MOUNT IDA - For Arkansans who like to dig in the dirt hoping for a payoff, the Natural State’s headline act is Crater of Diamonds State Park.
But hands-on prospectors are much more likely to score a stone worth taking home at the mines around Mount Ida, which styles itself “the quartz crystal capital of the world.” Although some of the multihued minerals lie right on the surface, the wearing of old clothes and shoes is strongly recommended for diggers.
For fastidious folks, there’s no need to actually get down and dirty to admire or acquire beautiful quartz crystals, which have been mined for more than a century in Montgomery and Garland counties. Mine operations and rock shops in this stretch of the Ouachitas display countless thousands of examples for browsers and buyers.
Visitors who wouldn’t know a quartz crystal from a kumquat can get a quick primer at Mount Ida’s Heritage House Museum of Montgomery County.
This homespun museum is packed with intriguing objects, such as a Hopalong Cassidy lunch box, a hulking early pressure cooker, a pedal organ and a spinning wheel. But one section focuses on the area’s trove of crystals.
Quartz is a common mineral that has become crystallized under extreme geological pressure. That process is believed to have occurred in the Ouachitas around 250 million years ago.
The crystals have been used to make oscillators for radios,computer chips and clocks. They are also an ingredient in synthetic stone materials used in kitchen countertops. Collectors value their beauty as gemstones and mineral specimens.
And, as The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture notes, “Many people believe quartz contains metaphysical properties, and followers of the New Age movement look to crystals for their purported healing properties and as an aid to altered levels of consciousness.”
Metaphysics aside, Heritage House Museum displays an assortment of crystals with beguiling names: galena, barite, tripoli, sphalerite, tabby quartz, pink calcite, slaty shale, novaculite, cacoxenite.
A vast variety of the stones can be seen and bought at Wegner’s Quartz Crystal Mines & Museum, three miles south of Mount Ida. Proprietor Richard Wegner, a player in the global crystal market, has amassed a dazzling collection mined in Brazil and elsewhere. Some are valued at many thousands of dollars, although prices for locally mined examples begin at a few dollars a pound.
Visitors with modest budgets also can hunt their own crystals on or just below the surface at Wegner’s tailings area, which promises “keep all you find, and you can dig all day if you wish.” The fee is $10.50, with youngsters 10 and under and senior citizens paying $6.60. Mine tours are offered as well, starting at $15 per person.
However acquired, by do it-yourself digging or buying from a rock shop, quartz crystals have a definite Natural State resonance. They are, by vote of the General Assembly back in 1967, the official Arkansas State Mineral.
Heritage House Museum of Montgomery County, 819 Luzerne St., Mount Ida, is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Admission is free. Call (870) 867-4422 or visit hhmmc.org.
Wegner’s Quartz Crystal Mines & Museum, three miles south of Mount Ida, is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday until March 14, then seven days a week until December. Take Arkansas 27 and turn left on Owley Road at the sign. Call ahead to be sure of tour availability: (870) 867-2309. The Web address is wegnercrystalmines.com.
Details on other crystal-related sites in the area can be found at mtidachamber.com or arkansas.com/things-to-do/crystal-hunting.
Weekend, Pages 38 on 02/27/2014
Print Headline: Gem buffs can dig in dirt or wallet at Mount Ida