Digging Ouachita

Quartz Crystal Capital of the World

Besides being famous for handmade dulcimers, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, Johnny Cash, John Grisham,  Bill Clinton, Hot Springs, and Diamond Hunting at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas is home to the Ouachita National Forest. Nestled near the heart of Ouachita, less than an hour drive west of Hot Springs on U.S. 270, is Mount Ida, known as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World. Brazil may not agree with that statement, and there are geological studies that favor Brazil on that topic. What is well known though, is that Arkansas has the largest deposits of quartz in the United States and both Arkansas and Brazil have the best quality in the world.

The extraordinary clear crystals were known to the Native Americans, who were reported to have chiseled points for hunting implements and weapons from the quartz. The name Ouachita is the French spelling of an American Indian word ‘washita’ or ‘wishita’, which means “good hunting grounds”. During WWII quartz crystal mining in Arkansas enjoyed a small boon as the government looked toward domestic sources for quality quartz crystal used in the manufacture of communications equipment. By the way, the majority of the quartz crystal used in wartime efforts actually came from Brazil. In the 1950’s General Electric developed techniques for growing quartz artificially. That may not have been good for the economy, but it certainly was good for us. Today Arkansas quartz crystal enthusiasts consist mainly of tourists, rock hounds, collectors and museums.

There are a variety of fee-to-dig mines open to the public. The fees vary from $20/person to dig all day, to $40/person for 4 hours. The mining ‘experience’ is as varied as the prices. It’s best to call ahead or check with the Mount Ida Chamber of Commerce before heading out to the mine of your choice. Even though there are websites online, not all are still in operation.

Crystal Vista

We chose to start our crystal hunting adventure high atop Gardner Mountain at Crystal Vista. Crystal Vista is the only crystal collection location available in the Ouachita National Forest that is free to the public. Please be aware, crystals may only be collected for personal use. Resale is strictly prohibited.

Crystal Vista is a reclaimed crystal mine. When the vein ran out, operations ceased. As with all mining operations on Federal lands, the land had to be somewhat restored or reclaimed and returned to nature. Fortunately for us, they decided to create a rock collection area.

The Crystal Vista Trailhead is just over four miles off of Highway 27 south of Mount Ida. The road is paved a good portion of the way.

It opens into a small clearing for parking to the left of the trail. Vehicles are not allowed past this point. This is a primitive site. There are NO washroom facilities, picnic shelters or garbage cans. All refuse must be packed out.

From the parking area at the base of Gardner Mountain, it is a mile long trek and can be very steep. I suggest wearing hiking boots to help prevent any twisted ankles. The trail is full of ruts and in many places there are some deep cuts from runoff. A backpack, for bottled water and a few snacks, is an excellent idea if you intend to stay for a while. If you are not up to the climb, small clear quartz crystals can be found on the ground in the parking area and scattered along the trail.

Just when you think you are there, nope. At the fork, take the trail to the right. It leads to the old mine site. The one on the left gets pretty steep and leads to a sudden drop off. It is a beautiful scene and does have some discarded piles of quartz and crystal along the path.

Heads up! What I did not realize before we went up that long trail is that Arkansas has BEARS. There were only two of us and neither of us was prepared to fend off or out run a bear. Although it is stated that the American Black Bear is very elusive and rather adverse to human contact, it’s probably better to be forewarned.

Once to the top the site opens up. Vegetation and wildlife have returned.

Follow the trail forward and it heads down the other side. The trail to the right will lead to a path below the crystal studded cliff face, or you can continue down to the forest floor.

Surface collecting can be very productive. There are a lot of smaller crystals lying around. Scattered about are hunks of quartz and pieces of crystals discarded by others.

Holes dug by previous visitors can be found and are worth the time to check out. We did work a few of the holes. In an opening made by a fallen tree, we found some nice points tucked into the roots.

Sticks are plentiful and serve as good tools to dig and poke around in the red clay. A stick will not scratch or damage the hidden crystals like metal tools do. Floaters hide in the clay, so be sure to sift it through your fingers. Crystals that developed without being attached to the rock matrix are commonly referred to as ‘floaters’. The red clay also serves to protect the crystals.

FYI - Herkimer Diamonds are Clear Quartz crystals too!
As the result of having very little to no contact with the matrix or host rock, Herkimers tend to have double terminations, which is rare for crystals. "Herkimer Diamonds" is the name given to the doubly terminated quartz crystals found in Herkimer County, New York and surrounding areas.

Doubly terminated quartz crystals have been found in many other locations around the world, including Arkansas and Arizona.

