My Fall Vacation in Arkansas 2018

This year was the coldest fall season in southern Arkansas I can remember…been going down there for about ten years now for my fall vacation and I don`t remember a day when the temps fell under 60 degrees down there in years past. For ten years before that, I used to drive out west, starting in Breckenridge, Colorado and would spend about a week driving around the state before driving to Utah and then south to Page, Arizona, near Lake Powell and spend a few days there before making the long drive home.  It was always cooler out there, sometimes I even saw snow, specially at the higher elevations, even drove thru it at times, usually on my way to Aspen to photograph one of the prettest locations on God`s Green Earth…the Maroon Bells…if you ever get the chance to go there, DO SO…you will not regret it…especially if you go in the fall when the aspen trees are turning color…best time of the year to go in my humble opinion. 🙂

The last time I was there was 2012, when I took Mom and Dad out to Colorado to see the fall color for their 50th Anniversary…we got there before the sun came up over the mountain behind us…which is why that shadow on the left is so deep, you have to wait til 9 am for the sun to come up over that hill and fully illuminate the left side of the lake and hillside…we were there long enough it finally did so…

…btw, the Bells are those two twin mountain peaks covered in snow…they appear to be towering right over the top of the lake, but believe it or not, they are actually 28 miles behind the lake…and one other thing, if you have to stop multiple times on the way up the road leading to the Bells…only one way up there and back out…don`t feel like the Lone Ranger, cause I don`t know anyone, myself included, who could come up that road or drive back down without stopping about every 50 feet to shoot the gorgeous color and scenery. One of these days, I wanna return to Colorado and just spend a couple of weeks shooting the scenery and rock hunting !! 

The only thing I didn`t back for my trip to Arkansas this year, was my heavy winter coat…I had the thought that I might need it if it turned cooler down there than normal, which it did, and was a bit cool on the way down there too…but for whatever reason, I did not pack it in my truck and would speculate now that I likely thought I had the truck packed as full as could be and would not be able to find a spot for it, but I sure did miss it a few days and nights down there. Onyx and I dropped Mom off at Fort Smith at the hotel and then we headed over to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to visit with my buddy Adam, who used to do a lot of quartz and wavellite hunting in the Mt Ida area, in his younger years…these days he is into knapping big time. He was going thru some of his older collection the other day and found a bucket of old wavellite from the Avante area…he told me to come by and visit and check it out, so I did. We had a great visit for about an hour and then he had to get to his new job and we had to head south.

I wanted to get to Mt Ida by 4 pm, but that didn`t happen, so we motored on down to Hot Springs, arriving at the condo with just enough daylight left to unpack the truck. I like to get there with a little daylight left so I can capture the nice sunset, but there would not be a nice sunset this evening, unless you like two or three tone gray colors in your sunset…

…the sunrise, the next morning, was a little better, not alot, but some better….

…and while it appeared to dawn clear and bright…it didn`t last long…clouded up and rained most of the day so my plans to drive back up to Mt Ida and visit some dealer friends fell through. I did get a chance later in the day when the rain shut down a few times briefly, to photograph some fall color at a couple of my favorite places in the area….this one is a waterfall I like to shoot occasionally near Hot Springs…

…and this is a house on a pointe across from the condo I stay at…called Tanglewood Pointe, they have lights down by the water all the way around it that stay on all night long…

and another one of my favorite places is De Soto Lake on the north side of town, with a man-made dam….

…about 50 yards below the dam, there is a neat little stone building with a huge steel water wheel attached to it, an old motor inside the building with gears and wheels…it`s an old pumphouse that generated electricity for the Colonel Fordyce Estate up above the lake and pumphouse…usually very pretty in the fall season but this year the trees around it had already lost alot of their leaves, so here is how it normally looks in the pretty fall season as it did here in 2014….

