Onyx and I were up and at em as they say, early Tuesday morning, Nov 8th, preparing to south to southern Arkansas for our annual fall vacation…as we stepped outside to finish packing the truck, I noticed a gorgeous sunrise in the skies above…..
….my Mom always travels with me down there and we drop her off at Fort Smith, usually to stay with one of her ” little brothers ” to visit with everyone in the area, but this year we dropped her off at the airport to pick up a rental suv so she could stay at the Marriott and visit with her older sister who was driving in from California. One of my Springfield area friends was going to go with me on this trip, but he was mugged the night before, the thief stole everything from him including his phone, and I was unable to contact him once we got down there, so had to continue on without him. He was in need of a good vacation before that and we motored on down the road hoping that he could borrow someones phone and call me before we got too far down the road to turn around and return to pick him up…unfortunately, that never happened and still to this day, I have not been able to contact him, so can only hope for the best. I have discovered that its nearly impossible to find out anything about anyone in that area, for some reason.
We arrived in Fort Smith around noon and after dropping Mom off, Onyx and I drove over to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to see my buddy Adam Lagaveen. Adam and I have become good friends in the past couple of years, he is into quartz crystal collecting, and while he likes other pretty rocks and minerals too, his passion these days is for knapping Native American knives and arrowheads out of native rock…he also uses glass too but he is especially talented when it comes to rainbow and mahogany obsidian and novaculite too. He heat treats this material which really brings out the colors and makes the minerals easier to work with, from what I have gathered over the years about knapping. It has taken over his garage and work area at his house and slowly but surely, he has allowed me to take over his older collection of quartz crystals and minerals to make more room for his knapping collection. Today he was a bit tight on his schedule, so I picked up some more quartz from him, some wavellite as well and a tub of Iowa geodes that he had laying around, as well as a big chunk of petrified wood that was in his way. It was great visiting with him again, as always, and we were soon on our way back to Fort Smith to pick up Hwy 71 south.
After stopping off in Waldron to fill up my truck at the Phillips 66 there, we headed on south to Hot Springs…Waldron is the area that my Mom and Dad were both born and raised at…on dairy farms about ten miles west of town out near the Oklahoma line in the mountain valleys. Its an area that I have become fond of visiting when down there and we have many relatives and friends in that area. Onyx and I arrived at the condo that I rent each time I go to Hot Springs, located on Lake Hamilton near the Sunbay Resort, just after sunset…I dont mind getting there in the dark anymore since I know the area pretty good now…it was a little daunting the first time there, but am very comfy with it these days. Onyx seems to remember it well too, he runs around the area lawns there very knowingly and seems to remember we are going up the stairs to the upstairs unit as well. I dont even put him on a leash there anymore, he is so used to it. I really enjoy this condo, as it has a balcony that is right out over Lake Hamilton and the view out there during the day and the nighttime, is just phenomenal…here is the standard night view….
As soon as we unpacked, Ray Roth, my friend from New Orleans who meets me there each year to go quartz crystal collecting with me, texted to let me know that he had snacked all the way up there on his trip, so he wasnt going to join me at supper. Onyx and I soon headed to Habachi Sushi Buffet, near the mall in Hot Springs…not for the sushi, but for the great buffet they have there, serving American and Chinese food, plus a sushi bar if you are into that type of food…I am not…and one can eat there for ten bucks a meal. Afterwards, I stopped by the Scoops Homemade Ice Cream Store to pick up a couple of pints of ice cream and then we headed back to the condo to settle in for the night.
For what was prob the first time down there, I actually slept in til 8 am the next morning, missing the gorgeous sunrise, which is totally a first for me, but I def needed the rest too. The next two days there, I scheduled a few model shoots and planned to visit a mineral dealer friend as well. Ray and I had breakfast at the Best Western Hotel near Oaklawn, where he was staying at, they have probably the best continental breakfast I have seen at a hotel in a long time, serving not only muffins and cereal, but scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, and biscuits and gravy, albeit the wrong flavored gravy in my humble opinion. Later that morning I had a photo shoot scheduled and another one the next day, but also wanted to go by and see a mineral dealer friend of mine. Ray decided to take his little dog and head up the mountain in town to the tower to see the view. I texted Justin, my rockhunting buddy in Hot Springs and made plans to meet him later and take him to see my mineral dealer friend Gary, who had some Elmwood pieces that I wanted to see and possibly purchase from him. I knew Justin would appreciate this type of visit and he brought along some of his crystals that he had been finding lately to show to Gary, and Gary was able to give him a good appraisal on them as well as give him some good solid information on them as well. I let Gary know that I would be joined by about a dozen friends later that weekend and he said we could come by on Saturday evening to visit. Soon after getting back to the condo, I shot this sunset over the lake to the west with some fishermen boating by…..
