Back in August, Ray Roth, one of my rockhunting friends from New Orleans, contacted me and asked me when I was going down to Arkansas for some quartz crystals. I told him I would be heading down there the second week of November and would have at least a couple of days free to dig quartz crystals. I usually have some photo work down there as well, but wanted to set two days aside for crystal collecting and set my vacation time up this year for just that. Ray said he would meet me down there and we stayed in touch through September and October by email.
He contacted me a couple of weeks ago, end of October and asked me about lodging options in the Mount Ida area, he was thinking about staying at the Crystal Inn once again, having stayed there before. I told him I would be staying at Mountain Harbor Resort, on Lake Ouachita, which was about five miles east of Crystal Inn and right on the lake. I mainly stay there because its one of the most dog friendly places to stay at, very scenic and pretty, and one of the few places I have found that has very friendly staff that are responsive to your needs. I have stayed at this place in the spring and fall both, one of the nicest and pretty places to stay at, with a staff that truly cares about your stay there. Ray asked for their website and I emailed it to him…he checked into it and decided to stay there as well, told me they gave him a great rate on a room that he couldn`t pass up. Their fall rates are much better because its their off season…and he was going to stay with them for about a week so they gave him a good deal. Their guestrooms are very nice…one or two king size beds and a sofa sleeper, fridge and freezer, coffee maker, patio with chairs and lake view, nice big backyard, and very pretty walk in shower with marble tile walls and glass doors. http://www.mountainharborresort.com is their website if anyone would want to check them out, very dog friendly place. They also have a great dining room in the main lodge and there is a massage and spa business located on the east side of the resort called Turtle Cove Spa, and besides walking trails there are also horseback rides and boating opportunities available too.
I like to stay in a log cabin when there, and made reservations for one back in August when I talked to Ray….thinking a few friends would visit with me while there and I would need the extra room…then found out the first two nights I wouldnt need the extra room. I mentioned that to the gals at the Lodge and they made me such a sweet deal, I just stayed in the cabin the whole time there. We were so busy during the day anyway, I didnt even notice no one else was there with me besides Missy, my border collie.
Ray arrived there on Tuesday, November 6th, the day before I did and the gals at the Lodge made him feel right at home. I took off Tuesday from my work, to get my packing finished for my trip the next morning, and to pack some goodies for Ray from Missouri and Kentucky both. I took him some fresh found druse and some purple fluorite from Marion, Kentucky, as well. Missy and I rose early the next morning, and after picking up my Mom, we headed west toward Joplin, where we would pick up Hwy 71 and head south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, our first stop. We made good time driving down there, nice sunny day and as we crossed the Boston Mountains on Hwy 71, we noticed quite a bit of color remaining in the trees in the mountain valleys…usually a good sign it will be colorful further south.
We soon arrived in Fort Smith, where I stopped off at my Uncle Harley and Aunt Dorcas` house, to drop my mom off…this is one of her younger brothers and he had already left for the family farm at Waldron to go deer hunting with more of our family members…Mom stays in Fort Smith and goes shopping with the gals til Sunday when we all meet at the farm for a reunion and dinner before heading home. I stayed and had a small lunch with Aunt Dorcas and Mom, and then filled the gas tank and headed south on 71 once again, passing through Waldron myself on the way to Lake Ouachita.
Waldron is where my Mom and Dad were both born and raised, and where they used to take my sister and I at Christmas when we were young and growing up…to visit my grandparents on my Mom`s side, at their dairy farm. I really cherish those memories…helping milk cows, feeding the calves….playing in the hayloft of Grandpa`s old barn…and I really miss my grandparents…my Grandpa lived to 90 years of age…milked cows til he was 65 yoa. Grandpa wasn`t one to sit around and do nothing in retirement though…so he went to work for the US Forest Service there as a carpenter, helping them build fishing docks and pavilions and picnic tables, and also helped them fight forest fires in that area…..and then retired himself 25 years later, and died soon after from a rare blood cancer, caused by moldy hay of all things. I remember his supervisor at his funeral service, came up to me and told me that my Grandpa was something else when it came to hard work…she was amazed at his strength and endurance one day when she left him with the truck and radio on a forest fire, and she took a crew of younger men up the mountainside to rake a fireline…she said about halfway up that mountain, they all came to a staggering halt…out of breath and about to collapse, grabbing on to small trees to hold themselves up…..trying to recover and gather some strength to continue up that steep mountainside…..when all of a sudden here came your Grandpa raking a line with a mattox, right on past them and up that steep mountainside, moving at a steady pace….she said he wasnt even breathing hard nor had he broken a sweat !! Needless to say, I dont think she ever doubted him again after that.
