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Can You Dig It?

Visit Mount Ida in western Arkansas for quartz crystals, crafts, and fun.
BY BARBARA GIBBS OSTMANN

Visitors really dig Mount Ida, Ark. Literally.

Mount Ida bills itself as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World, and digging for quartz crystals is the town’s main attraction, especially during the annual World Championship Quartz Crystal Dig. Mount Ida is located 35 miles west of Hot Springs.

digging

Above: Visitors to the Mount Ida area can dig for crystals year-round at private mines.

Below: One of the cabins available at Mountain Harbor Resort. Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism photos

resort

The 27th annual competition will be held Oct. 10 and 11 this year. Amateur diggers from across the United States and several foreign countries are expected to converge on this small town to test their digging skills at local quartz mines and compete for $1,500 in prize money. Other folks will come to observe the competition and to attend the Quartz, Quilts and Crafts (QQC) Festival, Oct. 10–12 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.

The festival offers the perfect time to plan a tank trip to the Mount Ida area. Rock hounds in particular will relish this destination and the opportunity to take home a piece of The Natural State.

QUARTZ FEVER

Year-round, visitors to Mount Ida can try their hand at digging for crystals at private quartz mines in the area or can opt to do their “digging” at the dozen or so rock shops that line the roads in and around town. But quartz fever really grips the town during the competition dig and its companion festival.

Sherry Ellison of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board explains that the championship dig was suspended for a year in 2012, revamped, and brought back in 2013 better than ever.

“Last year we had about 30 diggers, but we’ve had as many as 150 in the past,” said Ellison, who hopes for a strong turnout this fall.

The quartz crystal deposits found in the Ouachita Mountains around Mount Ida are known for their quality, quantity, clarity, and beauty, according to Collecting Crystals: The Guide to Quartz in Arkansas by Darcy and Mike Howard.

The formations found in the area include clusters, which contain several crystals; double-terminated quartz, which has a point on each end; phantoms, where a new crystal forms over an older one that remains visible as the phantom; tabular or tabby crystals, which are thin and platelike; and cactus quartz that resemble a cactus.

While the competitors are busy digging at the mines, shoppers will be enjoying the QQC Festival, which includes a fine gem and mineral show, arts and crafts, jewelry, a quilt show, music, and food.

MUSIC AND MEMORIES

While you’re in Mount Ida, be sure to check out the Montgomery County Front Porch Stage on George Street. Free performances bring the sounds of bluegrass, gospel, and country to the courthouse lawn from 7 to 9 p.m. every Saturday night from May through October. During the festival, Shady Grove is scheduled to play Oct. 11.

If history is your interest, don’t miss the Heritage House Museum of Montgomery County at the intersection of state Highway 27 and Luzerne Street. The museum places special emphasis on the area timber industry, quartz crystals, and Lake Ouachita.

OUTDOORS AND LIGHTS OUT

In addition to quartz, the great outdoors is a major draw for Mount Ida. Surrounded by the Ouachita National Forest, the town is near the western end of 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita.

The national forest features many outdoor recreation options, including the popular Lake Ouachita Vista Trail and the Womble Trail, which was named an Epic Route by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, plus scenic areas like Little Missouri Falls.

Lake Ouachita offers fishing, swimming, water skiing, scuba diving, sailing, and more. Also nearby are top-notch floating and fishing rivers: the upper Ouachita and Caddo.

For more digging, take an excursion to Crater of Diamonds State Park, located about an hour’s drive away in Murfreesboro. Visitors can keep any stones they find, whether precious or semiprecious, regardless of their value. More than 70,000 diamonds have been found here since 1906.

After a day of rock hounding, a night in a comfortable bed in a beautiful resort is just the ticket. Look no further than Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa on the shores of Lake Ouachita, 11 miles east of Mount Ida on U.S. Highway 270.

Lodging options at this 900-acre family-owned resort range from lake view guest rooms and kitchenette units to luxury log cottages and condominiums. Guests will enjoy the spa, restaurant, full-service marina, riding stables, fishing guide service, and 43 miles of trails.

Don’t forget Hot Springs–with its national park, historic bathhouses, and racetrack–is just 35 miles east of Mount Ida, opening up more Tank Trip ideas. Dig all the possibilities.

Barbara Gibbs Ostmann is a contributor from Gerald, Mo. She was born and reared in Arkansas.

September/October 2014 Issue

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BEFORE YOU GO

For additional information, contact:

Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce, (870) 867-2723 or www.mtidachamber.com

Crater of Diamonds State Park, (870) 285-3113, www.crater ofdiamondsstatepark.com

Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa, (870) 867-2191, www.mountainharborresort.com


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

Order free information about Arkansas through the Free Travel Information Card found online.


 


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