…the stone bridge in front of it, has a little waterfall below the opening too…and the road that runs along the lake above is named after the bridge, Stone Bridge Road….however there is another stone bridge at the other end of the lake, so it might be named after that one….decisions, decisions…

…stunning huh ?  one of these days I have to get up on the hill and check out the estate up there, see if it`s as pretty as this. 🙂

The weather finally cleared off by mid afternoon and I was headed up to Mt Ida when I received a phone call from the condo owner, she had been trying to reach the direct tv people in Hot Springs for me, to come fix the main tv in the condo for me, and she finally had them on the way, so I had to turn around and head back to the condo to wait on them, as there was no one else in the area that could let them in. Not long after they arrived and fixed it, I heard from Slade that he had made it into Hot Springs, was checking into his hotel and could meet me for dinner earlier than 7 pm…I let him know I would meet him at the Hibachi Sushi Buffet about 6 pm. Everyone else that was coming in for the Friday dig, would be arriving later that evening and we would meet up at the Valero the next morning and drive on up…John and Mary from Northwest Illinois were driving in late that night and were staying in Mt Ida, along with Pete and Mary from Ohio, and would meet us along Hwy 270 up there the next morning. Slade and I had a great meal at the Buffet as usual, they have American and Chinese cuisine both, as well as a 30 foot long sushi bar. I asked Slade how much room he was gonna have for the trip back, cause I had six flats for him to take back to Harry Polly and Larry Huffman for me, they purchased some poker chip and druse quartz combination clusters from me…he said he brought some cases to put them all in and thought that would be the best way to transport them back…I thought that was a great idea and commended him for good thinking. Onyx and I drove over to the home made ice cream place called Scoops, to get another quart of turtle tracks for me and some vanilla ice cream for him, before heading to the condo. I heard from John just before 10 pm, that he had just crossed into Arkansas from Missouri…he had drove down thru my town on his way to Salem to deliver some Linwood Barites to a buyer, earlier in the day…I figured he had at least another three hours of driving before he reached Mt Ida.

The next morning`s sunrise was very pretty…

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…an hour later, as Onyx and I were leaving the condo complex to head up to the Valero Station to meet up with the others, I shot this looking west…

….the news that morning said something about a chance of rain that morning in the Mt Ida area…the clouds looked at that moment, like rain clouds to me…I hoped it would be done raining by the time we arrived. We got to the Valero Station to find Slade there parked and waiting, ready to go and a bit worried that no one else was going to show up…I let him know it would prob just be us and Julie, and we would pick up John, Mary, Pete, and Mary at Mt Ida, and Tony would meet us at the mine gate at 9 am.  Julie arrived soon after in her big van, with her daughter Stephanie,  and we took off westbound on 270 toward Mt Ida. We stopped briefly at Burl`s Country Smokehouse so I could get a sandwich for me and Onyx, however they were not even open yet…which from years past, is highly unusual…we have stopped there several times early in the morning like this and found them open at daylight…we drove on to Mt Ida and a few miles out of town, I called their Subway to make sure they were open…they were so I let Mary and Pete know we would stop there for sandwiches for lunch. We arrived there a few minutes later and found Mary and Pete waiting for us…John and Mary were still at the hotel but drove by while we were inside getting food and they went on to Southfork Mine to meet us there. When the rest of us pulled up to the mine gate about 20 minutes later, we found John and Mary waiting on us, and shortly after, Shane Manley pulled in and parked on the right in front of my truck…he is Tony`s partner and was bringing some flats of smokey crystals for us to purchase. I have talked to Shane by email and Facebook several times, he was very helpful on several rockhunting matters, and we finally had the opportunity to meet in person. He also brought four baskets full of crystal points with very nice prices on them…Tony arrived while we were looking thru the baskets and flats of goodies….

….they did not last long with my group there, let me tell ya….as I was talking to Tony about where we could dig the next day, after our plans had been changed twice before we even arrived down there, explaining to him how Wegner didn`t stay in touch with us and kept changing the rules on the second truck for the Phantom Mine trip….Shane suggested that we drive over to the new mine and dig there on Saturday…we were ecstatic to hear that and we quickly said YES !!  We agreed on a time and location to meet up with Shane the next morning and then we loaded up, crossed the creek and drove up the hill to the top…the first part pretty and easy….

…Tony had his expansion order approved and brought in a logging operation to help him clear the area…they in turn had messed up his road going up the hill.

