Missy and I traveled down to Lake Ouachita last Tuesday for a six day stay on the lake. I had been hired to do some photo work for a private client for a real estate website last fall, and the work includes a few extra visits down there at various times through out the year, so this was the spring trip. We stayed at a beautiful private condo at the Mountain Harbor Resort east of Mount Ida while there and had great weather the first couple of days, then it heated up and became muggy over the weekend. Since I wouldnt be shooting the bulk of the photo work until the weekend, I had the first few days free to dig and collect quartz crystals.
Missy and I woke up on Wednesday morning and when I didnt hear from a friend who was thinking of coming to visit us, we headed south of Mt Ida to Bear Mountain Mine, one of my favorite places to look for quartz crystals. After registering at Fiddlers Ridge Rock Shop and talking to Bobby by cellphone, discovering he wasnt going to make it up to the mine that day, we headed south to the mine. I noticed the road up the mountain was a little rougher this time….
…in fact it was so rough right above the gate, that Bobby had posted a speed limit of five miles per hour…heck I couldnt even go that fast up that hill…I was doing maybe 3 miles per hour…it finally smoothed out near the top though when I crossed the bluff area….
…and when I finally got to the top of the mountain and drove up to the tailing area….
I saw that Bobby had really expanded the size of the tailing pile area….
…where you see that blue dump truck in the photo above, there used to be a road there that took you to the other side of the pit to more tailing piles…obviously one cant drive over there any longer…and this new tailing pile is high and huge….
…so I parked, got out and got my boots on, and walked over to the edge of the pit to get a look at what he had done with the trackhoe since I had been there last….
…..there was quartz crystals laying all over the place, big and small plates and singles, and chunks with quartz crystals all over the faces….and I saw a guy walking around the top of the huge new pile.
I say new pile, cause the last time I was there, that huge pile wasn`t there….the photo below shows the pit and Bobby working on the overhang above the pit the last time I was there….
…so you can see the entire shape of the pit and overhang above has changed, the overhang is basically cut down to size and removed. The pit was looking quite a bit deeper this time as well….
…so as you can see, Bobby had knocked off quite a bit above the pit and he had told me this pit was pretty deep as well underwater….
…after setting my camera back in the truck, I gathered up my rake and mini mattox and a couple of bags, and headed over to the small spread out tailing piles near the entrance to surface collect and then worked my way up the bigger new tailing pile and ran into the guy walking around….Ed, who said he was a retired firefighter from Tulsa Fire Department. We talked Fire Dept shop talk for a few minutes, then I found out he was also into photography a bit and we talked about cameras a bit more and then we started looking for crystals. He had already been down the short ridgeline right above the pit wall and had found quite a few nice crystals in the clay pockets in that wall. We were finding some purple colored looking clay while looking around the area. I walked up and over to one of the new huge rock piles and started finding crystals in cluster form right away…some small ones and some medium sized ones…it was warming up fast but luckily there was also a good stiff breeze blowing up there as well…so you would heat up and then the wind would cool you back down. Despite this, I still took a few breaks and drank my water, just to stay hydrated in that heat, cause I only had a few hours to hunt and wanted to make the most of it.
Eventually, we both found some nice ones and on one of my breaks, I carried a few of the larger chunks I found with quartz all over the faces of them, to the truck….like this one….
…Ed wandered over to the far side while I was carrying the big ones back to the truck…he joined up with another guy who I could only see in the distance over there, later finding out his name was Casey. I was finding so much right there within 100 feet of my truck that I didn`t want to venture any further out to look for more…the idea of finding something nice way over on the other side, and then carrying it across there, didn`t really appeal to me at that time.
Another couple showed up and started walking around the same area I had covered when I first arrived, and then made their way up on the top of that huge pile and wandered toward the far side…they didn`t stop to chat at all…I walked down to a newer area and within moments, I started finding nice plates all over this new pile and some medium sized chunks with crystals all over the top of them, like these….
…and it was during this time that Casey made his way over to the parking area with a nice big plate up on his shoulder, and then he returned for yet another smaller plate that he had chipped off the top of a boulder that he found on the very far side of the pit. He had to make a few trips across there to bring back all of his finds and then return for his bucket of tools…in the time that he was back at his truck, I discovered that he was from the northeast area of Montana and had been down in Texas where he found some nice petrified wood and was spending a few days in Arkansas for quartz before returning home. I gave him and Ed some samples of Missouri druse quartz and calcite crystals and bladed barite as well. I took a photo of Casey with his plates….
by this time it was close to 4 pm and we wound our day down with some more small talk and packing away our nice crystals….
Ed was heading to Texas the next day so we bid him a farewell and good safe travel.
Casey was looking for a place to camp out for the night and I told him Miller Mtn had a small camping area, so he decided to drive on over and camp there for the night, then wait for my arrival and hunt quartz there with me on Thursday.
Thursday morning, Missy and I got up early and headed over to Miller Mountain Mine on the northeast corner of Lake Ouachita. It was a bit foggy and we hit some stretches of slightly drizzly rain conditions, sure wasn`t anything close to the forecast from the night before.
We took the backcountry route crossing below the Blakely Dam and cutting past Lake Ouachita State Park, coming out two miles south of Hwy 298 on Hwy 7 at Hot Springs Village. This cuts about twenty minutes off my drive time had I gone through Hot Springs itself. As it was, I got stuck behind a slow driver on Hwy 270 who didnt want to get up over 35 mph in a 55 mph zone.
