Photographs by Special to the Democrat-Gazette/ MARCIA SCHNEDLER
Interpreter Waymon Cox shows Crater of Diamonds State Park visitors how to hunt for the gems by doing wet sifting.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
MURFREESBORO -- The widely misused word "unique" is accurate for once when applied to Crater of Diamonds State Park. This 37-acre expanse in southwest Arkansas is the only diamond field in the world where members of the public can hunt for the precious gemstones -- and keep any that they find.
Striking pay dirt here does require proper technique, along with patience and good luck. To help visitors learn how to do it, a park interpreter conducts face-to-face classes on most days for neophyte diamond seekers.
On a recent afternoon, Waymon Cox gave a 15-minute "Diamond Mining 101" presentation at the Diamond Discovery Center. The indoor-outdoor building overlooks the expanse of soil that can become a field of dreams for the 600-plus diggers who find a gem in a typical year.
The average size of a Crater of Diamonds find is one-quarter of a carat, roughly the size of a kitchen match head, according to Cox. The largest diamond discovered so far this year is a 7.44-carat beauty unearthed in March by 14-year-old Kalel Langford of Centerton. It is the seventh biggest among the more than 32,000 turned up since the state park opened in 1972. The largest finds can be worth many thousands of dollars.
Cox demonstrated wet sifting, the hardest of the three recommended methods, but the one often preferred by regular diamond hunters over surface searching and dry sifting. He worked from a washing pavilion such as those available on the diamond field, talking his audience through the dozen or so steps as follows:
Dig up a bucketful of dirt and take it to a pavilion. Then pour enough of the soil so that it mounds over the top of a sifting screen stacked atop a finer one. Sift the loose soil away in water with a quick agitating motion. Remove all material larger than one-quarter of an inch from the top screen and set it aside.
Next, as Cox showed, hold the bottom screen's frame on both sides and lower it evenly about one-half inch into the water. Quickly rock the screen until water washes small minerals toward its center. Submerge the screen in the water while tapping it up and down until the material is spread out again into an even layer. Give the screen a quarter-turn.
Repeat those steps eight to 10 times, while continuing to rock, tap and turn the screen. Tap the screen once more in the water to spread out the materials. Take the screen out of the water and let the liquid drain away for a few seconds. Flip the screen upside-down in a smooth motion, landing it evenly as turning a cake in a pan.
Then search the gravel pile's surface for diamonds. One feature you're looking for, according to Cox, is a distinctive metallic shine. That's because diamonds reflect 85 percent or more of the light that hits them. Also, they have a slick type of surface and repel almost anything that touches them. So they'll almost always be clean when you find them. Their most common colors will be white, brown or yellow.
The number of diamonds found here in the past five years has averaged less than two per day. That could make the chances of success seem slim. But inspiration to keep hunting can be found in the park's proud display of the Strawn-Wagner Diamond, a 3.03-carat gem found in 1990.
Cut to a 1.09-carat brilliant shape, Strawn-Wagner was certified as a perfect D flawless grade, the highest quality diamond ever ranked by the American Gemological Society. The state park bought it for $34,700, likely a bargain given that this top-of-the-line quality is estimated to occur in only one out of a billion diamonds.
Crater of Diamonds State Park, two miles southeast of downtown Murfreesboro on Arkansas 101, is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Closing time on Christmas Eve is 12 noon.
Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for youngsters 6-12, free for those under age 6. Tickets are good for the entire day; those bought after 4 p.m. are also good the next day. Diamond-hunting equipment can be rented.
For more information, including times of "Diamond Mining 101" sessions, visit CraterofDiamondsStatePark.com or call (870) 285-3113.
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