Normally it`s a solid road, has a few ruts, but we have never had any problems going up or down it…this time, it was a different story, soft mud, limbs down, a BIG boulder close to the uphill left side, and deep ruts…John and I stopped Julie who was in front of me and behind John, and we convinced her to park in the wide spot behind us and then walk up the hill, her van would never make it even halfway up and she might get stuck blocking the road, so she decided to take our advice and park down below…a few minutes later, riding up with Tony and his dog in his powerwagon pickup, she was glad she made the decision to park below…..

…the rest of us had no problems either, although even with new tires on mine and in four wheel drive, I did slip and slide a little…fun ride tho, nothing like off roading once again, felt like a youngun again, lol. 🙂 We all got up there, got our boots on, grabbed our tools, our buckets, our wraps, my camera, and headed up to the mine to look around and start looking for pretty quartz crystals…when I got up there and looked to my right,  where Tony had started digging a new pit, I spotted Slade on the other side holding up a nice big crystal point that he had found within minutes….

…then I looked left and spotted Ohio Mary down below clowning around in the red clay dirt…

…and behind me was Tony`s trackhoe with Stephanie and Julie getting organized to the left of it….

…when we arrived at the top of the hill at the old and new mine combined, there was a small black and tan dog waiting for us, looked as if it had been dumped and she was as cute and nice as could be, well mannered, hungry and when she saw Onyx and Tony`s dog, she lit up and you could tell she just wanted to play. She stayed right with those two dogs the entire time we were there, and later when Tony headed home, he took her with him, which I thought was very nice of him to do…here she is with Onyx following John up the tailing pile hill because he had ” treats ” in his hands….

John and Slade went up and over the hill and down into the old mine area and began working the walls looking for quartz pockets…and found some…they were still down there working them when I wandered down in the afternoon. I started surface collecting in the upper end of the new pit area, found several fist sized clusters and single points right away and dug in to the soft clay dirt in a few areas and found even more small clusters. I filled a bucket pretty quickly and returned to the truck to empty it, wrap up the good ones and then return for more collecting.

As I did, I spotted Julie and Stephanie over on my right, above the old area and just behind the new pit area…

and I looked down below and spotted John talking to Pete along the old wall, while Mary was surface collecting the center tailings area…

…and looking back toward the entrance at the top of the hill, there was Julie and Stephanie on the left side and Ohio Mary down in the pit Tony was digging out….

Tony decided to climb up into his trackhoe and clean out the upper end of the pit for us to comb thru some more…

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….I spotted Slade`s pick on the other side and went to retrieve it before Tony got to it with the bucket, let him know I was going after it, and then I climbed up on the hill on the other side…Julie held on to Onyx for me so he would not naturally follow me over there….

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I took a lunch break after retrieving Slade`s tool and ate my half of the sandwich, well all but the last few bites, gave that to the new dog, and Onyx his half as well. I then grabbed my mini mattox and bucket and headed down to the lower area where John and Slade were working the old wall, wandering around the tailing piles, picking up small clusters and single points too, that were laying all over the place. I came across a couple of skinks in the clay dirt, one under a rock and another out in front of the rock…John was seeing them all over the place too….

…while I was up on top of the hill, I also let the others who were driving down that evening, know we were going to the new mine tomorrow and as expected, the reactions were much the same as ours…everyone was excited !! David Hodge called me to check on our plans for Sunday and when I told him where we were going the next day, he forgot about Sunday and decided he would meet us at the meeting place the next morning instead. I made a wide loop around the base of the old mine on top of the hill and then made my way thru the pines on the south side like I did last year, finding a few more nice small clusters to add to my bucket. By 4 pm, everyone was pretty much ready to leave, including John, so we made our way down the hill and to the gate, which I had to re-open so we could all get out, as Tony had locked us in when he left earlier in the day. I was pretty tired by this time, luckily Pete was right behind me and he came up and helped me with the heavy steel gate after I finally got the lock opened. After everyone got thru the gate, John came back and helped me re-secure it and then we headed back to Mt Ida, where Pete, Mary, John, and Mary dropped out of the wagon train and the rest of us headed back to Hot Springs. At some point we lost Julie to a gas station along 270…I heard from Fred who had arrived in Hot Springs a little earlier and was hungry, asked where we were eating supper and what time. 🙂 I let him know we would prob return to the Hibachi Sushi Buffet about 7 pm and let Julie know as well.  Slade and I got stuck in some slow traffic til we got to Royal and then things finally opened up a bit for us and we then made good time to Hot Springs. We met up with Fred at the HIbachi just before 7 pm and had a great supper. Onyx and I returned to the condo for some ice cream and tv before bedtime. I had a few text messages from the others letting me know they would likely be in late and Chuck, who was riding with me in the morning to the new mine, so his wife and kids could go shopping, let me know he would be outside my door at 6:15 am, as we were going to have to go pick up Justin, whose car was in the shop. The sunrise the next morning was absolutely gorgeous and I had just enough time to shoot this image and some video of it…

