While Kate Miller might be knee deep in paints and clay at the Hiawatha Elementary School art room this week, a few weeks ago she was knee deep in mud — searching for diamonds.
Associating Miller with the phrase “diamonds are a girls best friend” is not what one thinks of immediately — sparkle and bling is not usually her thing unless she is busy helping students decorate their latest project. But that depends on where the diamonds come from and how hard they are to dig up!
Miller and her mother decided to find out and traipsed down to Arkansas earlier this summer for a real old fashioned diamond dig at Crater of Diamonds State Park — roughly 825 miles away from Hiawatha and not far from the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders.
“It was hot!” said Miller of her trip. “About a 110 heat index.”
But she and her mother, Linda, along with a longtime friend, Erica, came prepared for the heat with cooling towels for their necks, plenty of water, battery-powered fans around their necks and large hats to keep the sun off of their faces.
“My mother has been talking about doing this for years and all of us love history, so we decided to make the trip,” she said.
Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only productive deposit of precious mineral diamonds in the United States — and the only one where visitors can actively mine for diamonds. But the word “mine” is a little misleading.
“You think you will be down in these caves looking for diamonds,” Miller said. “But no, it’s basically like a tilled up, rocky field that you search through.”
A $10 fee gets you in the door for a day — or if you come after 4 p.m. then you can return the next day — which is what Miller and the group did. She said that first day, they just came in to check out the scenery and make sure they had the appropriate supplies.
“The next day we hit it hard,” she said.
Essentially, the state park is a volcano that has disintegrated down over the centuries.
“So we were walking around the inside of a volcano,” Miller said. “These diamonds are actually older than most you find in Africa.”
The diamonds dug up at the Crater of Diamonds State Park are not the pristine, sparkling clear diamonds you might find on a ring or necklace. Instead, Miller said the diamonds they came across were small and round with yellow and brown colors — not clear or white. Although, she said some really fabulous diamonds have been found there — including about a week after they were there! Miller said the Esmerelda Diamond was found there.
“We knew this was different going in,” she said. “Most are about the size of a matchhead, so we brought some pill containers to put them in.”
In the oppressive heat, Miller and her group spent six hours digging, then panning for the diamonds. She said there are lots of other minerals you can find there — including quartz, amethyst, calcite, mica and more. They were only allowed to search in the open field within the yellow boundary markers and had to bring their own hand shovels — use of battery-powered of motor-driven tools is prohibited.
“There are lots of minerals there that sparkle,” Miller said. “You sift through everything with a mesh sifter or a wet screen, which is kind of like panning for gold. We did all of those, but had better luck on the wet screen. Maybe because it was cooler doing that and kept us more focused.”
Visitors must fill in any holes they dug and any hole deeper than 4 feet must be shored up properly for safety. Each visitor could remove up to one 5-gallon bucket of sifted gravel per day, but unsifted dirt was not allowed to be removed from the plowed field.
Miller said they would get “real excited” when they saw a quartz, then realized it wasn’t a diamond. She said that she and her mother and friend created kind of an assembly line as they panned the dirt and rocks.
“We met people from all over there — some go weekly,” she said. “One guy found 30 diamonds. And, it’s ‘finders keepers,’ although most that you find aren’t anything to write home about.
By the end of their time at Crater of Diamonds State Park, Miller said they had developed a better eye for what they were looking for. With 37 acres open for public exploration, Miller said the possibilities are endless, so they are planning a return trip — when the weather is just a bit cooler.
“It was a neat, unique experience,” she said. “I definitely don’t think it will be our last adventure there and it made us look for other places in the United States, where we can mine for sapphires, emeralds and opals.”
For more information on the Crater of Diamonds State Park go to the website at www.CraterofDiamondsStatePark.com.