Last time we discussed a general overview of digging quartz crystal in Arkansas. This week we’ll cover when is the best time to dig.
Cool weather is the ideal time to go digging. In Arkansas, the most reliably cool weather occurs in the Spring or Fall. Of course, there are days during the winter that are mild and enjoyable and sometimes you might luck into a cool day in the summer.
Remember, in the actual mine area, you are up on a mountaintop with no trees around. You will be digging in full sun. Heat stroke is no joke. And on the other end of the spectrum, in the winter, the wind can be brutally cold. Add wet to that equation, and it can be truly miserable. That’s why it is wise to check the weather when planning a dig.
After you have chosen which mine to visit, you will arrive at the entrance. Usually there is a store, or another place, to check in. You will sign a liability release and pay your dig fee. The dig fees typically vary from $10 to $20 per person, per day for adults. When you check in, the clerk will tell you where to park and where the entrance to the tailings is located. Usually, they will tell you where the freshest tailings are; if they don’t tell you, be sure to ask them.
Most Arkansas crystal mines are open every day except Christmas. Typically, they let you dig from nearly dawn until dusk, and then they run you off with a stick (well, not really a stick, but they will run you off … nicely). Some mines have fees based on an hourly rate, and they take you to the mine in their own truck. This is usually the exception to the rule, however.
If you have plans to dig and it happens to rain, don’t worry. Other than it being incredibly messy and sloggy, some of the best crystal can be found during, or just after, a rain. I once found a Double Terminated Twin crystal, about seven inches long and an inch thick on the side of the road, in a truck rut, in the pouring down rain. You are able to find more in the old tailings because the water washes the dirt off crystals that have been hiding from other diggers. To go the day after a really huge rain can provide you with some really great digging experiences. And you also don’t have to contend with the rain running down your neck and blurring your glasses. A serious reminder about this “better when it rains” scenario is not to forget about the sticky mess and the difficulty slogging through wet Arkansas red clay; it can be slippery and dangerous, and will also ruin your shoes and clothes.
On the flip side, if there hasn’t been much rain leading up to the day of your chosen dig, the digging can be difficult at best. The dirt and clay harden and encapsulate the crystals, it can be hard to dig them out of the hardened soil.
In crystal digging, understanding the difference between fresh or “new” tailings versus old tailings is important. Keeping in mind the terminology I am discussing is new to you; I’ll go over the terms again. The giant hole where they do the actual mining is called the pit. The piles of dirt, rock and crystal that they haul to the top are called the tailings. The new tailings are the loads of dirt and rock that they have trucked up most recently. They are usually individual piles of wet and muddy dirt, rock, crystal and clay. The old tailings consist of the piles of dirt that have been there longer. They are made up of layer upon layer of what used to be the fresh tailings. Periodically, a bulldozer will be used to move the dirt to make room for more material brought up from the pit. The dirt, rocks, and crystal get pushed up and up, so the old tailings can be quite high.
The majority of the large mines operate nearly every day. If you are digging on a day in which they are actively working in the pit, the fresh tailings will be big piles of wet dirt, mud and clay. When you get your permit to dig, remember to ask them where they are dumping the new tailings. If you’re the sort who likes to dig through mucky mud, that’s the area for you. It is also the area where you are most likely to find the really big crystals and clusters. While some people prefer to work the new tailings, I prefer to walk the old.
At the larger mines, generally you will find if the operators aren’t actively working the pit, they are pushing the tailings around. This makes room for more material and also turns the dirt over to expose new areas for better digging. I like to walk the old tailings because the energy seems softer. To me, the energy in the fresh tailings feels raw and exposed. Whether you prefer the fresh tailings or the old tailings will be something with which you will have to experiment; both have their ups and downs, pardon the pun.
This ends the discussion of when to dig. Things to keep in mind: the weather (whether it’s too hot or too cold, raining or during a dry spell), whether a mine is being actively worked, where the “new” tailings are being deposited and where the “old” tailings are.
Next time we’ll talk about what to bring on your trip to dig crystal in Arkansas. See you next time!