I drove on toward Mount Ida from Waldron, stopping off briefly near Y City to photograph the fall color on the Fourche La Fave River….
This is one of my favorite stops because the color along the river is simply beautiful…on both sides of the highway bridge…
I stopped just south of the river to check on a small waterfall in the area of the old store there…but apparently the river was down far enough that the waterfalls were not even running this year…so we turned east on Hwy 270 and continued toward Mount Ida. As I dropped off the mountain east of Pencil Bluff, I crossed the Ouachita River a few miles west of Mount Ida and had to stop and walk back to the bridge with my camera…
…it was absolutely gorgeous color on the east bank…and then I took a good look at the reflections in the water and in the distance the color on the trees on the hillside was fantastic too !!
I had planned to stop at Bob`s Food City there and pick up some milk for my cereal and some Blue Bell Ice Cream, but decided I would get it on Thursday instead. We continued on to Mountain Harbor and arrived around 4 pm. After checking in with Pati and Luann at the Lodge, I stopped off at Ray`s room and gave him his care package…six flats of goodies…we sat on my truck tailgate and he looked over the fluorite and was happy with what I brought him to add to his collection. He showed me a large package of frozen gumbo that he had cooked and brought to me…while I have never tasted it to my knowledge, my Dad LOVES it as does my Supervisor at work. I had him hold on to it while I was there. Missy and I headed over to the cabin to get settled in….
…and then headed back to the Lodge restaurant for supper with Ray. That`s another great feature of the resort…they have an excellent restaurant with great food and service, plus a nice view of the lake, as the restaurant sits up on a hill overlooking a large expanse of water there. I had been looking forward to their hand breaded chicken fingers and steamed veggies, with some of their homemade potato salad…and boy do they know how to brew some good sweet tea, too.
After a good supper, I checked my email and found a reply from an area mine owner regarding a visit at their mine on Thursday morning. I had contacted a buddy of mine, a quartz dealer who resides nearby, a few days earlier and asked for area mine information. Mike had told me that the only mine that was actually digging and open to the public in the area at this time, was Sweet Surrender Mine, north of Mt Ida near Story, on the north side of Lake Ouachita. I had heard of it but had never been there before. He knew the owner and suggested we go there and dig, maybe even talk to Randy the owner and see if we could work a deal with him on getting into a pocket. He told me that a fellow that he sent there two weeks prior, was able to get into a pocket that Randy found with the track hoe, and removed several buckets of crystals nice enough to wrap up. I told Ray and we decided to go there the next morning and see what we could find. I wish now we hadn`t gone there.
Missy and I woke up at sunrise and got a good hike in, walking the north lakeshore as the sun was coming up, this view of the main marina right off our cabin`s back deck…
..we then walked around the lakeshore toward the north marina…..
…..I was looking for quartz veins in the shale, to see if there were any crystals or just massive quartz….
..most of the lakeshore was made up of a shale shelf that stairstepped down to the water`s edge…this one shows two nice maple shrubs cloaked in fall colors….
…and occasionally we would come across chunks of massive quartz laying on the beach, in a manner of speaking, and sometimes in the edge of the water….
…and then we walked on around to the north marina via the lakeshore, here you see a couple more of the cabins on the lake…
…we then watched a couple of guys heading out of the harbor toward open water to get some fishing in….
…in the upper left hand corner of the photo above you`ll notice a house near the top of the mountain…its referred to as a glass house…I met the residents on my May trip there and photographed it the previous fall season there.
When the fishermen hit the open water, they really opened up the boat and took off…
…as we got over to the north marina, we hit a stretch of shale that looked pretty and shapely…looked like it would make nice stepping stones….
At this point, we reached the end of the road that our cabin was located on so we started back to it…passing Cabin 18 up as we walked back…I stayed in it a few years back for a couple of nights, its the most popular cabin they had back then, its the closest one to the water….