…and then the Belle of Hot Springs coasted by on their daily night tour of Lake Hamilton as well….
Onyx and I woke up at our traditional vacation time the next morning at 6 am, in time to catch the beautiful rays of sunlight illuminating the wispy layers of fog floating across the waters of Lake Hamilton outside the window….
Onyx and I met up with Ray at 9 am for breakfast at Best Western again and then we did some shopping before returning to the condo. I usually drive around the area looking for pretty spots to photograph, but the color down there was nearly non existent, the leaves had already turned brown in many places and simply fell off. I had an email from a rockhound that had been down to the area back in September, who said that he had found some baskets of quartz crystals, clusters, and plates, at one of the area mines, so I decided to drive over to both of the Coleman mines and check on it. I found one dirt basket at Ron Coleman`s mine that looked like a lot of broken quartz crystals, so I called ahead to Miller Mtn Mine, which was under new management this time, and was told they had fifteen baskets there. I decided to drive on up and take a look at them…Ray and I both have purchased baskets from there in the past when Bill and Faith were operating the mine for Jim Coleman, however since they had retired from operations there, things had not been going so smoothly there since. The new caretakers were a country couple and were very nice to talk to, however the baskets there were full of broken crystal plates and not worth the asking price at all. I did find a couple of burr clusters for sale tho that were bargain priced so I purchased them instead, paying what I would have spent on two baskets, they were coated on both sides with quartz crystals and many burrs of crystals as well, both of them beach ball sized. I was happy. I didnt know it til later, but my good friends David and Janyce Sorrells were over in the tailing piles at that time digging for quartz there…I found out the next day when they joined me at the Southfork Mine. I headed back to the condo for another shoot and shot this gorgeous sunset…..
Later I met up with Ray for supper at the Outback Steakhouse, everyone else was traveling in and arriving later that night, some not arriving til Friday night to go to the quartz mine with us…..think it is going to become my new steakhouse favorite, it was delish !!
Onyx and I retired early, as Friday morning was going to be an early one, meeting up with everyone who was going with us to Southfork Mine. We woke up just before 6 am again, to some gorgeous hues of red filling the eastern skies…like the sunset last night, this appeared to be a gorgeous duplicate of last night and just got better and better every few minutes….
…and a few minutes later, it morphed into this stunner as well….
..and just kept getting better as the skies lightened up….
…simply gorgeous is all I could think that morning….one of the best sunrises I have seen there for sure. Onyx and I drove up to McDonalds to meet up with Chuck and MacKenzie there for breakfast..they were already there waiting on us. We then drove over to the Valero Gas Station on Higdon Ferry Road just south of Hwy 270 to meet up with Jon and Ray, and then motored west to meet David and Janyce at the pull off spot across from the Crystal Inn, before heading on west to Mt Ida. More folks would be joining us the next day.
We met Tony at the entrance to the mine road and he led us down to it and thru the gate, that he had already opened for us…he had acquired a newer truck, this one a full size Dodge pick up with a flat bed on it, giving him more power and more cargo room than his older model Toyota pickup, which his girlfriend told me later that he still has. Chuck and MacKenzie went on up to the top of this mountain to start up at the older mine while everyone else walked into the newer mine to check things out. Janyce walked past and then backed back up a nice vug that was chock full of plates with large points all over the sandstone rock…
Janyce was so excited, she called David down from the top wall to check it out and then he got excited and called John down to take a look at it, that was fun to watch and listen to….
…after that John came up to my location on the upper wall to check out the vertical pockets in front of me and was quite impressed with this potential area right below me…
…hard to see in the photo above but there were crystals laying everywhere in that clay mud…I climbed up higher on the wall and worked another area that was chock full of crystals as well…while David and Janyce set about trying to liberate the crystal plates from that pocket down below…
…and John appeared to be trying to figure out where to start on his wall section…..
