Last time we talked about when the best time is for digging crystal in Arkansas, and covered a little bit about new tailings versus old tailings, dry weather versus wet. Whichever area and whatever weather, crystal digging is a dirty process. Even when it’s not wet, the red clay permanently discolors your clothes. In this post we’ll talk about what to bring, what type of clothes to wear and what tools are handy to have.
Wear something old that you don’t mind getting stained. It is ideal if you have a pair of coveralls or overalls. When you are ready to pack it in and go home, you can strip off your dirty outer layer and ride home in relatively clean, dry clothes. Of course, there are bathrooms at some (not all) of the mines, so you can change before you go home. I find that I am usually too tired to change my clothes, and my truck is testament to this fact. You might want to put old towels or sheets over your seats if you are persnickety and don’t want your vehicle to get all dirty, dusty and stained.
Sturdy shoes are a must, as well. You will be climbing up and down large piles of dirt and rock. I’ve seen people come to dig wearing sandals or open toed shoes, and I don’t recommend it. It isn’t necessary to wear boots, any sturdy closed toe shoe is fine, but if you do have comfortable boots, all the better. You’ll be the one not hobbling around because your shoes are full of rocks and dirt.
Hammers, picks and wedges are recommended by some of the more enthusiastic types, I don’t recommend them at all, and it isn’t only because it is hard work, and they are heavy, that I don’t like using them. The premise is to use them on the really large boulders that make their way out of the pit with partial veins still attached. Removing the crystal from the boulder is tempting, but it is usually best to leave it right there. Here is why: smashing a crystal off the matrix is disappointing and brutal. Sadly, I have seen, and heard, this done over the years. The sound is hideous (this is the brutal part); not only that, but crystal which has been unskillfully smashed off its matrix never has the luster that it did when it was still attached (this is the disappointing part). If you are skillful and know what you are doing, you may be able to break the cluster off the sandstone without injuring it, but that isn’t usually what happens. Normally, you end up with part of the cluster on the ground and part still on the rock, and you’ve irreparably damaged both. One of the worst sounds I have encountered at the crystal mine is the relentless hammering followed by the sound of smashing, cracking crystal as it is being destroyed. The feeling in your gut which accompanies that horrible sound is infinitely worse. Believe me, as tempting as it may be, it is best to leave it right there. The Crystal People, and your fellow crystal diggers, will thank you.
There is good news regarding large rocks with crystal attached. If you have the strength of Hercules and can get the rock from the tailings and into your car or truck, you’re welcome to do so. It is amazing that for the price of your permit, and providing you can get it into your vehicle, you really can take out anything you find in the tailings. The heavier “mining tools” were recommended in the past because they used to let you go into the pit if they weren’t working it on the day you went to dig. Due to numerous safety hazards and OSHA regulations, they aren’t allowing this practice anymore. So, my suggestion is to leave your hammer and bring a group of your strongest friends instead. Barring that, some other alternatives are to take a picture of the large boulders with crystal attached (like the one at left), or another thing I like to do is sit on or near the boulder and enjoy the energy that the crystal plate lends. Sometimes these crystal-covered rocks will have small crystals which have detached (either naturally or by wandering diggers), and these smaller points can be picked up easily with your tweezers or hemostats. (More on this coming up).
Lighter weight hand tools can be, well, handy! Garden trowels, a small hand shovel, even hemostats and tweezers as I mentioned above. You may be thinking, “Really, Genn! Tweezers?” Well, if you have hemostats, you won’t need tweezers. I never go the mine without my hemostats. If you don’t know what they are, they’re the scissor looking things with the alligator nose and locking grip. I like to clamp them to the front of my shirt so they are always at the ready. They are helpful in picking up really tiny crystals. They also can extend your reach up to a foot, which is nice when you’re climbing the face of a steep hill. They are also good to use as diggers to loosen the dirt around crystals stuck in dry clay or packed dirt.
