Despite cooler temps and a bit of rainy drizzle at the beginning and end of the week, my fall trip to Arkansas this year turned out to be a PHENOMENAL seven days !! I was able to get a few days of much needed rest and relaxation, and two of the three days over the weekend involved two great locations, one new one, and some GREAT collecting by everyone involved this time around. For those that were not able to make it down to collect with us, you missed out on a great time and some great crystals found and dug. I think everyone would agree with me that the Phantom Mine at Wegner`s was the real treat this time around.
Onyx and I picked up my Mom early on Tuesday morning, Nov 7th, and headed west to Joplin, then south on Hwy 71/I-49 to Fort Smith, where I always drop Mom off to visit with her two younger brothers and their families. We ran into some drizzle about Rolla that continued off and on all the way down there. On the way down, I stopped off at a resale shop in Fayetteville, to check on some smokey quartz from Brazil…I had talked to a guy who collected it there last year and had some for sale at this resale shop…he had a lot of broken stuff, but I found one nice small cluster and purchased it at a good price. We then drove on over the Boston Mountains and arrived in Fort Smith around noon, and after dropping Mom off at the Residence Inn, Onyx and I headed on south in the drizzle which increased in intensity by the time we got to Waldron. I had slowed down a bit since the highway had been resurfaced in the past year with fresh asphalt…that stuff gets a bit slick when wet and this was a cold drizzle on top of that, temps hovering around 42 degrees…however there was a guy in front of me zipping along about 65 mph and one behind me coming on fast, when we all met a state trooper just south of Waldron. He turned around half a mile behind me and although he never turned his lights on, he did pace everyone back there and stayed back there til we reached Y City, where Onyx and I turned east on 270 toward Mt Ida and Hot Springs.
The rain picked up in intensity again as we crossed over the short mountain range fifteen miles down 270 and I slowed down again…and came upon yet another trooper on the other side of the range, this one sitting in a driveway at the foot of the big hill. I was actually glad to see more of them out and about, specially in that type of weather. We stopped off at the Phillips 66 in Mt Ida, where gas was twenty cents a gallon less than the St Louis/Sullivan area. A few min later I honked as I passed by the home of Bill and Faith of Blue Moon Crystals…they live on Hwy 270 two miles west of the Charlton Lake Park area and about a mile west of the old Monte Cristo Rock Shop/Gas Station, which is across the highway from the neat waterfall on Murphy Creek, that sits just below the highway on the north side…there are some lucky residents that live just the other side of the creek and have that waterfall view to enjoy on a daily basis. We continued east on Hwy 270 and I thought about stopping at Burl`s Country Smokehouse at Crystal Springs, to pick up a couple of smoked ham sandwiches…one for me and one for Onyx of course…didn`t stop but wish I had now…and continued on to the Pretti Point condo complex, arriving just before dark. I say wish I had stopped for the sandwiches, cause supper later that evening was not very good, could have been because of the late hour tho.
The next morning, there were a few breaks in the clouds, and I was able to photograph the pretty maples in bloom above the condo….
Believe me…they stayed this color all week and were some of the prettiest trees I saw all week there…found out real quickly that the fall color down there, traditionally much prettier down there, was very disappointing this time around. I guess the leaves on many of the trees down there, had fallen from the trees from the cold rain that was falling those first few days, because many of the areas that I have photographed in the past, were barren of leaves and color both. I contacted my buddy Justin that morning and drove over to his new house to see his home and rock collection. He now has a lot of room and room to grow as well…he had some nice pieces of green wavellite that he had self collected, so I purchased a few nice sized ones from him.
He lives close to my buddy Robert, so I took him over to Robert`s house to meet him soon after. As it turned out, the two of them had already met at the Spirit Show earlier in the year there, and had talked shop there the whole time. Despite the cold temps and drizzle, we had a great time visiting with Robert and then Justin and I headed to Cracker Barrel to get some lunch. Afterwards, I took him to Walmart so he could get some cat food and then returned him to his house. Onyx and I headed back to the condo to get a good nap in…and believe me, with that type of weather, it was a great nap…Onyx and I had a nice bowl of ice cream for supper. 🙂
We were up at the crack of dawn to discover sunshine and a foggy sunrise over the lake below….
