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Finding Fortune At Crater Of Diamonds State Park

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Seeking Fortune Amongst The Stones:

Crater of Diamonds State Park

The Only Public Diamond Mine In The World Where Individuals Can Keep What They Find

Crater Of Diamonds Illusion Diamond [Courtesy/Crater of Diamonds State Park]

When Colorado resident Bobbie Oskarson drove down with her fiance to Crater of Diamonds State Park during their 2015 vacation at Hot Springs, Arkansas, she didn’t expect a life changing event. But after looking around for about 20 minutes, something caught Bobbie’s eye in a pile of dirt. “She thought it was a quartz crystal, because of the size and the shape,” says Waymon Cox, head interpreter at the park. But in fact it was a diamond, an 8.52 carat pure white stone, the most valuable and unique diamond ever found in the United States. And, thanks to the park’s “finders keepers” policy, it was hers.

Bobbie named her icicle shaped find the Esperanza and decided to have it cut by an expert from Canada who came to Arkansas to cut the diamond in public last fall. “He said that in his 47 years of cutting diamonds, this was the purest, clearest, most flawless diamond he had ever seen,” Cox tells The Buzz. The expert designed a new cut for the unique diamond, the 147 facet triolette cut, valued at well north of $1 million. Not a bad return on Bobbie’s $8 admission.

A number of other valuable stones have been found at Crater of Diamonds. The Strawn-Wagner Diamond, found in 1990 and the most perfect diamond ever certified by the American Gem Society, remains on permanent display in the park’s Diamond Discovery Center. The 40.23 carat Uncle Sam, discovered in 1924 before the crater became a park, is the largest diamond ever found in the U.S. Hillary Clinton wore the 4.25 carat Kahn Canary Diamond, an uncut stone with a brilliant yellow color, to both of her husband’s Presidential inaugural celebrations.

Not every visitor finds a diamond to take home, Park Administrator James Howell, known around the park as Caleb, points out. “For instance, in 2014 we had about 160,000 paid admissions,” he says. “The same year 585 diamonds were reported found.” During that period, visitors asked Caleb’s staff to identify more than 70,000 batches of rocks and minerals.

Family Searches For Precious Stones At Crater Of Diamonds [Courtesy/Crater of Diamonds State Park]
Different Precious Stones Found At Crater Of Diamonds [Courtesy/Crater of Diamonds]
Diamond Found And Cut At Crater Of Diamonds [Photo Credit: Strawn Wagner]

“Typically people bring in 10 to 20 stones for our staff to look at,” Howell says. Besides diamonds, the site yields amethysts, citrine, quartz crystals, calcite, topaz, peridot, garnets, banded agate, barite, jasper and other collectible minerals.

Waymon Cox, who gives seminars at the park on the origin of the diamonds and how to find them, says that the diamonds were formed some 2.5 billion years ago more than 100 miles down toward the earth’s core. Then, about 100 million years ago, a volcanic eruption brought the diamonds to the surface. The explosion left an 83-acre crater with distinctive green soil, also seen in the diamond fields of Kimberley, South Africa, and scattered the diamonds across the site “like a shotgun blast,” Howell says. 

“A local farmer, John Huddleston, first found diamonds on his land in 1906,” Cox relates. “He’s known as the Diamond King of Arkansas.” The find sparked a diamond rush that filled up the nearby town of Murfreesboro. “The Conway Hotel turned away 10,000 people in one year,” Cox says. “A tent city called Kimberly thrived for about 10 years, then it just dried up.”

The property passed through many owners before the State of Arkansas consolidated it as the Crater of Diamonds State Park in 1972. Over 30,000 diamonds have been found at the park since it opened. The Arkansas diamonds are known for their brilliant white color, although many yellow or brown diamonds are also found.

“We estimate about 80% of the diamonds melted on the way to the surface,” Cox says. “The ones that didn’t melt are all rounded with a smooth curved surface. It makes them shinier and unusual.” The diamonds also are slick, with no static charge, so dirt doesn’t stick to them.

Official Helps Young Girl Find Precious Stones [Courtesy/Crater of Diamonds]

Cox suggests several strategies that can increase the chances of finding a diamond. “The best time to find a stone on the surface is after a good rain,” he says. “We rent buckets, shovels and screens for people who want to dry sift the soil. Many people use our washing pavilions and sluice boxes to wash the stones out of the dirt.”

It takes about 80 buckets of dirt to produced one diamond, Cox estimates. He recommends visitors take their buckets of washed gravel home to sort. “About half of all diamonds are found at home,” he says. “It doubles your chances.”

Over the years, the park staff have developed ways of increasing the chances for finding diamonds, regularly plowing the crater site to bring new stones to the surface. The state has added many amenities for visitors, as well, including a year-round campground and a seasonal cafe and mining-themed waterpark.

“We want people to find diamonds,” Supervisor Howell says. “But it’s not easy. You have to work for it.”

One of his favorite stories of mining perseverance involves a gentleman whose wife lost her wedding ring. “Instead of buying her a new one, he decided to prospect for it,” Howell says. “He went prospecting for gold somewhere else, then came here to look for the stone. It took him five years to find just the right diamond, but he found it last year.”

Stones from Crater of Diamonds can be found in many engagement rings, according to Howell, as well as on the state quarter. “We hope to make a special connection with people so they will bring their families for generations,” he says. “As far as we know, this place is unique in the world - the only diamond mine in the world open to the public where you can keep what you find.”


Renee Wright

A graduate of Franconia College in Social Psychology, Renee has worked as Travel Editor for Charlotte Magazine and has written three travel guidebooks for Countryman Press among other writing assignments. She enjoys food and camping.

Crater Of Diamonds State Park

Make Sure To Stay At:

Crater of Diamonds State Park, which includes a tree-shaded campground featuring 47 Class AAA campsites and five Walk-in Tent Sites. The campground includes two modern bathhouse with hot showers; one bathhouse includes a laundry.

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