…and here is what I was looking at in front of me….
After prying several crystals from the pockets in front of me, an area including this pocket above and then an area above and below it about 2 feet wide by 8 feet high, for about four hours, I decided to get up and go get some water, and then do some surface collecting up on top. I let John know he could work the pockets if he wanted to, and Onyx and I headed up to the top of the mountain. Tony and his girlfriend had headed into town and locked us in, locking the gate behind them so we would not be disturbed by anyone else. He had some friends camped out nearby so we were definitely not going to be bothered by anyone. I got up on top of the mountain and parked down by Chuck, found him chiseling plates from a wall up there while Mackenzie was resting up……
…he told me that he had found some great plates and was able to liberate quite a few nice ones…I checked out the wall and saw some great little burrs of crystals all over the rock as well as some big points that were two to three inches in length. While he continued to hammer, I decided to walk the entire area up on top so I would have a good idea of what to tell everyone else when they returned with us the next day. Onyx and I walked down to the area right above the newer area where John, David, and Janyce continued to work…
…and then I turned around and began to look for crystals…finding several all the way back up the hill to the tailing piles above….they were literally laying all over the place, just like back in July when we were there and last fall when Virgil, Doug, and Ray joined me there for our first dig there….here are a few that I spotted, some I dug up and took with me and some I left for others…
…the last one above is a yard rock that I dug out the rest of the way, then rolled it over, the top of it was really nice, so I grabbed my four lb hammer and chisel, then popped the top of it off, came off very nicely, too. After that I took a few minutes and wrapped up my finds and downed another bottle of water…by then it was starting to get warm up there on top of the small mountain…course wearing a long sleeved sweat shirt didn`t help either. We loaded up and drove back down to the lower area to check on the rest of the crew, finding them tuckered out like we were, and ready to head back to Hot Springs to get some supper.
We did just that and had some great time at Habachi Sushi Buffet, David and Janyce stopped off at their camper to clean up and then drove down to join us there. Alan and Debbie had made it into Hot Springs by then, driving in from Memphis, so they joined us as well a few minutes after we started eating. Afterwards, Onyx and I headed to the Scoops Ice Cream Shop again, got another pint of chocolate chip and then headed to the condo to rest up.
The next morning, I grabbed a sausage and egg biscuit at McDonalds, then drove up to Valero to meet up with the rest of the crew including the Tyler, Texas folks that drove up Friday night to join us for the Saturday dig. As I pulled in and parked to lead out, Fred Mahaffey, the Field Trip Director from the Tyler Club walked over and let me know that he had a few folks along for the dig. Chuck and Mackenzie joined us soon after, as did Alan and Debbie, and John. Ray decided he had too much fun the day before at the quartz mine, and was going fishing that day instead. We loaded up and headed west to Mt Ida, picking up David and Janyce at the gas station on the west side of town, then drove on out to the mine. When we stopped at the gate this time, those of us not wearing neon orange or green shirts, donned our orange protective vests and proceeded up the hillside to the mine…this was the first day of gun deer season and we wanted to make sure no one mistook us for a deer. Fred, Jim, and Sydney, Jim`s daughter, Alan and Debbie, followed Chuck and Mackenzie up to the top of the mountain to search up there, while Janyce, David, and John returned to the new area to work the wall some more. Onyx and I drove on up to the top to see how everyone was doing and after the strenuous day before, I decided to simply help everyone new get started on finding some nice quartz. By the time we arrived, Alan and Debbie were doing pretty good surface collecting and the Texas crew was moving around finding some nice ones as well. I showed Fred, Jim, and Alan the wall that Chuck had been working and let them know that there were literally crystals laying all over the tailing piles as well. I spotted a few and handed them off to Fred, who started surface collecting in the piles near me in the middle….
….then noticed that Chuck and Mackenzie were surface collecting the old pit wall today…she was all decked out in multi colors today, in addition to her orange vest….