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Well I had just enough time to post the sunrise on my FB page before Chuck and I took off…I had Justin`s address, he forgot to give it to me the night before and texted me about 5:30 letting me know he was awake and ready to go…think he was like everyone else, supercharged and excited for what we might all find there. Tony told us the day before that all we were going to have to do was sit down at the tailing piles and dig in, and the crystals were so plentiful that they would just roll down into our hands and laps…I haven`t been to a mine like that yet, so I think we were all looking forward to seeing and experiencing that. We arrived and picked up Justin and then headed over to the Valero Station…Slade was again the first one there and lined up ready to go…we had eight more this morning and there had been eight of us total on Friday, so we were now at 16 rockhounds.  Everyone but Patty, Colby, and Gabriella Herman had arrived at the Valero meeting spot….I had let them know last night to meet us instead at the De Soto Park parking lot, on Hwy 7,  just north of the Hwy 7 Business Route that runs thru the National Park Campground. We arrived there at 7 am and did not find them there, so I called Patty and she said they were at Whittington Park, I let them know to get on Hwy 7 and go north and they arrived a few minutes later, and after talking a few minutes, we headed northwest, forty minutes later we arrived at the meeting spot to find John, Mary, Pete, Mary, waiting for us…a few min later, David showed up and soon after, Shane and his son-in-law arrived too. After paying him our fee, he took us up to the new mine and helped us park, then explained the boundaries to us and turned us loose to dig and hunt.

…sure was pretty on the way up there….

…here are the tailing piles around the pit….

….which had some water on one end, but luckily Tony and Shane had told us where to dig, so we would not get wet….and let me say this…what Tony said the day before about digging in the tailing piles and the crystals rolling down into our laps…was SPOT ON CORRECT…cause that is EXACTLY what happened to us !!

Here you see John and Slade down in the pit digging where Tony and Shane told them to, while Colby, Justin, and Chuck are up above on the other side, checking the tailing piles….

….there were several piles around the pit and they all had some GREAT stuff in them, from single large points to baseball sized clusters to candle stick size points…Justin found one that was like a scepter of two long crystal points somewhat blended together. Many nice ones were found both in the pit and in the tailing piles. A few of us took off and backtracked along the road to a few other dig sites and checked them out to see if there was potential for the group to go to one of them and find some nice stuff as well, however we did not find much of anything at any of those spots, and we returned to the new mine pit shortly after. We took a lunch break and David came over to show me some beautiful calcite crystal plates that he had found at a quarry in north central Arkansas…I had heard about this quarry from some friends at MAGS…this first plate he showed me has a few sharply pointed crystal tops with very small pagoda caps sitting on the very top edge of the crystals…

 

He also showed me some phantom calcite crystals that were very pretty and unique as well…

….I called John over to take a look and he was like me, very interested in each type of crystal that could be collected at this location….

Justin walked over and was totally mesmerized by one of the pagoda calcite crystals…you can slightly tell by the look on his face….lol….

David also brought some large dogtooth calcites to show us…

….and John was very taken with them as well….

 

we dug for another four hours and then began to get out of there and off the hill and back to Hot Springs to clean up and go to supper at the Hibachi Sushi Buffet again. I was pretty tired and intended to take a nap when I got back but for some reason, I did not do that. We were to meet at the Hibachi about 6 pm…I shot the sunset…..