…that just kept getting prettier with every few minutes….
Robert took Justin and I on a sightseeing trip later that morning and we discovered that there were some pretty oak trees up on the mountaintops that still had some good color to them….
We saw a lot of nice scenery that day and started back to Hot Springs about 4 pm…Slade let me know that he had arrived at his hotel two hours earlier than expected, and Ray having arrived the evening before, began inquiring where I planned to eat supper. We decided on Cracker Barrel and I let Slade know that I would pick him up at his hotel….as Justin and I arrived in Hot Springs…we ran smack dab into this sunset downtown….
…after dropping Justin off, Onyx and I headed to the condo to clean up, and discovered these last few rays of the sunset over the lake waters….
Slade was staying at the La Quinta Inn on Central Avenue. He wasn`t familiar with the area, this was his first trip down to Arkansas for quartz, his hotel was on my way to CB, so I picked him up shortly before 6 pm and we found Ray waiting for us outside the restaurant. After a good meal and some good conversation, I dropped him off and then Onyx and I headed back to the condo for another bowl of good ice cream before an early bedtime. Up again at the crack of dawn, we found another beautiful sunrise waiting for us, and again some fog attached to the pretty colors…
…and this morning, this little guy perched on the boathouse down below my balcony, so I photographed him as well….
After my stretching exercises, which have become a daily routine for me, Onyx and I headed to the Valero Station to meet up with everyone else…finding Fred from Texas, and David Bruce from Georgia….already there…. talking to Slade from North Carolina…. they had already met Pete and Mary from Ohio…Paul & PJ from Michigan arrived soon after, followed by John Oostenryk & Mary from NW Illinois, and soon we were just waiting on Ray from Louisiana to arrive…he pulled in just as I was texting to check on him. I let everyone know I was going to stop at Burls and get a couple of sandwiches…those smoked ham sandwiches that I should have stopped to get the other day, and then we all took off heading west to Tony`s mine. Tony let me know while enroute, that he was going to be running a few minutes late, as he was having some work done on his new house and would likely arrive a few minutes behind us. As we crossed over the small bridge over Hwy 270 at Denby Creek, which enters an arm of Lake Ouachita at that point, on the far side of the bridge we spotted a four point buck with his nose to the ground, trailing half a dozen does…he was headed north and as we passed by him, not three feet from the sides of our vehicles, I looked left and spotted the half a dozen does I just mentioned, huddled together down in the ditch on the south side of 270, nearly right across the roadway from the buck…and trust me, he had no clue whatsoever….deer hunters will know what I am talking about. 🙂
We pressed on and soon after turning south on Hwy 379 west of Mt Ida, we started seeing deer everywhere, on both sides of the highway..it was the morning before the opening season and it looked like several scouting parties…scouting for cover. We pulled up to the gate soon after, and about five minutes later, Tony pulled in with his girlfriend Blondie and their two pups in the cab with them. After driving on up to the mine and parking, Tony showed us several smokey quartz crystals, some in baskets and some in flats, that he had been harvesting on a daily basis from his new mine with his partner Shane…they were beautiful crystals, many of them big and lustrous points. He told us they were hoping to be into some clusters soon as well, had been finding a few here and there sporadically. After paying our dig fee we all headed up to our favorite spots and began searching for quartz crystals.
Onyx and I drove on up to the top and found Pete, Mary, Slade, Fred, Paul, and PJ already up there….
I showed Slade the wall that Chuck had worked over back in July for the plates, and he set off in that direction, intent on removing a few himself. I got my boots on, grabbed my gloves, apron, bag, and tools…while doing so I was talking to Paul, who was searching the huge piles on the right of me…..
