Travel & Culture
Hunting for a Girl’s Best Friend in Arkansas
By Donna Long
Do you have a yearning to hunt for gemstones? Consider yourself a rock hound with a nose that sniffs out minerals? Then perhaps you should consider a visit to the only mine in the world where you can hunt for your own diamonds.
My husband and I are rock hounds. So, when we learned about the Crater of Diamonds State Park we knew we had to go. We decided the best way to maintain social distancing, but still be able to explore, was to rent an RV. That is what we did. We had a fabulous time glamping and digitally disconnecting.
There are a number of diamond mines scattered throughout the world but only one that is open to the public, and much to our delight, that mine is an easy weekend road trip from DFW in Arkansas. Crater of Diamonds State Park located on Arkansas highway 301 in Murfreesboro is the only mine, not just in the United States but in the world where you can dig for your own diamonds.
Crater of Diamonds started out as a simple farm in 1906 belonging to John Wesley Huddleston. While tending to his land one day he spotted a glittering pebble and then another. He hurriedly “saddled his mule” and headed to Murfreesboro to get the brightly luminescent stones identified.
Since that exciting day, Crater of Diamonds has changed proprietors several times as a privately owned tourist attraction until the State of Arkansas purchased the 911-acre tract in 1972 to establish the land as a state park. Today, 37 of those 911 acres are available for visitors to search for diamonds.
Diamonds are the solid form of carbon whose atoms have been rearranged under a billion years of extreme pressure and temperature to form a crystal. They are created approximately 60 to 100 miles below the earth’s surface in the mantle layer. According to geologists, the continents we now call South America and North America collided roughly 300 million years ago creating the Ouachita Mountains. Through the millennia, parts of the mountains eroded as ocean waters receded. During this time, the Earth’s mantle continued to move and shift creating a volcanic vent.
When the vent exploded a crater was formed in the shape of a funnel approximately 83-acres deep. Minerals and molten debris shot into the air, much of which, fell back into the funnel-shaped vent. It is estimated that a mere 160-feet of the vent has eroded exposing a varied selection of minerals, semi-precious gemstones, and diamonds.
Since the first diamond was found in 1906, 75,000 diamonds have been discovered. Since the creation of the park in 1972, 33,100 diamonds have been found by visitors to the crater. The largest diamond ever found was 40.23-carats discovered in 1924. The most recent discovery was August 29, 2020. The majority of diamonds found are approximately the size of a paper match head and 20 to 25 points in weight. To put that in perspective, one carat equals 100 points. Diamonds come in a variety of colors and shades. Yellow, brown, and white are the most prominently found colors at Crater of Diamonds State Park. Diamonds are not the only gemstone found hidden in the dirt at the state park. Amethyst, garnets, jasper, agates, quartz, and other minerals also can be found making this spot a true adventure for rock hounds.
Hunting for diamonds is quite simple, albeit tedious and back-breaking work. The tools needed are a bucket, a screen sifter, and a shovel. What I found useful were two buckets (one for fresh dirt and one for sifted/washed dirt), a long-handled shovel in addition to a compact/travel shovel or even a sturdy garden trowel, a multi-layer screen sifter, and a folding wagon to carry everything back and forth.
Fresh dug dirt can either be dry sifted in the field or washed in water troughs also located in the field. It is important to remember the average size of diamonds found at the state park are the size of a match head. So be mindful about not using your fingers to work the dirt through the screens. You could potentially lose a diamond if you do. Just gently sift or swish water over the dirt.
Another bit of advice I will share is to plan on spending the morning in the field when the temperature is cooler. Do a “first” sift or wash in the field and then take your buckets back to your campsite to do the final wash. At your campsite, you can relax, have lunch, maybe a cold refreshing drink while sitting around the campfire looking for diamonds.
