Photos courtesy of the Crater of Diamonds State Park
The term “once-in-a-lifetime experience” is thrown around a lot. For example, meeting your favorite celebrity or winning the lottery may qualify. But it also applies to America’s parks, each of which provides visitors with its own take on nature, local flavor, and history.
And, on occasion, you’ll find one of the thousands of state parks across the country that really pumps up the “wow” factor.
One such place is the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. About two hours southwest of Little Rock and a little over two hours north of Shreveport, Louisiana, this tourist destination is one of the few places in the world where people can search for diamonds in their original volcanic crater, making it a truly unique experience.
And, yes, whatever you find, you get to keep.
But much like a gemologist looks into the past to understand how a diamond forms, one must look back at the history of Crater of Diamonds to understand how it grew to be the state park it is today.
A chronicle of this crater
The eroded volcano that formed this land is estimated to be approximately ninety-five million years old. In modern history, geologists in the 1800s were the first to suspect that the area could contain diamonds. A farmer named John Wesley Huddleston was the first to discover diamonds, which he found on his property in 1906. Seeing an opportunity, Huddleston sold his land a mere one month later to investors for $36,000 (the equivalent of $1.05 million today), who embarked on diamond mining.
News spread fast about this diamond-rich area in Arkansas, and between 1907 and 1910, it was inundated with prospectors; a tent city even sprung up nearby. However, most attempts to mine the land were futile. In 1952, Howard Millar opened a mining tourist attraction on the north side of the park’s current diamond search area called Millar’s Crater of Diamonds. The adjacent property to the south also opened to the public around the same time as the Arkansas Mine. Both attractions competed for business from tourists in nearby Murfreesboro. The entire area was eventually consolidated under the company General Earth Materials in 1969 and three years later was bought by the state, which turned it into a state park. Over four million people have visited the Crater of Diamonds since then, and well over 100,000 people come here each year.
How to hunt for diamonds
If you’re ready for your own diamond excursion, be sure to plan ahead. Tickets may be purchased up to twenty-four hours in advance on the park’s website or in-person at the park Visitor Center. In addition, people often wonder if they need to bring their own mining equipment. You’re welcome to do so, but the park also provides tools for rent. And a diamond or two is found every day at the park, so make sure to bring not only your tools but something to carry your rocks in.
Before you start your dig, though, be sure to visit the park’s Diamond Discovery Center, where you can observe diamond-mining techniques and learn more about the park and the diamonds within it. You can even see glittering examples of uncut diamonds on display. You may also want to leave time to return here after you’re done diamond hunting, since the staff will be happy to examine and identify what you’ve found, free of charge—including diamonds, which they’ll register for you on the spot.
Diamonds from the rough
In its nearly fifty-year existence as a state park, the Crater of Diamonds has seen its share of historical mining moments. More than 34,000 diamonds, including thirty-five of five carats or more, have been discovered at this site since it opened in 1972. Perhaps surprisingly, you’ll find variations in three main colors: white, yellow, and brown. Most are small, but some noteworthy—if not record-setting—gems have been found at this location since Huddleston first bought the land.
The 40.23-carat Uncle Sam diamond was unearthed. To this day, it’s still the largest diamond ever found in America.
A Texas man excavated the Amarillo Starlight, a 16.37-carat beauty that is the largest found since the Crater of Diamonds became state-owned.
The Strawn-Wagner Diamond weighed “only” a little over three carats when it was found, but it’s exceedingly rare, being one of the few diamonds deemed “perfect” by both the American Gem Society and the Gemological Institute of America. In 1997, it was cut into a 1.09-carat round brilliant shape and purchased by the State of Arkansas to be put on permanent display at the park.
A Colorado woman found the 8.52-carat white Esperanza diamond, the fifth-largest ever found at the park. It was deemed colorless and internally flawless and later priced at $500,000.
Last year, the second-largest diamond since 1972 came out the Crater of Diamonds. It is brownish in color and is a whopping 9.07 carats.
More than mining
Sure, people come to Crater of Diamonds in the hope of finding such diamonds, but there’s much more waiting to be excavated. Other gems commonly found at the site include amethyst, quartz, and garnet, in addition to dozens of different minerals.
Outside of the digging, you can also enjoy a trio of walking trails, have lunch at one of the park’s picnic sites, and relax at one of the forty-seven campsites available after a long day of diamond hunting. After a fun day of mining, take a refreshing dip at the onsite Diamond Springs Water Park and the more than 4,000 square feet of water in its wading pool. (The park’s operating days change over the summer, though, so be sure to check its schedule before you visit.)
Of course, people mostly visit for the opportunity of a lifetime. To hammer home this rock-solid point before you head out to the field, be sure to check out the Diamond Discovery Center’s Wall of Fame display, featuring the photos of happy folks who struck gold (or in this case, diamonds) at this gem of a park—and smile, knowing that you could be next.
For more info, visit craterofdiamondsstatepark.com