..in the meantime, Alan and Debbie were surface collecting…Alan down by the walls where Chuck was located the day before, and Debbie up on top of the hill…
After I could see that everyone was finding some nice stuff, I took a water break and then grabbed a bag and my mini mattox and set off in search of crystals once again. I started in the pit, found Jim and Sydney working the crystal wall and Fred looking around the backside of the wall…
…and then I climbed up on top of the hill to check out the boulders up there. Lo and behold, once up there, I discovered some nice clusters of small burr like crystals embedded in dirt in the top of a small boulder…small but not so small that I could get it into the bed of my truck…so I walked over to the truck and retrieved my hammer and chisel….here is what they looked like up closer….
…and here they are in the dirt on the boulder up close….
…I took a stretch break and looked around, spotted Janyce walking down into the old tailings area and Mackenzie and Sydney were working together at the bottom of one of the piles….
…Alan and Debbie came over to check out the clusters and I gave them a couple of them…then after clearing the boulder I decided to do a little surface collecting at the top of the hill piles and spotted some smokey colored crystals, so I sat down and started digging in..within a few seconds, I pulled out a big ball of clay that turned out to be a gorgeous burr cluster the size of a baseball in my hand. After I pulled out yet another one, Alan decided to sit down and dig into the huge pile next to me..within seconds I had a third one removed…all in all, I think I found about half a dozen of them…not all of them were smokey colored, but they were definitely pretty…I gave Alan a couple of them too. It was now approaching 3 pm so I wrapped up my clusters and then drove down to the new area to check on everyone down there. I found Janyce and David ready to pack up and head out, and John had a big smile on his face…
…..he was working on removing a huge burr cluster at the top of the vein he had been working all day. I let him know that he had about 20 minutes to do so and he started working on it a bit more earnestly…Chuck and I helped him as much as we could while he worked on getting it out intact….I found out later that he had a good reason for not having removed it earlier, he was also able to remove a couple of big points while we were there with him as well….
….and here he is trying to chip those out….
…and after removing those, he then started prying out the huge cluster above…within a few moments he had liberated it from the confines of that clay pocket and that smile on his face moments earlier now turned into a huge grin….
…soon after getting this wrapped up, I carried his tools down to his car, Chuck helped him carry the goodies to his car, and after he wrapped everything up safe and secure, we headed down the hill and out the gate, and down to Gary`s residence…to look over some beautiful Elmwood calcites, fluorites, sphalerites, and barites combined into gorgeous specimens. Gary has been collecting for 44 years, at one point he had a quartz mine of his own in the Mt Ida area and not only is a neat guy with a wealth of information but has a great collection of crystals and minerals as well. He enjoyed the visit with everyone as we did with him, and soon we were all headed back to Hot Springs for supper at various locations. The Texas crew headed to the Purple Cow and then headed home to Tyler…Chuck and Mackenzie headed to one of the Mexican Restaurants, David and Janyce headed back to their camper, and the rest of us, Alan, Debbie, John, joined me at the Habachi once again. We made plans to meet up again at the Valero the next morning about 7:30 am to drive down to Magnet Cove for a visit to one of the novaculite quarries. Onyx and I picked up a pint of butter pecan at Scoops and then retired back to the condo.
The next morning we had yet another foggy sunrise over the lake…
I decided not to eat any breakfast that morning as I would be leaving about 10:30 am to drive up to Waldron for our annual family reunion at the Thomas Family farm, my uncles and cousins cook and prepare a huge feast up there for many friends and family members who show up by early afternoon there. Onyx and I drove over to the Valero and found David, Janyce, Mackenzie and Chuck waiting for us, they were browsing inside when we pulled up…I checked my gas gauge and decided to fill the tank…as I was doing that, Alan and Debbie pulled into the next pump over to fill theirs as well. Now we were just waiting on John…I knew Ray wasnt going to make it cause he doesnt like novaculite like the rest of us do…I tried to call John a few times, called the hotel where he was staying and there was no answer so we decided to just give him a few minutes…and oila…he suddenly appeared…he had to load up the goodies he had brought for me to purchase from him and to trade with the others. He was also going to trade with Gary later that day for some luna agates from Mexico that Gary has in his collection. I called Mr. Parker to let him know we were running a bit late and he said he would wait for us at his shop in Magnet Cove. We took off and luckily the fog that was up on the hill in Hot Springs did not extend down into the valley of Magnet Cove, so we made good time and arrived shortly after our agreed upon meeting time of 8 am…then followed Mr. Parker over to his quarry, that required a bit more time as it was over some rough and super dusty gravel roads to reach it. Soon after arriving, he led us up to the area where they find many colors of novaculite and gave us a short history on the area first….