I then headed for the old tailing piles on the south side, intent on checking out some information from Adam regarding some beautiful stuff he had found in the old piles years before. For the next couple of hours I zig zagged through the pine trees and short brush, surface collecting the top of the old piles and finding quite a few small plates and clusters that were quite pretty, and small single points all over the place as well. I then headed for my truck to get a bite to eat, Onyx joining me for his sandwich break too….I set a small cluster next to the sandwich that I found first off….
During the afternoon, I found some really nice ones…one appeared to be a flat plate, I pulled it out and discovered a nice long single point attached to what I thought was a plate, and a smaller point perpendicular to the larger singe point embedded in it. Ten minutes later, I found yet another large single point and then twenty minutes later I found yet another point about half as big, but still very nice…I felt quite blessed and took it easier after that. By 4 pm, we were all ready to head for Hot Springs, a few having already left ahead of us. John and David did pretty good down below at the other mine in the veins where the large plates are found, before heading up in the afternoon to work the old walls too. We decided to meet up at the Hibachi Sushi Buffet for supper that evening after cleaning up…we were all looking forward to the Phantom Mine at Wegner`s Crystal Ranch, the next day. As long as we had at least ten people in our group, we would be allowed to go there and dig.
Several friends in the Memphis Club MAGS, which I am a member of as well, had given me good information on their trip there just the weekend prior, and said there were huge clusters of phantom crystals laying all over the place, that could be cobbed down to more manageable pieces, that could more easily be transported out of there and home. That information alone, once shared with everyone, had us all chomping at the bit to get there as soon as possible. The information I had included photos of their finds, which I also shared with everyone, showing blue colored crystals with clear crystals in the clusters. We had to be on site at Wegners the next morning by 8:30 am to sign in so after a small bowl of ice cream, we retired for the night.
Once again, we were up by 6 am the next morning and yet another beautiful sunrise awaited us…I stepped out on the balcony to photograph it over the waters of Lake Hamilton below and found the air to be quite crisp but the eastern skies were absolutely GORGEOUS…
…and then the skies started to deepen and the colors only intensified a few minutes later….
…which I took as a sign of a good day ahead…Abbi drove in late the night before from Nashville with a bad cold…she didnt hesitate when she found out that we might not have enough to go to the Phantom Mine…as it was, we had just enough people to be able to go. Justin joined us on this trip as well and we headed to Wegners, arriving as planned by 8:30 am. We all parked out in the inner circle parking area and signed our papers, then headed inside the crystal shop to pay our fees to Annie, who had called me the weekend before to set up the group dig for us. Abbi took a few photos outside as everyone was looking at the rocks on the tables that were for sale, to give one an idea of what could be found at this mine….
We had hoped to have Mike as our driver, he was the driver for MAGS, however Annie told me that Mike had injured his back and had been replaced with Bill, and she assured us that he was as good as Mike was. They had a smaller truck than what we expected and had added four other rockhounds to our group, two were from Wisconsin and two from the St Louis area.
We loaded up and headed out by 9:30 am…Onyx and I sitting on the back edge and a couple of people up in the four door cab with Bill to make more room for us and our luggage. 🙂 We drove down a couple of smooth roads initially, then turned down a couple of bumpy forest roads…some so bumpy we had to come nearly to a stop and then forward once again…not sure why, but Onyx started barking and snapping at the branches that smacked the side of the truck…I have never seen him do anything like that before, so I am not sure where that came from. I had to get a pretty firm hold on him as he kept wanting to go to the side of the truck bed under the seats as if to bite the branches as they went by us. Weird, I know….and over my head believe me…dog psychologist I am not. 🙂
After about forty minutes of rough riding, we finally arrived at the gate and a short time later we were pulling into the mine, skirting around several tailing piles before coming to a stop and unloading the truck…some of these photos were taken by Abbi and noted on the photo….
For the rest of the story on the rock collecting part of this trip, check out my blog site www.jwjrocks.com where there are more details and photos too.
