Crater of Diamonds State Park: A wonderful and crazy place

July 28, 2011

When I accepted the park interpreter job at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, I had no idea what a wonderful, fascinating, amazing, and sometimes crazy place this park would turn out to be.  So, I want to share with you some of the wonderful and crazy things that make this park so unique.

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Visitors heading out from the Diamond Discovery Center to "the field."

Of course, the first thing that makes this park so unique is that our visitors are allowed to hunt for diamonds, and then are allowed to keep them.  Yes, real, sometimes valuable, diamonds.  But, the crazy part is that they not only get to keep any of the diamonds that they find, they also are allowed to take home any of the over 40 other rocks and minerals that are found here.  In fact, each visitor is allowed to take home the equivalent of a 5-gallon bucket of those rocks and minerals.

The Crater is a small park, only a little over 800 acres, in a rural area of southwest Arkansas, 40 miles from the interstate and 60 miles from the nearest city.  The crazy part is that last year over 119,000 people found their way to this park.  Even more amazing is the distance that people will come to this visit this park.  Last spring I gave a demonstration to three men—one from Washington State, one from Florida, and one from Texas.  As I am chatting with visitors I often ask them if their stop at the Crater is part of a more extensive road trip.  I find it astonishing the number of times they answer “Oh no, we intended to come here and this was the only destination on our trip.”  So, this obscure little park is actually a destination, in the same way that Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks are destinations.  Every year we have visitors from almost every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii.  We even have a significant number of visitors from foreign countries.  It is a wonderful place to work because our visitors are so diverse.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Just some of what can be found and kept at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

All of the dreams that people have when they come to this park is another wonderful thing.  For many of our visitors their Crater visit is the fulfillment of a dream that sometimes has continued for as long as twenty years.  The crazy part is that it is impossible to guess which person in the group was the one with the dream.  Sometimes it is a young child, as young as 10 years old, who somehow learned about the Crater and has been badgering his or her parents to bring him here ever since.  Sometimes it is an elderly person, like one visitor, who was in hospice and decided that one of the last things she wanted to do was to gather her family, come to the Crater, and watch them hunt for diamonds as she sat at the edge of the field in a wheelchair.  Grandparents who visited the park as a child bring their grandchildren.  Often the trip is a family outing, bringing everyone from the newborn to the great-grand parent, and all of the parents and cousins in between.

I enjoy eavesdropping on our visitors as they dream aloud to the other members of their party about what they would do if they found “The Big One.”  Everyone, young or old, always has something that they would do or buy if they found that large diamond.  But it is also crazy that coming to this small state park can be, and sometimes has been, a life-changing event for our visitors.  Everyone celebrates when they find a diamond, whether it is the tiniest gem that is just industrial grade, or it is a large, flawless diamond, possibly worth tens of thousands of dollars.  For those of us who work at the park and get to be part of these almost daily celebrations, each diamond registration is a fun experience.

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Everyone enjoys a day in the dirt!

Most people have a pretty good idea about what they are going to do when they plan their visit to a state park.  They already know how to fish or play golf, and have been hiking and camping for many years.  At the Crater it is a rare individual who arrives already knowing how to hunt for diamonds.  Many expect it to be a mine and they will have to go underground.  Most have never seen a rough diamond, and so have no idea what they are looking for.  As a staff member it is a constant challenge to help our visitors figure out the information they need to find a diamond.  We provide videos, demonstrations, and exhibits on finding diamonds, so that our visitors will have the best possible chance.  However, I find it fascinating to see the inventive things that people bring to the Crater as potential diamond finding equipment.  The range is very broad, from a dryer lint screen to elaborate homemade and hand-powered shakers and sifters.

But, the most crazy and wonderful part of the Crater experience is what a good time people have when they visit.  It can be 20 degrees in January with a quarter of an inch of ice on the wash troughs, or it can be 100 degrees in the shade in July.  It can be a sea of mud from one end of the field to the other.  If you ask a visitor if they had a good time, when they bring up their precious rocks that they have carefully chosen, hoping that one is a diamond, they almost all will report that they had fun.  Many of them are already planning what they will do when they come back the next time.  With that kind of response, it is a privilege to work at this small unique park with its large visitor experience.

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks, Park Interpreter

Margi Jenks is a recent convert to working as a park interpreter.  For twenty years she worked as a geologist, making new geologic maps of parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State. Her research interests were volcanoes and their interactions with ancient large lakes.  So, working at the Crater of Diamonds State Park is a natural fit, with its 106 million-year-old volcanic crater containing those beautiful and fascinating diamonds.

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Making Arkansas Natural

July 7, 2011
Blue Eyed Grass

Blue Eyed Grass

Arkansas’s motto is “The Natural State”. The natural state just doesn’t mean having nature. If that were true all states can claim to be the natural state. We have to support and be our motto. A part of the State parks mission is to protect and manage our natural resources. I would have to say that each park does their best to uphold their mission…in the park. What we need is for all Arkansans to prove that we can come together and be “The Natural State” we claim to be. It is not hard to start. There are lots of things Arkansans can do. One of the easiest things you can do (and maybe the least thought about) is to plant native plants. Natural is something that is produced in nature and not artificial. What better way to start than to garden and landscape with native plants? You will actually find that our native plants help out our local businesses, are hardy and beautiful.

Blanket flower and Mexican Hat

Blanket flower and Mexican Hat

More bang for our buck! It seems to be more significant than ever to utilize and spend money locally. Arkansans, as well as those from outside Arkansas want to be connected and educated to this state. Almost every day visitors walk through our gift shop wanting to spend their money on gifts made in Arkansas. If people are asking for Arkansas items here, they are definitely asking for them in lots of other stores including gardens and nurseries. People generally like to know where the product they are buying is from. The benefits of buying native plants from local businesses include knowledge from community gardeners. There is rarely a better person to ask questions to than the person who grew the plants you want. Spending money at the local businesses helps your community grow right along with your new plants.

Yellow Indigo

Yellow Indigo

Native plants are much hardier. If you treat them right the first year they will survive. After finding the right plants for your environment, the maintenance for the new native plants goes way down. During the first year, most of your time and sweat is spent watering your plants. Watering a lot the first year is essential to any new plant. Personally, I only fertilized my plants once when they were planted. A year later everything is alive and bloomed out. Watering has gone down to once every one to two weeks for the trees during the summer. If you do your research you can find plants that thrive in this hot Arkansas weather. I am telling you right now you do not have to fight Mother Nature. If you would plant native plants you get the rewards without as much hassle.

There a lot of beauty in Native plants. They come in many shapes, sizes, colors and blooming seasons. The combinations are endless. Even the plants you do not see as beautiful will charm you just because they look healthy. These plants will not only be beautiful but the beauty will last for a longer period of time.

A great list of native plants can be found at PlantNative.org . An internet search of “Arkansas Native Plant Nursery” will give you a list of nurseries that specialize in native plants. I hope this will encourage you to pick native plants for your next project, big or small.

Let’s reclaim the natural state one plant at a time!

Amy Griffin, Park Interpreter

Amy Griffin, Park Interpreter

Amy holds a bachelors degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University. Her career in Arkansas state parks started as a seasonal interpreter in 2006 at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. She is currently a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological Park and has worked there since 2007. She is also a member of the National Association of Interpreters and a Certified Interpretive Guide.