Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Digging for Diamonds

As someone from New York, I've rarely given much thought to the uneven square-shaped southern state that is Arkansas. For a long time, my knowledge of Arkansas was limited to Bill Clinton and Hot Springs National Park (which I've never visited). However, there's quite a bit more to Arkansas than that. With that in mind, let's talk about Arkansas.

With the nickname The Natural State, it's obvious that much of what Arkansas has to offer somehow involves nature. And I guess a state park/diamond mine does fit into that category. I first learned about Crater of Diamonds State Park, apparently the world's only public diamond mine, from the side of a U-Haul truck. As soon as I realized you could dig for real diamonds in a real mine and keep what you found, I knew I had to go there. Several years later, while driving from Colorado to Florida, I finally had my chance.

Crater of Diamonds is located near the tiny, pretty much middle-of-nowhere town of Murfreesboro. It's a little hard to get to but definitely a worthwhile trip. First stop? The diamond discovery center. Featured there is an exhibit with the history of the mine and the park, some samples, and information about diamonds. After that, it's off to the rental desk. (I think I skipped the paying admission part... Oops. It's cheap though.) After acquiring a bucket, digging tools/shovels, and sifters and a quick mining lesson, it's off to the mine.

I know when I hear the word "mine", I picture a shaft, darkness, and those funny little carts. Well, Crater of Diamonds is not at all like that. In fact, it's a plowed field that looks more like this:

At Crater of Diamonds, there are two digging methods: the wet method and the dry method. When I was there, only the wet method was allowed and oh, it was messy. Here's the basic process:

1. Fill a large bucket with dirt.

2. Lug the bucket (and sifters) to a nearby pavilion with giant tubs of water for sifting.

3. Fit your two sifters together and place them in the water along with a clump of dirt.

4. Work through the dirt (now mud) to filter the grains of sand out and leave the rocks behind.

5. Repeat.

6. (unofficial) Talk and share stories with your fellow miners. Some of them might be regulars with good advice.

7. Once you're fed up (or have found some diamonds), wash off at the uh, washing off station. You will be gross.

All in all, it's a good way to get really dirty. What could be more fun than that? Plus, there's a nice pool right there, perfect for the hot summer months, like when I was there.

So, did I find any diamonds? Sadly, no. Neither did anyone else while I was there. I did find some nice rocks though and their on-hand expert told me what I had found. Since it's finders keepers, I did keep the rocks but as souvenirs, they don't quite live up to diamonds. Oh well, maybe next time.

More information: http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/

Saturday, July 25, 2009

First post!

I love to travel. I have always loved to travel. And I've always meant to write about it. No, I'm not talking about fancy published travel books or the NY Times (as much as I love both of those things). I just want to remember the places I've been and to relive the good, the bad, and the funny.

Quick confession: I can't keep a diary. Never could no matter how hard I tried. Granted, I usually didn't try very hard... So instead I create an online diary, available to all (you're welcome), which might actually motivate me to write down some things. That's the plan, anyway. So here goes:

My name is Ali and I love to travel. I love to read about it, plan it, and hear about it. Over the last quarter century or so, I've visited a few places. I have a lot of stories (warning: some of them might be pretty boring to people who aren't me) and many great memories, not to mention a ton of pictures. With any luck, here's where it all comes together.