After a quick breakfast of Arizona Green Tea and a few cookies, we met up with Ray at the Lodge and then headed to Mount Ida…I needed to stop at the bank`s atm and then we drove north on Hwy 27 toward Story. We arrived about 9 am and parked in the parking lot at the top of the hill and met up there with Aaron, the owner`s son.
Aaron told us his dad, Randy, would arrive within the hour and after a bit of small talk, Aaron gave us the nickel tour of the mine property….
We explained to him that we were interested in getting into a pocket of crystals and he told us that two pockets had been discovered the day before. He took us down to the track hoe and showed us a few boulders that he had dug out the day before that were covered with some nice two and three inch long crystals..they were still covered in clay mud but you could tell they were nice sized. He also pointed out the location of the pockets in the pit below the track hoe, one up above a shelf and the other believed to be below the shelf and under a boulder that weighed a thousand pounds or more. I walked back up the hill to grab my camera and as I did, I looked around on the ground to see if I could spot any crystals laying around…seeing nothing more than alot of generic rock, dirt, and a few damaged crystals here and there occasionally. I have never been to a mine where nothing collectible was laying on the ground…til today.
Ray and I dug for a couple of hours and found absolutely nothing…let me rephrase that….we found absolutely NOTHING worth taking home with us……there, thats better. Randy arrived about noon and asked Aaron what we were finding…Aaron told him we were finding absolutely NOTHING and suggested that he fire up the track hoe and dig out the area a bit to see if any pockets were truly located there. After several attempts, and a battery jump with assistance from Aaron, Randy was finally able to start the track hoe and proceeded to dig out the area we had previously been digging in. Once finished, he pointed to an area farther up hill that he felt contained a pocket and then suggested that we start digging out the area we had already dug into. After a few minutes of digging and again, not finding or even seeing evidence of any crystals, he suggested that we settle up.
I wasn`t sure how Ray felt about it, but personally, I was not impressed with anything I had seen so far. I explained to Randy that while we had dug for a couple of hours, we had not located anything at all nor seen any evidence of crystals in that area. I asked him if it was possible for Ray and I to split the cost of a true pocket and Randy was not agreeable to that, wanting even more money than the other fellow paid, that Mike had referred to him. I advised Randy that I would have no problem paying that as long as he could actually point out the pocket and show us evidence of crystals inside that pocket, in other words, a sure thing, but I wasnt going to pay for a mere possibility of finding something or nothing at all. We couldnt come to an agreement other than to pay the normal dig fee, so we returned to the normal dig area. If anyone wants more information on this conversation, just email me and I will be glad to tell you about it, but let me say this, I would NOT recommend this place to anyone.
After about an hour of digging around and surface collecting in other areas of the mine property, which contained alot of shale and more damaged crystals, I told Ray I was ready to leave. I have never seen a mine with so much CRAPPY rock laying all over the place, total waste of time and money.
We headed back to Mt Ida, stopping off at Bob`s Food City and picking up some milk and ice cream…I had to get me some Blue Bell ice cream…. and then returned to the Lodge for supper. I told Ray we would go to Miller Mountain Mine the next morning…a mine that he would see and find lots of good crystals at…I have been there several times and NEVER had a bad day there…plus they only charge ten dollars a person, less if in a group of seven or more, they have reasonably priced baskets of crystals some of which come from a variety of mines in the area…. but I have always had good luck pulling some really good material from the baskets I have purchased there.
After yet another good supper at the Lodge, we retired for the night and prepared for a better day of quartz crystal collecting. For whatever reason, which I havent figured out yet, I again rose early the next morning…and Missy and I took off for another hike…thinking I`m supposed to be on vacation so shouldnt I be sleeping in later ?? This time Missy and I hiked over to the west side of the lake where we normally shoot sunsets from, the north point…this time though the sunrise this morning was putting on a good display and making me think it was sunset instead….
Looking the other way, to the east though, the sky was rather cloudy a few minutes later as we walked around to the campground side of things…
…there is a campground on the very north point of Harbor North side of Mountain Harbor, operated by the Corps of Engineers and closed this time of year…another shale lakeshore with some good color there…
…we then hiked down to the water`s edge facing south and photographed the reflections of the north side marina and boats….