Despite leaving early, it was 8 am before I arrived and Casey was waiting on me. I was pleasantly surprised to find the road going to the mine was nicely graded, widened, and very smooth this time. We registered with Bill and Faith, the caretakers for Miller Mtn Mine at the mine rock shop and we quickly got started looking for quartz. Without sunshine to help us find glimmers of crystals, we were going to have the subdued light for a few hours to contend with…. the fog had lifted as we climbed up the mountain to the mine, and the drizzle had ended, but it was def going to be cloudy light, for a while at least.
Bill had brought up two new loads of clay mud and quartz that morning prior to our arrival and turned over four existing loads from the day before. I walked over to one of the fresh piles and quickly pulled two crystal clumps of clay out, one fairly small one and one fairly big one….
They were mostly clumps of clay but I could see one crystal sticking out of each one. I took them to the truck and came back to start digging into one of the dirt piles. Casey sat down on the other side of one of the fresh clay piles and starting digging in, to see what he could find. Another couple joined us shortly after, and then yet another couple showed up soon after and started digging alongside us as well….
On one of my many breaks that morning, my knees were still sore from the day before at Bear Mountain, I looked over the edge of the parking lot hill and down into the mine area, and saw a trackhoe…which I had never observed there before, and it looked to be in working condition too….
…Bill told me later that day, that they were now digging out their own crystals once again, no longer trucking in tailings from other mines. He also told me that Ron Coleman hadn`t been digging from his mine for the past two years, nothing since he struck the spring and then found the huge pocket of large crystals that he dug out and took to Arizona to sell at the Tucson show. He also told me that two guys had purchased the land where one of the original mines in Jessieville was located, a mile west of Hwy 7 on Hwy 298, and had invested several thousands of dollars to find the crystal vein, and after hundreds of hours of hard work, only coming up with the discovery of several cave like pockets of white aragonite. He showed me some flats of the aragonite that he had on hand.
A few minutes later, after returning to the dig piles, I found a nice single finger crystal packed into a clump of clay dirt….
…having started early, I began wearing out by 1 pm, which is about when the sun finally burned off the fog and cloudy conditions from the top of the mountain. I caught up with Casey on the other side of the tailings area, and let him know I was leaving early. He continued to dig and indicated he might return to Bear Mountain Mine on Friday, since we had seen so much quartz laying all over the place over there the previous day.
It was doubtful I would be able to join him since I was sure I would be busy with photo work for the client. I headed down to Hot Springs intending to stop and have lunch with a friend there, but couldn`t locate him and wound up grabbing a Little Caesers Pizza instead and driving back to the condo for a nap.
The next morning, I contacted Stu Schmidt, a former mine owner and now crystal buyer, who lives near Mountain Harbor and had some beautiful green and blue wavellite that I wanted to take a look at. I had contacted Mr. Schmidt by email the year before but didn`t get a chance to meet up with him at that time, and since wavellite is so hard to come by, I def wanted to do so this time. With a free hour this morning, I called him up and drove over to meet him and check out his wavellite collection. He lives up on a beautiful hillside above the highway with tall pine trees surrounding his home, the wind whistles through the trees and creates a pleasant windsong that just soothes and puts one right at ease. It reminded me of my grandfathers farm north of there in the Waldron area, which brings back so many great memories from my years of growing up and visiting at various times of the year.
Mr. Schmidt was cleaning up some crystals that he had found the day before at one of the older mines in the Mount Ida area, and after some small talk, we moved inside his garage to look at the many flats of wavellite that he had on hand from his former mine in the Avante area. He recently sold his Avante diggings claim and also his mine, Clear Creek Quartz Mine, which was located west of Mount Ida. He was now in the position of buying minerals and crystals instead of digging for them and it was much easier to do, no more hassles with the government agencies that regulate everything to death in the area. As a mine owner, you first have to deal with the US Forest Service if you lease the land where you intend to mine for quartz, then you have to deal with IMSHA and OSHA and the EPA as well, and each agency can be a real headache to work with. If you purchase the land, then you can drop the Forest Service from the list. Most of the mine owners lease the land these days.
As I looked for a few nice pieces of wavellite to take home with me, he brought me up to speed on the mines in the Mount Ida area as well. It seems the old Arrowhead Mine and former Fiddlers Ridge Mine, were purchased by a young couple from out of state recently. Mr. Schmidt and Bobby Fecho were hired by the couple to do some work at both mines to bring them back into compliance with the safety and environmental laws of each agency so that the couple can eventually re-open the mines to the public for fee digging. This explained why Bobby had moved his trackhoe off Bear Mountain because he was now digging at the older two mines to get them cleaned up and ready for digging at within the next few months. They hope to have both mines open within the next year at some point. From then on, those two mines and Bear Mountain Mine will be the only three doing their own digging and Miller Mountain Mine in Jessieville, that are open to the public for fee digging.
Here are photos of the first two crystal clusters I pulled out of the fresh piles at Miller Mountain Thursday morning, May 3rd….
…and the smaller crystal I pulled out of the pile right after I pulled the big cluster out….
…and a few more that I found, like this large single point with a small cluster of crystals attached at the base….
…and these two small plates of golden healers….