As we typically do, we planned a day trip covering way too many miles and activities and somehow squeezed it all in. From Arkansas, we were about as close as we are planning to be to Oklahoma, so we wanted to make sure we made it and got in our minimum 1-mile hike (that is our criteria for checking a state off our map if we do not physically stay in the camper in that state) before heading further away, but we also wanted to go mining for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. Since the state park in Arkansas was (almost) on the way to Oklahoma, we decided to lump the 2 activities together in one very busy but fun-filled day.
Unlike most of our adventures, we got an early start. We knew we were pushing ourselves and had schedule limitations due to the hours at the diamond mine. We woke Little Bird up (which we try not to do), had a quick breakfast, then hit the road. It was about a 2-hour drive to Beavers Bend State Park in Oklahoma, so we settled in (after getting some Shipley Do-Nuts for the road) and enjoyed the surprising western Arkansas scenery.
Will and I had both been through Oklahoma before, so our expectations were fairly low in terms of scenery and terrain. However, as we approached the state park and wound our way to the trailhead, we realized that there are actually some really pretty areas of the state. And we were only just getting started.
The day before our adventure, I researched the different trails in the state park and decided the Friends Trail would best suit our time restraints. It was rated a moderate trail with some elevation change but also touted waterfalls and lots of views of the river. The reviews I read said that it was a popular trail, but we did not think it would be too busy on a Friday morning. We were wrong.
We pulled into the parking lot to find it almost full. We debated for a few minutes on whether or not to continue, but once we had paid for parking (which you definitely need to do as we saw parking enforcement in full swing), we decided we could always turn around if it was too busy. So off we went.
It was a little chilly when we started out, so we all bundled up in hats and gloves, though the temperatures soon warmed up nicely. The trail is a loop trail but is pretty poorly marked at the beginning and naturally there were no maps to be found. We took what we thought was the correct trail only to hike an extra 0.5 to 1 mile before meeting back up with where we should have started. The extra little leg gave us even more elevation change, so the hike ended up being more of a challenge than we had expected.
Once we got on the correct trail and up what was supposed to be our only significant elevation gain, we made it to the bank of a beautiful river looking down to a waterfall below. As with most waterfalls, it was a significant draw for many of the other folks on the trail, so we took a quick look, then made our way further downstream.
There was a significantly rocky stretch between the trail and the water’s edge, but we gingerly made our way across the rocks to the bank so we could fully enjoy the beauty of the cliffs across the river, the clear water rushing by, and the scenery all around us.
We were both wishing we had known how lovely the hike and river would be because we could have spent so much more time here. Will somehow refrained from running back to the truck to get his fishing rod, which really impressed me because it was so beautiful I wished I could go fishing (and that is not really my thing).
Even though we could have stayed looking at the river all day, we reluctantly made our way back to the trail and ultimately back to the truck. We had diamonds to find.
We grabbed lunch on our way back to Arkansas and made our way through some very windy roads to Crater of Diamonds State Park. This state park is one of the only places where diamonds are found in the United States, and it is one of the only places where people are allowed to go mining for their own diamonds.
Will had done some research on what to bring (due to COVID, they are not renting equipment), so he had cobbled together a few tools based on what we had in the camper and a quick trip to the hardware store. We gathered ourselves and our bucket of tools and headed out to the mine field.
There is a small fee ($10/adult) to enter the mine field, but you are welcome to be in the field all day long. Due to our crazy plans, we only had about an hour and a half to spend before they closed for the day. With a toddler and dog in tow, and with us not really knowing what to expect, we felt simultaneously rushed and relieved that that was all the time we had.
The mine field is just over 30 acres that is routinely tilled. For a short time, it was operated as a commercial diamond mine, but because the typical diamonds found in the area were not huge, it was not financially feasible to operate it commercially. At some point, the State of Arkansas made it into a state park and opened it to the public. It seems that sizable diamonds are only found a couple of times per month, but people are allowed to take a 5-gallon bucket of sifted dirt home with them, so they assume that many of the diamonds that are found go unreported.
While Will set about seriously sifting the clayey dirt, Bird and I wandered around playing in puddles, throwing rocks into puddles, and finding “treasure,” which for once could have actually been real treasure! After our 3-mile morning hike, Daisy was more than content to lay on one of Will’s coats and watch (thank goodness).
Will’s goal was to get a sifted bucket of dirt, as he knew he would be able to better go through the dirt back at our campsite when it had a chance to dry out. Even though they have water available to aide in sifting and cleaning off the various rocks, it would be very difficult to find a diamond in the field, especially with the tools we had.
My goal was to make sure Bird did not get stuck in the mud (or at least not too stuck) and that we left with everyone’s shoes still on their feet. We had a lot of extra weight in mud on our way back to the truck, but I am happy to report everyone’s shoes were accounted for.
While we left the field under the impression that we had not found anything, we had an absolute blast getting muddy and just being out in the field. Will has since dried and sifted the dirt he collected and there are a couple of rocks we want to get identified. We had such a fun time in the mine that we know we will be back soon.
Even though we packed more than we should have into 1 day, we had an amazing time being out and exploring…plus we got to check state #24 off our map! I know that we would happily return to both locations if the opportunity arises again. Taking Bird, who loves rocks and sticks and all things “treasure,” to look for actual treasure was time I will always cherish (especially if we did come away with a diamond).
Are you heading to Hot Springs, Arkansas, be sure to check out these related posts: Taking a Bath at Quapaw Baths, Finding the Terrain Cure in Hot Springs National Park, and Hiking the Caddo Bend Trail.