…I looked at the clock on my phone and it seemed we needed to head back and get some breakfast down before we met up with Ray again, so I turned and shot the campground across the bay….
After cleaning up and getting some breakfast down, we met Ray at the Lodge and after checking email, we headed to Miller Mountain Mine via the backroads…Ray told me when we finally arrived there, that he was all turned around and didnt know how to get back to the resort from there now…I told him by avoiding the drive through Hot Springs we had probably saved about 30 minutes driving time going the backway. We stopped at the entrance rock shop and I introduced him to Faith…
……one of the caretakers, who with her husband Bill, helps run the mine for Jimmy Coleman, the owner. Faith was telling us that many of the fee based mines had shut down in the past year, due to the stringent and restrictive policies of the Obama Administration...she said the agencies that control the use of the land, environment, and safety of mines, were now regulating the quartz mines under the same set of rules and regulations that coal strip mines are governed by, and many of the mines had simply folded under the onslaught of paperwork, red tape, and hoops the owners were expected to jump through these days….. not to mention some of the outlandish things they were penalized and written up for. One of the mine owners had told us they were written up for not having a bathroom on the premises and the fine was five thousand dollars. After consulting with someone in the know about IMSHA rules and regulations, who wasnt able to locate any laws requiring one, and suggested purchasing a five gallon bucket with a toilet lid and disposable plastic bag inside the bucket…. the inspector on the next trip observed the bucket and voided out the citation to the mine owner. I have been to several mines, not just in Arkansas, but other states and there are many mines that do not have bathrooms on site and they widely publicize that fact. I think our government is becoming a sad state of affairs when they start harassing folks over idiotic stuff like this, and yes, the current administration should be held responsible for the conduct of the regulating agencies when it gets this bad. After all, wasn`t the phrase ” less government ” one of the campaign promises made to the people, just four years ago ???!!!! Yeah…thought so…someone up in DC needs to get a clue…all these people are trying to do is eke out a basic living…and if anyone up there thinks its an easy life, they oughta come on down here in their expensive three piece suits, and find out for themselves just how ” easy ” it is !
Most of these mine owners spend each moment of available daylight each day, digging in their mines or working to provide good tailings for the public to dig through to find crystals, not to mention working on the equipment when it fails, the cost of replacing parts to keep the equipment working, the cost of paying employees, maintaining a safe working area and environment at all times, preaching safety to the public visitors, and securing their sites. If you come across a mine owner who is working less hours…and there are a few of them these days…its because of the regulating agencies driving them nuts. I know I`m preaching to the choir for the most part…but why do we have even more government instead of less, like we were promised.
After talking to Faith, Ray and I took a look at the baskets they had left and then walked around looking at the clusters they had on display outside the shop, so Ray would get an idea of what could be found there. Faith told us that some folks there the day before, had found several smokies, so we headed on up to the parking lot, where I released Missy from the truck and we prepared to do some digging. I told Ray to get ready to find lots of crystals….
Faith told us there were five fresh piles up at the tailing pile area and the dirt above the piles had been turned over as well….
We both got changed into our boots and grabbed our buckets, bags, and tools and started looking around. Within the first eight minutes of searching, both of us had filled at least a bag or bucket and were going back for more. I no sooner stepped up into the dirt when I started spotting crystal points and tips sticking out of the dirt, and a few of them turned out to be smokies. Ray and I were about ten feet apart and within moments he spotted this nice golden healer cluster very close to his left foot and under a large dirt clod….
….one of my spectacular finds was a large crystal point that I found in one of the piles a few inches down…I spotted just a sliver of the crystal face sticking out and it just kept growing as I dug it out…in the photo below its in the center at the top….
…and here are a few more that I found within the first hour of looking around…
…so by this time I am definitely up on the dirt above the piles and working my way to the west, away from the entrance…and by this time we have been joined by another couple, Larry Badger of Kansas City, and his sister, who left there at 5 am and drove straight down to Miller Mtn Mine. Larry told us that he had talked to a country gal named Docia from the Salem, Missouri area and she told him he should drive down in the fall to get some Arkansas quartz…so he took her advice and brought not only his sister with him, but a couple of the Independence Rock and Mineral Club members as well. I told him Docia is one of my best rockhunting friends and we often rockhunt together, but this week is deer season and she cant be pried away from the woods in central Missouri this time of year.
