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May/Jun 2011 Issue
We're Diggin' this Park

Family hunts for treasure at Crater of Diamonds State Park.
By Werner Trieschmann

“If I find a diamond, can I buy some Bakugans?” asked John, my 7-year-old, about his current toy obsession. For little boys, a diamond is just another rock. But Bakugans–well, these action figures are priceless. So my wife, Marty, and I explained to our novice prospector that we’d be able to buy quite a few Bakugans if we got lucky at Crater of Diamonds State Park. That’s where we were headed this morning–me, Marty, John, and our 4-year-old, Kit.

diamond

Above: At Crater of Diamonds, there’s always the hope of finding a treasured diamond in the rough.

Below: The Strawn-Wagner diamond was found in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro. Sent to New York to be cut and polished, the 1.09-carat diamond received a perfect grade from the American Gem Society. Arkansas Parks and Tourism photos

State Park

Located in Murfreesboro, Ark., the park is home to a diamond mine, and it’s one of very few places in the world where the public can find and keep whatever diamonds they unearth. Ownership of the land has turned over several times but in 1972, the state of Arkansas purchased the land from a private owner for $750,000 and it’s belonged to the people ever since.

We weren’t convinced we’d find something but there was some reason to dream. People routinely find certified diamonds here in colors including white, brown and canary. The largest find was unearthed in 1924. Dubbed “Uncle Sam,” its rough weight before it was polished and cleaned was 40.23 carats, which would make it worth about $180,000 today. In 2008, approximately 130,000 diggers pulled out a whopping 946 diamonds weighing 183 carats. Our crew would be more than happy with a measly carat.

Sitting just a short drive off state Highway 301 in a pine-studded forest, the mine is fronted by a two-story welcome center. On the lower level, displays showed pictures of successful miners smiling and holding their fresh-picked gems. Few of the stones were bigger than a quarter and they all appeared smooth and translucent with an oily sheen that’s the telltale indication of a genuine diamond in the rough.

A video explained the two ways to hunt: surface searching (simply scanning the ground while walking) or sifting (using spades and buckets to sift until rocks are visible).

We chose to sift. We rented our tools and bought a rock identification kit, which included a magnifying glass and a pamphlet explaining how to spot the jasper, garnet and 40 other types of rock that also are represented here.

Looking out over the mine that resembled an agricultural field cleanly cut from the surrounding forest, I saw hopeful hunters gathered in twos and threes. It was hard to imagine that all of this aboveground activity was due to a volcano located deep underground. The 95-million-year-old volcanic pipe had pushed up rocks and minerals buried 60–100 miles below the earth’s surface.

We settled on a spot and got to work, shoveling dirt into the screen and shaking it until it revealed a handful of pretty rocks–though not one with an oily sheen. Kit soon tired and ran off, exclaiming, “I found one, daddy!” (He was pretending.) Marty chased after him while John and I continued sifting. John seemed happy to have the tools to himself and he examined every rock he uncovered with a magnifying glass.

After awhile, the unrelenting sun became too much. We had yet to find a diamond but we had one last hope: some clumps of dirt remained in our sifting screen, too compacted for us to shake loose. We’d have to wash down the screens at a station near the entrance with hoses. Marty and I stared intently at each clump of dirt I held under the running water as it slowly disintegrated into liquid mud. As the last one melted away, Marty and I shared a small disappointed smile. No diamond.

But later at the hotel, we had unearthed something else. We watched as John gathered all of the rocks he’d found at the mine and used the magnifying glass to inspect each one again. Seeing that curiosity awakened in him had value beyond compare.

Tips for visiting Crater of Diamonds

Bring a blanket to sit on while you dig.

Other park attractions include the Diamond Springs Water Park, which has 14,000 square feet of waterfalls, geysers and two waterslides. It’s open from noon to 6 p.m. daily Memorial Day through Labor Day.

A gravel path in the park leads to a wildlife observation deck where you might spy a deer or a wild turkey.

A little more than a mile from Murfreesboro is the Ka-Do-Ha Indian Village, once the home of the tribe known as the Mound Builders and now a museum and excavation site where the public can dig for arrowheads and other treasures and keep what they find.

Where to sleep and eat

The Queen of Diamonds Inn in Murfreesboro is a smart mix of old and new with rocking chairs outside each room and flat screen TVs. Hot Springs is about an hour’s drive from Murfreesboro and offers a wide variety of accommodations.

Die-hard University of Arkansas fans will dig the Razorback memorabilia adorning Buddy’s Ranch House Café in Murfreesboro. The barbecue is good, too. Steak and tamales are the specialty of Doe’s Eat Place in Hot Springs.

Werner Trieschmann is a new contributor from Little Rock, Ark.

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact Crater of Diamonds State Park at (870) 285-3113 or www.craterofdiamonds statepark.com.

To visit Murfreesboro, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Arkansas through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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