…..and then stepped outside to drive to the restaurant….Chuck and his family offered me a ride there in their new Chev Traverse SUV and I wish now I had taken the offer. When Chuck and I returned to the condo, I had backed in to the parking spot at an angle and I did not straighten it out…I should have, but didn`t…so when I got in to head out, I came out at the angle I was in there at, and struck the rear bumper of a pickup sitting next to me…I stopped and got out to look, and found my cab doors damaged and paint removed as well at the bottom of both doors, just from hitting the bumper and tail light of the other truck, which was smaller than my truck..wow…kinda bummed me out a bit. I had not seen the truck there before, and had no idea where the owner was, but there were only a few condos occupied, so I went to the two below me and found the owner in the second one I checked. I let him know I had struck his truck, think he was a bit upset at first, not that I had struck his truck, but that I was taking him away from the Arkansas football game on tv….he and Chuck assisted me in getting my truck unhooked from his bumper, he finally had to pull his truck forward about a foot in order for me to do that, and then it was obvious that I had damage and his truck had none…all he had to do so was buff his bumper and tail light with a cloth the next day and it was fine. He was very nice to deal with, we exchanged info and he told me that if he felt there was any damage the next day after looking at it in the light, he would call me. I never did hear from him…I took some photos the next day after I got back from the mine…

…and reported it to my agent on my return home…first accident I have been at fault,  in 42 years of driving…Fred called while we were exchanging info, he thought maybe I had napped and overslept or forgot to set the alarm…let him know what was going on and that we would be there soon. We arrived about ten minutes after the meeting time, there were about 14 of us there and they ushered us into a private dining room. I think some were afraid to talk to me, thinking maybe I was mad, but like I told Slade and Fred, my doors still open, close, and lock just fine, and this is exactly why you have insurance and full coverage at that…I have always carried it from the time I began driving because back then I was driving to fire calls and it was pretty much required, so I have just always  continued to carry it and you never know when you might run into someone that has no insurance, even tho most states these days require it, some still fall thru the cracks. As I said earlier, I was a little bummed out that the guy`s smaller truck bumper was tougher than my Toyota truck doors, but what can ya do about it…take it to the body shop and let them restore it to it`s original luster is all. While at supper, I called Shane to see if it was okay for us to return to the new mine the next day about 11 am…I told him we wanted to visit his Dad at his rock shop about 9 am and then drive over to the new mine, and he said that would be fine, he would meet us at the same spot at 11 am. A few of the group had heard of the forecast for bad weather north and east of us, so they decided they would be on the road home early…Slade for one, as he had a good 12 hour drive home to North Carolina and didn`t want to hit that bad stuff on Monday instead. Chuck decided he would drive up to see Mr. Manley at his rock shop with us and then return to Hot Springs, pick up his family, and head home too.

So the next morning, we met at the Valero Station once again..we had a little speed bump in the road when Patty called and said they were apparently at the wrong Valero Station cause they didn`t see any of us there…they were at Central Ave and 270 Bypass, so I told them to get on 270 westbound and go half a mile and look for us on the shoulder, and then we would motor on up the road and pick up the others at Mt Ida, so that is what they did and we were soon on the way west, arriving to find John and Mary already there and talking to him at 8:45 am. We had a great visit with him, I think everyone bought something from him, he still had a few pieces of smokey quartz from the new mine that was found in February earlier this year…and some great wavellite too…I purchased a few quartz pieces and some wavellite for sure too. We then bid Chuck good bye and then we headed toward Jessieville, arriving just ahead of Shane, who was again out deer hunting with his son-in-law…Shane had shot a deer just moments before we arrived at the meeting spot…he opened the gate for us and then returned to clean the deer, said he would check on us later. I decided that this time, I was going to check out a test hole dig down the hill a bit from the main mine first…I found a few down there, but nothing really super nice…John came down there for a few min and found a couple of nice points too…then we walked back up and I sat down where David was sitting the day before, and immediately started finding several crystal points just rolling down into my lap, much as it had been the day before…here are a few that I put on the tailgate a few min later….

…as I was arranging the crystals above to take some photos, Colby came back to his car to retrieve a pick, and I mentioned something about the ski gear he had on to stay warm, it was much colder today at 11 am then it had been the day before…he posed in his gear with the pick in his hands for me…

…thanks again Colby…great job !!

  I grabbed another bucket and decided this time to get down into the pit and dig into the wall next to John and see what I could find down there….