I was inching my way west along the dirt wall above the piles and came upon this little number, palm sized and spotted the yellow color and the irredescence as well…
..I looked up to find Ray taking a break from digging….
…after he rested up, he turned around from where he was sitting down and dug down a little bit and within seconds, pulled this nice golden healer on the left side of the photo below, from the dirt wall….
…and a few seconds later, he spotted more yellow in the dirt and mere inches away from the first one…he pulled out these two one after the other….
…the cluster on the right up above, has a very large single crystal laying down above a multitude of smaller crystals…he was pulling out all of them amidst several oohs and ahhs from the rest of us…in all a total of five basketball sized clusters of golden healers and some smaller ones as well. We continued to dig and pick up crystals and clusters for the next hour, both of us finding several larger plates covered in a thick clay mud and some softball sized chunks as well. We took off about 4 pm after picking up a couple of baskets and bidding Bill and Faith good byes and see you laters.
We stopped off at Colton`s Steakhouse on the way back for a good steak and fixins…I contacted one of my models, Scott, who was just leaving his workplace and he met us at the steakhouse. Scott visited with us over dinner and then took off for home as we headed west to the resort. After checking my emails once again, Missy and I headed back to the cabin for the night. We had decided to try Judy`s Crystals the next day and dig at Fisher Mountain Mine, which is located south of the Mt Ida Airport. Ray didnt sleep well that night and called early to ask for a few extra hours of rest. I had no problem with that at all, getting another hour of rest myself, and then getting our walk in around the resort.
We walked down to the wood bridge on the Harbor North Road and shot the sailboats over at one of the Marina`s, looking toward the area of the Lodge….
…then heard a speedboat coming down the lake behind us, so turned around and snapped these guys speeding along against a wall of colorful fall foliage on the far shore….
…breezed by one of the newer family cabins on our way to the Lodge area….
…and then drove up to the Lodge area to see the big fireboat the resort has tied up at the main marina behind the seasonal Subway Restaurant….
…a retired Coast Guard Cutter that was actually purchased for the resort by a private donor in the area. I actually had the pleasure of touring it back in May when it was very warm both inside the cabin and holds as well as outside…the front machine gun had been replaced by a water deck gun, pretty neat investment for the entire lake area. I turned around and looked back to the east toward the boat launch site and saw some beautiful fall color as well as a couple of sailboats drydocked and sitting up high….
Missy and I headed back to the cabin to get in some breakfast and tv time while waiting for Ray`s phone call that he was ready to go to Fisher Mtn Mine. By noon, Missy and I were driving to Judy`s Crystals to meet Ray there…. arriving a bit early, I met and visited with Judy and her friends, and walked around the displays to see what Judy had for sale outside the rock shop…finding some pretty quartz clusters and alot of colorful slag glass, for the most part. Ray pulled up soon after and we made our arrangements with Judy to drive on up to Fisher Mtn Mine and see what we could dig up.
The Fisher Mtn Mine has alot of history associated with it…..it`s Ocus Stanley`s original mine….he is the guy that got the quartz crystal hunting craze started in the area….the mine sits on top of Fisher Mtn about two miles south of the Mt Ida airport, easily spotted on Google Earth Maps off Logan Gap Road before it intersects with Owley Road. For those of you that know Judy, she suffered a stroke about five weeks ago and is now hobbling around on crutches and recovering from it. She seems to be doing pretty well now, her only complaint that she hadnt been to the mine in six weeks. Ron Coleman also has an old mine up there, accessed by the same road, closed to the public by a very heavy steel gate.
This is the road that ascends much of the mountain to the mine, after passing through a very heavy steel gate off Logan Gap Road…a very pretty and scenic drive up I might add, this time of the year….
We ascended three times and leveled off three times in the mile and a half drive from the gate to the mine clearing…with a few scenic views of the mountains and valleys as we went…I had been told this might be a rough road, but as I pleasantly discovered, the lane was a thick carpet of oak leaves and pine needles under making for a soft ride instead with just an occasional rough spot along the way.
This was the view from the top of the mountain, when we arrived a few minutes later….