Speaking of camping, or glamping as I am more inclined to do these days, Crater of Diamonds State Park has both tent and RV spots. If you have an RV or tenting gear, you are good to go. Just call to make a reservation and have a fabulous (and hopefully successful) weekend. If you don’t have an RV, there are a number of sites online and around Texas that you can rent an RV from. We rented an RV and had an incredible time. We packed everything from the toilet paper to cookware to bedsheets. I think the big plus to packing everything is knowing that it was all Covid-free.
Other amenities at Crater of Diamonds SP are hiking trails (most are paved and handicap accessible), a visitor center where you can have your discoveries identified, a public restroom, and a gift shop where you can purchase memorabilia trinkets, T-shirts, bags of ice, or charcoal. The park has other amenities such as a cafe and a water park for the younger adventurers, but unfortunately, they were closed during the time we were there due to Covid-19. With that being said, be sure to call ahead to verify what amenities are available and which are not.
Make the time to discover the natural beauty and serenity that Mother Nature has to offer. There is no better place to do that than at one of the more than 10,000 state parks located throughout the United States. Arkansas proudly displays 52 of those state parks for adventurers and nature enthusiasts to explore.
So get out, and get a breath of fresh air.
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Travel & Culture
Travel: Find Peace at the Peace Lodge and Waterfall Gardens
By Donna Long
The Peace Lodge and La Paz Waterfall Gardens Resort is a slice of exotic heaven in the lush rainforest-covered mountains of Costa Rica. This ultra-luxurious, eco-friendly resort is located just an hour’s drive north of the San José Airport, where the cloud forest and rainforest meet, and 20 minutes from the Poás Volcano.
The resort’s mission is to introduce visitors to an experience that celebrates the natural wonders of the mountain rainforest while demonstrating their commitment to preserving and protecting the environment. They strive to maintain a perfect balance of harmony between the growth of tourism to Costa Rica and protecting their environment, which is a significant player in the overall health of the planet.
Because The Peace Lodge is located between the two forests, cloud and rainforest, it is an ideal destination to view wildlife, birds, insects, butterflies, orchids, and a forest full of plants. It is also the most popular place in Costa Rica to see five of its famous waterfalls.
To read more, pick up a copy of the January/February issue of LiveIt Magazine. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.
Travel & Culture
Retired, Have Experience, Will Travel
By Donna Long
Did you just retire? Are you getting ready to do so and worried that you will have nothing to do or worse, feel inconsequential? Have you considered a volunteer vacation? Not familiar with the term volunteer vacation? It is not the ability to take a vacation without being told to do so. A volunteer vacation is when you give of your time, knowledge, and experience to offer aid to communities around the world in need.
Maybe you want to help but don’t think you have the experience for the project calling to your heart. Don’t worry. In many cases, there is some in-the-field training and support. Numerous programs and companies organize volunteer vacation packages that cater to various groups of people and a range of volunteer interests and locations. This article will focus on people over 50 who want to positively impact communities around the world.
To read more, pick up a copy of the September/October issue of LiveIt magazine. To subscribe, call 940-872-2076.
Travel & Culture
A Touch of Tuscany in Aubrey
By Donna Long
Located a mere hour from Dallas is a destination that can transport you from the hustle and bustle of city life to the serenity of a Tuscan-style vineyard. Fortunata Winery is a perfect escape on the outskirts of the DFW metroplex.
What started as a hobby for Dr. Kelby Trusty turned into a passion that pays. Dr. Trusty took classes at Grayson County College learning how to create wine. Shari Trusty, who was born with a green thumb, turned her attention to learning how to grow grapes that would flourish in Texas’ particular growing conditions.
Dr. Trusty and his wife Shari purchased a plot of property as an investment, not necessarily considering that it would turn into the vineyard it is today. After a time, they saw that the parcel of land they fell in love with was also the perfect location to give the Trusty’s passions a home.
To read more, pick up a copy of the July/August issue of LiveIt magazine. To subscribe, call 940-872-2076.
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