Where can you find the world’s finest quartz crystal? You could travel to the steamy jungles of Brazil, or you could be one of the countless families and rock hounds from around the world to visit the best quality quartz crystal mining in the Ouachita Mountains.
Mines of the Ancients
Near the end of the ice age, small groups of Native Americans hunted the Ouachita Mountains using chiseled stone spear edges. They chipped quartz into sharp points for arrowheads and used crystal-headed spears to hunt mammoth, mastodon and bison. Beneath the waters of Lake Ouachita lie submerged traces of the Caddo communities that inhabited the area in later centuries.
Native Americans used quartz in rituals and traded it with other tribes. They believed the clear stones to have spiritual significance, and prized them as sacred. Unfortunately, the mines of later settlers obliterated most the remnants of their prehistoric excavation.
Where Did it Come From?
During the Ordovician age, the Ouachita Mountains were a deep ocean environment on the southern part of the plate that became North America. As continental plates moved and collided, land folded to become the Ouachita Mountain Range. The mountains are very old, so what was once at the surface now lies deep within the earth.
As the mountains folded and faulted, silica-saturated fluids flowed into the cracks. Time and intense pressure compacted silica deposits into crystal. As surfaces weather away, that crystal becomes exposed.
The Early Days of Crystal Mining
Hernando De Soto was the first European explorer to venture in to Arkansas. He was a cruel soldier, but a successful explorer who made his fortune conquering Native Americans in Central and South America and selling Indian slaves.
In June of 1541 De Soto crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas in search of gold. He soon noted the quartz the Native Americans of the region used in their weaponry, but that wasn’t the type of treasure he was looking for. On his return home, he became sick and died. The Arkansas natives dug up his corpse, weighted it and dumped it into the Mississippi.
Three hundred years later geologist Henry R. Schoolcraft wrote six volumes on North American cultures. In his books he noted the region’s quartz crystals. Not long after, miners began to unearth deposits in Garland and Saline County.
At first, diggers could mine wherever they could carry their pick and scratcher. Then during World War II the military used Oscillator-grade quartz for communication equipment. The demand skyrocketed and quartz mining regulation began.
Later General Electric developed the ability to grow artificial quartz. In 1976 the Arkansas General Assembly designated quartz crystal as the official State Mineral. Commercial mines and tourists still extract high quality quartz from the Ouachita Mountains.
What’s It Like to Mine Crystal at Lake Ouachita?
Mount Ida is named the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World for a reason. Many crystals are completely clear and colorless with shiny prism faces. First time mine visitors are amazed to see quartz crystals glittering from the hillside or lying in chunks on the ground.
There are several mines in the area that allow tourists to dig. At most of them, visitors are free to dig from the walls and floor of the pit for a fee. When you go, you’ll need the following:
- Digging tools – Hammers, a large screwdriver, a garden trowel, or a prybar.
- Buckets – Grab what you took on your last beach vacation. If you don’t have buckets, a gallon sized Ziploc or grocery bag with handles will do.
- Water – Staying hydrated is important no matter what time of year you mine.
- Food – If you’ll be there a while, take a snack or picnic.
- Old clothes – Crystal mining is dirty work. Red dirt stains.
- Closed toed shoes – Because dropping rocks on your feet when you’re wearing flip flops spoils an otherwise great vacation.
If you're really lucky you can have the opportunity to visit with one of the mine owners. We enjoyed our afternoon visiting with the owner of Wegner's Crystal Mines, Richard Wegner!
At many of the mines, as you chip away at the dirt you’ll see gleaming points or flashes of light. Here’s a video of a demonstration at the Twin Creek Mine. When you find it, your tools will help you gently extract the pieces you’re interested in.
For links to some of the best crystal mines, see our resources page.
Mountain Harbor’s not so Hidden Treasure
At Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa, we’ve lost track of the times visitors have wandered into the office surprised by what they found on the shores of Lake Ouachita. People book their stay for the fishing, the scenic beauty or for their wedding or family reunion. When they find chunks of quartz at the water’s edge, they’re amazed.
At Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa, treasure isn’t hard to find. If you’re looking for water activities, we have those in spades. If you’re in search of relaxation, our spa is literally rated number one. We have lodging for everyone’s ideal getaway whether that’s a poolside cabana or rustic villa. When they leave, our guests say what they treasure most is the memories they made when they were here. Make an online reservation at your crystal mining headquarters today.