Digging Your Own Crystal
Words cannot describe the thrill of discovering your own crystal specimens. Beware, it can be addictive. Adults seem to experience the excitement of a child while digging in the clay and rocks. You get covered with red clay that stains your clothes and don't even care. How irresponsible we become while digging for crystal.
Where To Dig - Fee Dig or Free Dig
If you imagine finding crystal by creeping through dark, underground tunnels, you're in for a surprise. The crystal mining areas are open pit and look very much like strip mines. You can dig crystal free or pay a small fee to dig at privately owned mining claims.
If you want to venture off on your own, the Ouachita (wash-shi-ta) National Forest is open to the public (including rockhounds). You are welcome to pick up crystal from surface exposures for your personal use but not for resale. Crystal is found almost everywhere you see white quartz rock on the ground. The Forest Service Crystal Vista recreation site is an old mining claim that is also open to the public. I recommend you stop by the Womble Ranger Station on the edge of Mount Ida to get a map and other helpful information.
Several of the privately owned mining claims let the public dig for a fee in their tailing piles. The average cost is $10 to $20 per day, per person, and you get to keep all the crystal you dig. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) requires that all personnel on the operational mine site be MSHA certified with a 40 hour training course. This requirement prevents fee digging in the mining areas. You can also contact the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce at 870-867-2723 for information and brochures.
TIP: Your chances of finding crystal at a fee dig mine will be better if the mine is currently in operation. Ask if they have been mining recently.
How To Dig Crystal
Any vision of scooping crystal up by the bucket full with heavy equipment is false. All crystal is dug by hand to protect and prevent damage. Real miners use various size digger bars to extract crystal by hand once a pocket is exposed. Heavy equipment (track hoe, dozers) are used to remove the larger rocks and over burden to gain access to the crystal veins and pockets. In the process, smaller pockets of crystal will be removed and wind up in the over burden or tailings where fee digging is allowed.
Small hand rakes and screwdrivers work well for scraping through the tailings for crystal. Larger crow bars and picks can also be used if you're into physical fitness. If you want a professional, custom made digger bar, you can buy one of Ray McGrew's at Judy's Crystal Shop. Tell Judy I sent you and she will probably show you how to use it.
You can tell a crystal miner by the clothes they wear. Just look for the red clay stains all over them. I usually wear a long sleeved white shirt that shows the stain well so I can be recognized as a crystal miner. I also wear steel toed boots because I always seem to roll large rock on my toes in the passion of digging out a pocket of really nice crystal. If you're just walking around picking up crystal on the ground, you could get by with a coat and tie or long dress. Enough said about dressing to dig.
When To Dig
I've never dug crystal at night with a flashlight and I've never dug in the snow. It's darn hot and humid in the summer and can be darn cold on some days in the winter. Spring and fall are the most comfortable and beautiful times to dig. You usually find more crystal on the surface in the tailings after a rain. You also find more clay on your feet and body after a rain. But like fishing, the best time to dig crystal is anytime you get a chance. Enough said about when to dig.
One last note. If you hear, "Fire in the hole," stop digging crystal and yell, run or hide. The next sound you'll hear is explosives going off.