The view from up there was extraordinary…you could see to the south for miles and the color up there was pretty nice as well for a region without much rainfall since September, spotty but nice…
….with a large swath of pine trees right below the border of the mine itself…Ron Coleman`s mine on Fisher Mountain was through this gate and on down the road, closed to the public….
We parked near the pines at the top of the hill by the road and walked around to surface collect and get our bearings first…Ray had been to this mine last year and it took him a few minutes to figure out where his party had been digging at then…things were a bit different layout wise this time...
We walked down to the east end and only found more rock down there, no easy digging, so we returned to the main area and began looking for some potential areas to dig into……we met up with Larry Badger and the rest of his club party there…they had done quite a bit of digging since arriving there at 9 am, but hadnt found much and were preparing to head to a known locality for wavellite.
…we found a few small crystals after digging in some obvious areas already explored in….
Ray and I decided to explore under the roots of a few pine trees in the area and finally started finding a few crystals and clusters…nothing to write home about but more than we had found out in the open main area.
…after digging a few hours here… we started wrapping things up and on the way back to the trucks, Ray discovered a place where someone had recently excavated an entire sandstone shelf, apparently finding quite a few crystals of all sizes, yet breaking several in the process of removing them from the host rock. We were able to find a few in their highgrade pile as well as a few singles just sticking out from the host wall, to take home with us.
And now for the rest of the story on the history of this mine, told to me by several sources down there….several years ago, Ocus sold his remaining lease on the mine to Jimmy Coleman, who took his digging equipment up there and dug down into the sandstone and dirt…. discovering a huge crystal cavern, with large crystals in single points, doubles, and clusters with VERY BIG crystals attached to the walls and the ceiling…they removed as many as they could and took them to the Tucson show, where he made a huge profit selling them. The story I was told…by two different people who dont know each other but know that area well…was that while removing those crystal clusters, a hole opened up in the back wall behind that cluster… they took a flashlight and looked inside…. saw a cavern even bigger and deeper than the one they were standing in, also loaded with crystals and clusters, some of them looking like they would fit on a pallet just fine. They covered the opening to the original cavern with plywood and dirt…. and made plans to return to excavate the second cavern, but alas, the Forest Service refused to allow Jimmy back in nor honor the remaining time left on his lease. After hearing what he had paid the Forest Service for that lease, I can well understand why many people have no respect for our Forest Service any longer. Things like this can leave a bad taste in your mouth.
We returned to the resort after descending down the mountain and relocking the heavy steel gate and returning the key to Judy`s Crystals Shop, just in time for a pretty sunset over the lake…
…then I tried a few with a new sunset filter, designed for those evenings when you have just plain clouds and this soups it up a bit…
..had to play with it a bit to get the water to turn darker too, otherwise you can tell a filter has been used….
…had a good supper of hand breaded chicken fingers once again, with the homemade potato salad…they really believe in feeding you there at the Lodge restaurant…then went back to the cabin to finish as much of the blue bell moo-lenia ice cream as I could. Missy and I got up about 7 Sunday morning, got a short hike and run in before packing the truck for the drive home, and before it started raining…the skies were dark when we finally stepped outside the cabin to take hike around the shore again…there was an extensive cold front coming in from the west, part of the Brutus Storm that had pounded the northwest with heavy snows earlier in the week, but the forecasters had said the storms and rain showers would hold off til noon at least…guess they were wrong again. We headed up to the Lodge to check out and check my email once again…and while there I updated the McRocks board too. Ray came down to send us off and gave me a big frozen chunk of gumbo to take back with me, and said, ” lets do this again sometime ” 🙂 He wasnt leaving til Monday or Tuesday and said he would let me know that he made it home safe and sound, his drive is about as long as mine, eight hours.
Here are some of my clusters and crystals all cleaned up.
this one above is one of the many that I found in the baskets I purchased at Miller Mtn Mine, some very pretty crystals can be found in them.
and this next one shows a cluster plate that I found at Miller Mtn Mine, covered in mud and had no clue what was under it but its about 14 inches long and eight inches wide, three inches high and chock full of yellow golden healer crystals, a few damaged but many are just fine and exceptional…..hard to tell from this photo, so I`ll try to reshoot and repost a better photo of it later this week. I was very happy though, when I cleaned the mud off and saw what I had. 🙂
if you have any questions or wanna say hi, give me a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org