Geologists say that Arkansas and Brazil have the best quality quartz in the world. Though I’ve never been much of a rockhound, I was curious to see what drew people from around the world to the Mt. Ida area to go prospecting in the abundant quartz crystal deposits of the Ouachitas. This zone is part of the state’s ‘quartz belt’, an area about 30 miles wide, stretching roughly from Hot Springs west to Pencil Bluff.
The opportunity to dig for your own crystals at an actual working mine is available at Wegner Quartz Crystal Mines in Mt. Ida. It’s also a spot to learn first hand about geology and mining techniques.
Here, groups have a choice to dig at Phantom or Crystal Forest Mines. Owner Richard Wegner owns 218 acres in the area but the mines are leased from the U.S. Forest Service. The Phantom mine is the most popular and productive mine and home to the rare Phantom Crystals, manganese inclusions that look like smaller dark crystals trapped within a larger clear crystal. At 40 acres, The Crystal Forest Mine is the larger mine site and well known for its clear gem quality crystals. While I was there, a busload of kids had just finished time in the trenches, their buckets overflowing with rocks and crystals and smiles plastered across flushed faces that were still excited by the thrill of their finds.
The scenery surrounding the mine is beautiful and what further stands out are the environmental practices that are followed here. Contrary to popular mining practices of leaving a huge open pit wound in the earth, Wegner’s restores the land when they are done mining an area by replanting trees. The progressive practice has not gone unnoticed and has been used as a study example by the Forest Service.
Also onsite is a barn which houses an impressive 10,000 sq. ft retail shop where crystals from around the world can be found and bought. Those interested can also work the gemstone sluice for precious and semi-precious gemstones or collect crystals at the tailings pile.
I didn’t get a chance to dig at the mines this time around but didn’t leave empty handed as Richard gave me a beautiful cluster of quartz crystal to take back to the car with me. Though I am still a few beats away from being a true rockhound, I left the grounds with not only an ignited interest in crystals, but in geology as well.
: Group Fee: (at either mine site) is $22.00 per person ($220.00 daily minimum) for the whole day. This includes transportation to and from the mine with a guide. Groups can either be 10 or more people or meet the daily min. dig fee. Both mines are open 7 days a week and reservations are required to secure a guide.
: Fee: $13.50 – admits 2 people. This fee includes the use of a screening box, one pail containing precious and semi precious gemstones and an identification chart.
Fee: Adults $10.50, Kids under 11 and seniors $6.60. You can bring simple garden tools to move the dirt around or there are buckets onsite that you can borrow with a refundable deposit.
During peak season they are open 7 days a week weather permitting. Mon-Friday 8-4:30 p.m. and open most holidays.
Directions: To reach Wegner’s, follow the signs from U.S. 270; travel three miles south of Mount Ida on Ark. 27 to Owley Road, then turn left and go 2-1/2 miles to the mine. www.wegnercrystalmines.com