….he put me in the spot Justin had started in the day before…just left of Mary in the photo above where the pick is leaning up against the dirt….

….and within seconds, I was finding several nice crystal points and some long slender crystals as well as a few nice clusters….I was giving some to John as well and within 90 minutes I had filled two five gallon buckets and decided to take off. I had a friend driving over from the Memphis area and I wanted to get back and cleaned up before he arrived, in case he got lost on the way in…I took a few more photos before leaving…here is Patty and Julie, with Stephanie behind her, digging in the front tailings pile…and doing well I might add….

…and Patty`s plastic tub of fried chicken that she brought to share with everyone…I mean her plastic tub of crystals that she found…they look like fried chicken up close….

…and up close with crystals she just found in the pile….

…and Julie with her phosphorescence pink bucket….I woulda swore that was fuscia colored myself….lol 🙂

…I took off shortly after and headed back to the condo to meet a friend that was coming down from Tennessee to visit with me while I was nearby. It rained pretty much the whole day on Monday so we were limited what we could do and he headed back home by early afternoon, so Onyx and I just cleaned up and prepared to head home the next morning. I had my last quart of Turtle Tracks and rested up a bit. I figured I would try to contact two of the dealers in Mt Ida the next morning on my way home, but both were unavailable so I continued to head to Fort Smith, even thought about stopping by the family farm to visit with family, however Mom had told me by phone the other day that they would be in the woods hunting til about 11 am, which is about the time of day that I picked up Mom and headed north toward home. 

**  I want to explain one thing about this trip….maybe this will prevent someone else from going through the same bs that I experienced. My group and I went to Wegner`s Phantom Mine one day last year in November 2017, and enjoyed it so much, we returned in March of this year for two days in a row, and again, had a great time, although most would prob tell you that the one day last year in November was much better than the two days in March, and that would be because they had 18 inches of rain the week before we arrived in March and we were limited to the tailing piles only, which had not been turned over for sometime.  I contacted Wegner`s a few months back and started inquiring if the dates of Nov 10th and 11th were available for us to return there again…they were I was told, so I let them know my group would like to return and reserve those dates, my initial head count was 20 rockhounds and I requested two trucks so that it would be a comfortable ride, I let them know that Mr. Wegner had told us in March that if we returned with at least 20 folks, he would commit to two trucks for us. When staff checked with him, he said we would need at least 22 people before he could commit two trucks…two weeks later my head count was 23 rockhounds and I updated staff…they checked with him and I was advised that he now wanted us to bring 30 rockhounds before he committed to two trucks…my response was not pretty nor did I intend for it to be…when I get aggravated like that, I get pretty sarcastic…I told him to pick a number and stick with it, keep his word !!  Staff promised to find us seven additional people so we could have a second truck…a week went by, then ten days, and I checked with my group, told them what was going on, let them know I had a backup mine we could go to, possibly for two days, they were all fine with that, plus it was going to be less money. Wegner wanted $ 44 per person for four hours dig time, including that amount for three kids that were going to be there, two of them under the age of ten, the other mine was going to be less than half that cost, we could stay all day, and no charge for the kids. I let Mr. Wegner know that we were cancelling our trip and he replied that they had found us seven more people to go in with us…I told him too little too late, he could have, and should have, communicated that much sooner, we exchanged several emails, I told him he was going to miss out not only on our full amount times 23 people, but each time we had been there before, everyone in my group had spent even more money in his nice rockshop and he would miss out on that as well, mainly due to his inability to keep his word and his inability to communicate with us…but of course, none of that was his fault, he placed all fault on me…I still have the emails to prove it if need be. He did promise to refund my deposit that I had paid a month out for everyone in my group…however he did not put it through, staff did that a few days later once they became aware, through me, that I had cancelled the trip…he didn`t even update his own staff that we were not coming down there…makes one wonder for sure. **

Other than that, we had a great trip down there this fall season….Mom, Onyx, and I rolled into Sullivan by 4 pm on Tuesday, Nov 13th, a day ahead of the big snowstorm headed our way. Had a great time, just wish it would have been warmer down there, hope everyone else had as good a time as we did. 🙂

Here are a few of my crystals cleaned up from the new mine….