Mr. Parker is a super nice guy, he has owned and operated the Magnet Cove Stone Company for many years, it has been in his family for many years beyond that as well, operated by his father and grandfather both. He allows rockhounds and mineral clubs to come and collect there, as well as knappers, and sells much of the beautiful colored and translucent material to commercial markets, some of them overseas. Some of his material has also gone up in space on one of the space shuttles, used in the protective heat shield of the shuttles. There are about ten colors at the quarry in different sections there…I prefer the gray blending into the deep reds, found in the location we were standing in….
…and when we arrived, we met one of his employees who was cleaning out the rock in one of the new pits they had just dug out up there, he was also his best jackhammer man….
…we then all divided up and began looking for some pretty stuff to take home…Chuck and Mackenzie were finding some nice stuff pretty quickly….
…I picked up a couple of pieces there and then wandered over to the area on the other side of the vehicles, where I found John in the gray and red section…I found several nice pieces there that I wanted to take home. Mr. Parker only charges fifty cents a pound which is a good price for collectors and knappers alike. John broke out some of the material he brought down for me to look through, and some of the others came over to look it over too, and pretty soon they were all trading and buying from him. I was soon out of time and had to head out…I led David and Janyce a different way out, shortcut over to Hwy 70 where we turned west and headed back to Hot Springs, they going back to their camper to load up and head home to Paducah, and me on west to Waldron to my family reunion. Chuck and Mackenzie left about 30 minutes later headed home to St Louis County, Alan and Debbie headed back to Memphis, and John drove out to talk more with Gary and do some trading with him, before then heading on home to Illinois. Onxy and I arrived at the family farm about noon and visited with family members before the meal.
I had cousins there that traveled in from California that I had not seen for a few years, two sets of Korean cousins, of the four, my cousin John is a rockhound while cousins Marilyn and Carolyn are simply quartz crystal fans. It was about 2:30 when everything was done and everyone was fed and beginning to leave…I wanted to get back before dark if possible, so Onyx and I headed out soon after. I heard from Chuck by email when he and Mackenzie got back to the St Louis area safe and sound, and John kept me updated on his progress as well, he had the longer drive, ten hours at least. About a week after, he told me that when he was close to home, he struck a huge raccoon that came out into the highway in front of him, leaving him no choice…this thing was soo big that it took out a chunk of his bumper and also completely damaged his radiator…he spent the night in a gas station to keep warm and then his parents brought a flat bed trailer down to transport his car back home the next morning…his parents sound just like my parents…ready to help whenever needed. Onyx and I were relaxing down in the condo watching tv when I looked outside and thought things really looked bright out on the water…I walked out on the balcony and looked east and saw the moon rising up over the lake, looking HUGE….
…it doesnt look like it in these photos but it sure did look big there…it was super bright out there for one thing…I had been seeing it about five nights in a row by then and I didnt remember it being that bright the other nights…I shot some video of it that night as well and then shot some closeups of it as an airplane passed by it….
…we were now in relax and wind down mode, I had scheduled my vacation to include a few days of it, some at the beginning and one full day of it at the end…I really intended to sleep in the next morning but for whatever reason, was unable to do so..in fact we got up before the sunrise this time… I took Onyx out and saw the super moon dropping down to the horizon in the western skies right over the lake once again….
…and a few minutes later, the sun did come up in an orange glow at the other side of the lake….
Since I didnt hear from anyone else, it was a safe bet that by Monday morning that Onyx and I were the only ones left down there, so after repacking the truck for the return trip home….I visited with friends all day and one even drove up from Camden to have an early supper with me that evening at Outback…soon after he left for home, I took this pretty sunset photo….
…and after yet another relaxing evening with ice cream and tv shows…Onyx and I retired to bed and got up about 8 am to finish packing the truck, then we were on the road by 9 am headed to Fort Smith to pick up Mom and head home from there. I had four large yard rocks and three bags of wrapped quartz crystals, a flat of wavellite, a tub of geodes, and some novaculite pieces, and just enough room left over for all of Moms luggage…all in all, another great Arkansas vacation. If you have any questions, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org