       - Geoscience News and Information

Clear quartz crystals do not actually grow out of the white quartz. I am not a geologist so here is my very basic version of the crystal growing process. The chemical formula of quartz is SiO2, silicon dioxide, more commonly called silica. Quartz crystals grow in hot, watery, silicon rich solutions at high temperatures under pressure. If the surrounding rock has quartz in it, the molecules will attach to it and layer by layer the crystal will grow into the solution. If not, they will bind together forming floating crystals.

To the right, through the brush, and below the top collection area is the crystal studded cliff face. As I mentioned earlier, when you first enter the collection area the trail to the right will lead to that path. I sat up top for quite a while taking in the view before wandering down below.

If I had brought my crack hammer and cold chisel on this trip, I would have tried my hand at working the cliff face and splitting a rock or two. I did spend time surface collecting crystals that had weathered out of the face and picked up a couple of larger hunks to take home.

When the sun was high in the sky it was getting toasty on the mountain. We were almost out of water and starting to get hungry. With our buckets brimming, full of small chunks and treasures from Crystal Vista, we headed back down. The long trek down the mountain was a definitely a deterrent to my collecting larger rocks.

We had been told by several people that it was a waste of time going up to Crystal Vista. That it had been well picked over. If you are a die-hard crystal hunting beast out to make your fortune, then I’d say move on. As for me, it was a gorgeous day, perfect for a hike, and the views of the pine forest alone were worth the climb. We were ecstatic with even the smallest of finds. I’m glad we took the time to go.

A parting gift from Crystal Vista.

Metaphysically Speaking, Clear Quartz is one of the most versatile and powerful crystals in the mineral kingdom. It is considered a Master Healer, an excellent amplifier, and easily programmed. Power bears the weight of responsibility. When programming, be sure it is in the highest good, for ill intentions will surely revisit the sender.

This trip started out as an impromptu stop since we were driving through the area. Now, I cannot wait until I return. There is so much to do here. It’s a crystal hunter’s paradise, and don’t even get me started about the fossils . This side trip has sparked a deep desire to keep coming back. Stay tuned for a series of posts on Digging Ouachita as we explore the different mines and our adventures Diggin’um!


Suggested Tools & Supplies
    • Hat
    • Gloves
    • Protective eye ware
    • Bucket or bags
    • Crack Hammer
    • Cold Chisel
    • Pick or Screwdriver
    • Pad to sit or kneel on
    • Bug spray
    • Sunscreen
    • Bottled water
    • Snacks
    • Backpack highly recommended
Getting there:

We came north on Highway 27 through Norman. There a kindly shop lady gave us directions. In the middle of the night, please do not make the mistake we did by turning off of Highway 27 on to Crystal Park Road. Your kidneys, and your heart, will thank me later. Once you pass the Crystal Recreation Area, there is nowhere to turn around. All you can do is keep moving forward. That old road is barely one vehicle wide; and certainly not wide enough for Cherry, my full sized Ram. It is washed out in spots; the dense canopy will block out any moonlight. You will feel very, very alone. It was one dark, scary, bumpy, sometimes horrifying ride. Yes, we have watched one too many horror flicks.

We did find Crystal Vista and were none worse for wear but your best bet is to keep heading north toward Mount Ida to County Road 2237, also known as Owley Rd. It is 3.8 miles south of Mount Ida on Highway 27. From there it is just over 4 miles to the Crystal Vista trailhead.

Get directions:

Additional Resources:

USDA Forest Service      Ouachita National Forest

Mineralogical Society of America
American Mineralogist – Geology of Quartz Crystal Deposits

USGS – Quartz Crystal Deposits of Western Arkansas

Geoscience News and Information – Herkimer Diamonds

Mount Ida Chamber of Commerce – select Visitor’s Guide (pdf)

Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS) – Arkansas Quartz Crystals (pdf)

Minerals of Arkansas – poster

Rocks of Arkansas – poster

Fossils of Arkansas – poster

Arkansas Dept. of Parks & Tourism – Arkansas

The Quartz Page – Formation and Growth        This was the best explanation I found that I could actually comprehend and visualize the process.

Page Photo Credits: Photos courtesy of Living the Crystal Life Crew unless otherwise noted. 

Featured Photo:Crystal Vista Trailhead, Ouachita National Forest
A special 'Thank You!' for my friend Kelly for taking the time to join me on this adventure.

#Arkansas #Bears #CanYallDigIt #CanYouDigIt #ClearQuartzCrystal #CrystalHuntersParadise #CrystalTruth #CrystalVista #DiggingOuachita #DigginUm #DigYourOwnCrystals #FreeCollectionSite #Geology #HerkimerDiamonds #MountIda #Ouachita #OuachitaNationalForest #Quartz #QuartzCrystalCapitalOfTheWorld #Reclamation

Author: Cat

A Wander, a Traveler, an Explorer and Discoverer too.

One thought on “Digging Ouachita”

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