A three or four-pronged garden trowel or small shovel can be very handy in both the old and new tailings. I also like to use a long garden trowel (they have a long handle like a hoe but with prongs rather than a flat hoe scraping edge). These are super for using as a walking stick of sorts, and also allow you to dig at the dirt without bending and stooping. It’s a multi-use tool.
Buckets of all sizes are invaluable. I tend to nest my buckets, large to small. I bring extras so that when I fill one bucket up I can leave it in the truck and start out fresh with an empty one. A five gallon bucket is tempting, but gets heavy quickly. If you have a little red wagon, bring it; they are to die for. If you don’t have a wagon to pull around a heavy bucket, then I suggest you use a smaller bucket and empty it frequently. I like to use the small mop buckets with the plastic tube on the handle. Inside this I will put a plastic coffee container and inside that a smaller container. The plastic containers that Crystal Light come in are great; they have a lid and are the perfect size. I know this sounds pretty fussy, and maybe it is, but it has worked for me over the years. Usually inside at least one of these I will have a zip top plastic bag. Put your plastic bag in the container like you would put a plastic bag in a garbage can. When your container is full, you simply slide the bag out, zip it up and put it in your vehicle. This prevents you from having to pour your crystals out, possibly dinging or breaking them. This leads me to the smallest containers I recommend. Pill or vitamin bottles are for especially small and/or fragile crystals. Lots of small bottles and containers and plastic baggies are a must. One set of stacking containers per digger is sufficient if you have plenty of plastic bags.
Speaking of using plastic bags in your containers like you would use garbage liners; it is best to plan to carry out everything you carry in. They usually have barrels on site for garbage. However, if you come prepared to take your garbage with you, there is no possibility of the wind blowing your trash out of the barrel and into the crystal mine. I’m sure if you are reading this blog, you and I view nature in the same manner. It is beyond disrespectful to see gum wrappers, cigarette butts, empty pop cans and bits of trash blowing about a crystal mine. If you are walking along and see someone else’s trash, please do the crystals and Mother Earth a favor and pick it up.
Food and water are the other things you’ll want to pack plenty of for your day at the mine. A picnic on the tailgate is a lot of fun. Plenty of drinking water is also essential, especially in the summer. Some of the mines have a store with vending machines on site, but not all do; be sure to ask. I always bring more food than I need because usually there are hungry people who didn’t think to bring food. Digging can be hungry work. Sharing with your fellow crystal enthusiast is good karma.
After discussing eating, I guess it is a natural lead-in to what happens after eating. Not every mine has bathrooms on site. Some have portable toilets, the larger ones have “flushers,” but it’s best not to assume this. Check with the mine before you arrive. You might need to add toilet paper to your list of things to bring. If you’re lucky and the mines do have a bathroom with flushing toilets and running water, no matter how tempting, please do them a favor and don’t rinse off your crystals in the sink. The clay clogs the plumbing and can be a nightmare. Normally, there will be a special area with a pump or tubs full of water where you can do this.
Band-Aids, sun screen and other first aid items are always good to bring. If you choose to dig in the new tailings, it is quite possible to cut yourself on the broken crystal hidden in the clay. Broken crystal is every bit as sharp as broken glass. I have been cut more times than I can count. If you aren’t careful, it can cut you to the bone. Gloves are handy, but it can cut through them as well. Using a trowel instead of fingers is recommended. For this reason, Band-Aids come in handy; even when you’re careful, you usually end up needing them. I will have to say that if you do cut yourself, the red clay in which the crystals grow works really well to stop the bleeding, and it promotes fast healing. Believe it or not, it is very beneficial. As a former nurse, I can’t believe I’m suggesting that people put mud into their fresh wound. That having been said, I have done it and it works. Obviously, if this doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it.
This ends the list of things to bring with you when digging crystal. I have a special page on my website (ArkansasCrystalWorks.com) with a printable list, you can find that by clicking this link. Next time we’ll talk about how to find the crystal when you get to the mine. What does it look like and how do you see it? See you next time!