Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Day Trippin' - Murfreesboro, Arkansas & the Crater of Diamonds

As the inaugural post for our new series on jewelry-centric day trips, I thought that this little *gem* of a destination would be something a tad bit different!  Having been in the news recently, I'm sure you've all heard of it but always kind of wondered what it was really all about.  Well let me tell you about it...

A few bling-loving girlfriends of mine and I decided that we needed to have a bit of a weekend away and do something a little different and on a budget.  We'd heard about Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas on several media outlets and through some personal research looking for unique day trip ideas.


Diamonds found at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro come in all colors!

So what's its story?  Well...Crater of Diamonds State Park was originally a diamond mine.  But the story starts when the first diamonds were found in Pike Country, Arkansas in 1906 by a farmer named John Wesley Huddleston.  Huddleston's stones were sent to Charles Stifft, a Little Rock jeweler who confirmed that they were, in fact, diamonds.  He described them as "blue-white diamonds, one weighing 2 5/8ths carats and the other 1 3/8ths carats."   Stifft went even further and verified his opinion by sending them to New York where they were pronounced "diamonds of the fine grade."


Any good road trip always consists of a 'Sign Photo!'  Two of my road trip buddies, Lynette and Tiana.

After that, in 1906, Huddleston purchased the 160-acre McBrayer farm as his family home.  Huddleston recounted the story of the first diamonds he found in Arkansas to Tom Shiras of the Arkansas Gazette, "I was crawling on my hands and knees …when my eyes fell on another glittering pebble…I knew it was different from any I had ever seen before. It had a fiery eye that blazed up at me every way I turned it. I hurried to the house with the pebble, saddled my mule and started for Murfreesboro...riding through the lane, my eye caught another glitter, and I dismounted and picked it up out of the dust."


Part of the remnants of the park's mining days.

Huddleston sold his diamond-bearing land for $36,000.  Huddleston became famous and was given the nickname 'Diamond John'.  Although he was also known as the "Diamond King," he later met with misfortune and died a pauper, but it was said that he had had no regrets and is buried in Japany Cemetery, about three miles east of the diamond mine.

Since Huddleston's time, the mine has been through a few changes!  Several men bought the property and formed the Arkansas Diamond Company.   However, there was 40 acres of diamond-rich soil that had never been owned by Huddleston adjacent to his property which was owned by M.M. Mauney.  Mauney refused to sell his property to the Arkansas Diamond Company.  Instead, he opened his land up to the public allowing them to search for a fee.  He finally sold a three-quarters interest in the property to Horace Bemis who organized the Ozark Diamond Corporation.


The search area is dotted with various signage about the history of the area.

Unfortunately, Bemis died soon after and his heirs could have cared less about diamond mining.  The property went through numerous hands afterwards until a father-son duo, Austin and Howard Millar, bought Bemis' share of the mine and created a small commercial plant that was, eventually, destroyed by fire on January 13, 1919.  They were never able to rebuild.

But, in 1949, the first real attempt to organize and open the field to the public began.  The land was leased from the Millars and opened in 1951 as the 'Diamond Preserve of the United States.'  The name was later changed to 'Crater of Diamonds' and is now a 37.5-acre plowed field where park visitors can search for their own diamonds for a small fee (entrance fees:  $8 for adults, $5 children 6-12 years and free for kids under 6).


Part of the search area.

The motto at the Crater of Diamonds is, "Finders Keepers."  So if you are lucky enough to find a diamond, you are lucky enough to keep it - at no additional charge.  There have been numerous, well-publicized, finds at the Park. The most recent was a 6.19-carat white diamond found in April.  There have also been a number of colored diamonds found at the Park.  For a list of some of the more famous finds, click here.  


One of the many diamonds found at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

So my girlfriends and I headed down for a road trip to Murfreesboro to try our luck at diamond digging...Afterall, they average one diamond find a week!  Maybe it'd be our week!

What are some helpful tricks and tips for first-time diamond diggers that we learned?  

  • It is hot in Arkansas!  Take plenty of water if you go during the spring, summer or fall months.  
  • Wear a hat and take sunscreen!
  • Plan your trip for a day or so after it has rained.  The rain clears the soil and the diamonds rise to the top.
  • Although they have on-sight camping facilities with electrical hooks-ups and shower facilities; if you're a city-girl like me - stay at one of the many hotels, motels or B&Bs in town.  After a long day on the diamond field hunched over, you'll crave a soaker tub and fresh meal!
  • Build your own (or find a handy friend - Thanks Lynette's fiance!) sifter screens.  Rental costs aren't outrageous but it's still cheaper to build your own.  Bonus - if you don't find a diamond at least you have a little screen keepsake that is great for displaying earrings afterwards!
  • Bring your own tools.  Again, rental costs aren't horrible but if you're wanting to keep your out-of-pockets low, this is a no-brainer.
  • Pay attention to the tutorials.  Unless you know what to look for, diamonds in their natural state aren't what you'd expect.
  • Finally, accept that you may spend all day sitting in the dirt and not find a single diamond so have fun!  Get a group of friends together and just have a little fun with it!

You may not find diamonds, but you could find a piece of the mining history of the park.
But be prepared, this little shard of history didn't get to go home with us!

If you love road trips and jewelry, visiting Crater of Diamonds State Park is definitely a bucket-list trip.  Murfreesboro isn't Milan or Paris but if you're looking for a fun day trip and a chance to do something that you wouldn't normally get the chance to do, then this is the trip for you.  So have some fun with it! 



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