood to get a tan, you can dig and sift through the soil in full sun, but most people choose to sift for diamonds using water, which actually makes it a wonderfully cool activity for a hot day.
The park has two large pavilions, each with ~2.5ft deep troughs of water where you can use successively smaller screens (your own or rented) to remove the large stones and dust, and allow you to sort through clean small stones to look for something shiny.
Additionally, since diamonds are dense, they will shift to the very lowest part of your screen as you sift your rocks in the water. To take advantage of the density even more directly, some people have circular screens called sarucas that they would use to sift and spin the rocks in order to move the densest stones to the very center.
We rented square screens from the park.
After gathering buckets full of soil (step 1), we had one screen with wide mesh to remove the large stones and break up clusters of clay (step 2), and then a fine mesh so that the small rocks could be washed of clay (step 3).
After the small rocks were sifted, we flipped them onto the provided wooden counters to look through them very carefully (step 4).
Usually, if you didn't flip the screen with too much force, the densest stones like quartz or jasper would be on top.
For most of the day I was under the pavilions, sifting the bucket loads of soil that Nathanael dug for me, so with my arms in the water, I stayed perfectly cool.
But after more than seven hours being wet, my hands were very pruney and also a bit raw from rubbing the rocks through the screens. So I took a break, and Nathanael continued on until park closing time at 8pm.
We did not find any diamonds during our hunt, but not for lack of trying.
We did encounter a lot of pretty rocks,
and a lot of interesting people.
There was a large boy scout troupe that had camped across from us, and their leaders had the good idea to give them each the goal of collecting ten different varieties of rocks. There were a lot of families, sometimes working in teams, and often multiple generations sifting for diamonds, including one grandpa that insisted his 4 inch kitchen strainer was totally the way to go.
|My pretty rocks.|
There were some people who came from far away, like the family who came from Ohio for the weekend, or the teacher from NYC who was there for a week and was pretty intense about the whole deal (he taught us about the sarucas ).
And then there were people who came a few times a year, and kept diamonds from past years in little boxes in their pockets, and in hindsight had something gambler-ish...or even Gollum-ish about them. They really made Nathanael and I think about how there are many fun and carefree activities in life which can, if we are not careful with ourselves, lean toward obsession. It made me wonder which activities in my life would draw that kind of tendancy out in me. I think in making myself or my home look good I can probably border on that kind of attitude, but I will be watching...