An Ancient Volcano is Murfreesboro’s Hottest Ticket

by Josh Williams

photography by Amanda Shelley Ledbetter

One of the great things about living in The Natural  State  is  that one can easily be exposed to Mother Earth in ways that city slickers cannot. Take the Ouachita or Ozark Mountains: Millions of acres of untouched natural geography in the form of lush forests and majestic views. Or, Arkansas has the Buffalo River: America’s first national river that flows for nearly 150 miles, contains 95,000 acres of public land on its edges, is encased by imposing limestone bluffs and is one of the last remaining non- dammed rivers in the country today. Or, there’s Blanchard Springs Canyon: A three-level, largely developed cave system where its crystalline formations continually change over  time  due  to an ongoing mountain spring that pours into Mirror Lake, just below the cavern. There is even one place near the Ouachita Forest where anybody, young or old, could pad their retirement savings just by playing in the dirt.

Crater of Diamonds State Park is located just south of the Ouachita National Forest in  the  burg  of  Murfreesboro in southwestern Arkansas. John Huddleston was the first person outside South Africa to find diamonds at their source; he found them in Murfreesboro Arkansas in August 1906, and decided to open a park to the public. Park Interpreter Waymon Cox said,  “To  our knowledge, Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only place in North America where anyone can search for real diamonds in their original volcanic source and keep any diamond or other rock or mineral they find. The opportunity for the public to search for diamonds where they originally erupted to the surface is exceedingly rare.

”The “boomtown” atmosphere created by the discovery of “girl’s best friends” put a huge spotlight on the sleepy little cotton settlement, and numerous people and entities took notice: Tourists from all over the world started trying their luck in the muck; Attorney/Banker Sam Reyburn led a group of Little Rock investors to purchase 243 acres of the volcanic crater a month after diamonds were discovered there; of course, the Feds got their greedy little hands in on the action, taking over the park during World War 2 to extract the gems “for war use.” Right. After Uncle Sam gutted the place and took what it needed, it returned the property to its previous owners, and the tourist attraction was facing a bleak outlook. Howard Millar, an accomplished writer and promoter, stepped in and salvaged the fledgling tourist attraction and reopened the Crater of Diamonds attraction in 1952, garnering unprecedented publicity for the site.

In 1956, the Star of Arkansas was found at the site. It weighed in at an astonishing 15.33 carats and is still the largest diamond ever found on record at the mine. Not a bad haul for digging in the mud for a few hours; Surely a moment to remember for all eternity for that individual. Waymon said, “Registering large diamonds is always exciting. I remember being the first park employee to hold the 8.66-carat White Illusion Diamond in 2011. It’s the largest diamond I’ve ever seen and the third-largest found since  the  Crater of Diamonds became an Arkansas State Park in 1972. Last year, I had the

Esperanza Diamond and later went to North Little Rock to experience it being cut into a 4.6-carat triolette shape by master diamond cutter Mike Botha. I have very fond memories of many of the visitors I have met over the years from all over the world.”

The land that occupies the state park is part of a volcano that is more than 95 million years old and it’s  really quite an unusual source for diamonds. For all the geologists, archaeologists and rock hounds out there–the diamonds in Murfreesboro came from the Lamproite magma in the upper mantle of the earth’s crust. Most diamonds in the world originate from the Kimberlite magma and are not as easily brought to the surface. And it’s not just about diamonds at the park. There are numerous different gems that have been found there over the years: amethyst, agate, jasper, garnet, Quartz, calcite, phlogopite and baryte are on the list. There aren’t too many holes in the earth where one can find the veritable cornucopia of gems that can be found in Murfreesboro. It’s not as easy as it seems though. It’s not like the park has big  signs with flashing lights pointing at the stones. As the saying goes, “You gotta do some digging.” Waymon advises, “Prepare well ahead of your  visit.  Do your research on diamonds and how to find them. I would recommend bringing a bucket, shovel, and screens if you have them. Be prepared to get dirty, and dress for outside work. You’ll also want a bag or bucket to take your gravel home. Not many visitors take their gravel home, but those who do essentially double their chances of finding diamonds. About half of all diamonds registered at the park are found by visitors who search through their sifted gravel at home.”

Being  accessible  to  entire  families  is the best part. In addition to the diamond mine, the park offers an aquatic playground, complete with slides and pools. The park also offers laundry  services,  a  restaurant   and a gift shop. There is an enclosed, climate-controlled pavilion for events and parties. There are numerous trails for hiking and biking, and they have 47 campsites near the Little Missouri River. I mean, what kid doesn’t like playing in the dirt and  then jumping in the pool? And what mom doesn’t like diamonds? And what dad doesn’t like knowing that he took his family to a place where everyone had a good time and he comes away as a hero or something? “Arkansans often take it for granted that there is a beautiful state park within driving distance where they can actually search for real diamonds,” Waymon said. “We don’t often think about how special this place is and how much fun it is for families to go diamond searching together. We often meet visitors who first came here as kids, and now they are bringing their kids and grandkids back. It’s a great multi- generational  experience.”

For more on Crater of Diamonds State Park, call (870) 285-3113, or visit www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com.