Here is one of the nicer plates that Slade found there…he was quite happy let me tell ya….
…and here is a large single point found in the pile Abbi was working in….
…and a phantom point that she found as well….
…and a phantom point that John found…ironically, I found a phantom point that could be a twin to the one Abbi found, same shape and color….
Let me tell ya, after four hours of diggging and chipping and collecting, we were all exhausted by the time we got the truck loaded down with our buckets and bags and packs and tubs full of goodies…Bill let us know when we had to start loading the truck….and thats when Abbi started snapping photos of everyone….
I think Onyx looked as tired as we all felt…tired but happy rockhounds for sure…happy enough that we did try to arrange for a return trip to the mine the next day…alas they were unable to find us a driver or we would have def returned to find more goodies…GREAT MINE to go to if you get the chance, well worth the cost and the ride in and out of there. We also did a little shopping when we returned to the crystal barn, found some nice crystal plates and clusters in part of an old collection from the Magnet Cove area, some with brookites attached to them, and I think there were a few of us that bought some of those…I know I did, they were selling them by the pound…pretty good bargain in my book. I`ll post a photo of the ones I bought later on, as I am still working on cleaning up my dig finds from there. 🙂
We headed back to Hot Springs to get cleaned up for supper and headed to Cracker Barrel for another delicious meal and to discuss the Fisher Mtn Mine the next morning. I let everyone know about the inside information I had on this old historic mine and everyone was ready to go again. Sunrise the next morning was pretty blah, so I didn`t photograph it…we met at the Valero again and headed up to the mine after stopping to get the key for the gate. The road going up to the mine past the gate had been recently worked on, but was still rough in spots, very passable tho. Once we arrived, we parked in the first few spots and loaded up for bear and began the descent to the area of the info I had on it…on the way down there, we saw nothing, no crystals laying around, not even small ones…at most mines, you are tripping on the small crystals laying all over the place…but there was very little to be found at this one. We reached the area and again, found nothing, certainly nothing as described to me, so we all fanned out and began looking everywhere…John and a few of the guys eventually located what they thought was the desired area, however it appeared to be heavily worked and possibly played out. The rest of us dug into some areas and again, found very little for our efforts, so we decided to rockswap and then headed to the Mauldin Mountain County Quarry to look for wavellite….we found the gate wide open but decided for safety`s sake to park outside the gates and walk in…by this time of the day, the temps were warming up and it was going to be a beautiful day ahead…
….the Kansas City Club was there that morning and we hoped they did not collect all of the good stuff before we arrived. John was able to make contact with them and found out they didn`t find any wavellite but did find variscite and planerite, and shortly after walking in, we did as well.
After a few hours there. we wrapped it up as some of the crew was driving back home that afternoon…while we were talking, Mr. Manley drove by, stopped, saw us and backed up to come and visit with us…he has a rock shop on the first hill just west of Mt Ida and is the patriarch of the Manley family, one of the oldest and well respected quartz mining families in the area. My friend Carrie met him down there at the quarry last year …we got to talking about the smokeys that his son Shane and Tony have been finding lately and he invited us to stop by his shop and visit more with him. He was headed down to deer camp to visit with some of his family. We packed up and headed back to Hot Springs for supper at Outback Steakhouse…this time there would only be four of us eating, as everyone else was headed home. Slade and Mary headed home the next morning…Mary after making sure we couldn`t go back to the Phantom Mine that day, possibly joining the New York Club that had arrived the evening before. Wegners staff said they needed at least a week notice to make it happen, so she headed home upon learning that. Abbi went to explore some creeks and then she headed home by evening, leaving me and Onxy to rest up for the day…at least we had another great sunrise to start the day…a near duplicate of the one two days before, and I even checked the dates on the images to make sure they were different…the sunrise this morning included the moon overhead…the one two mornings before the moon was farther to the west….I remember because I like to include if if I can and there was no way to include it two mornings prior….
and for the sunset that evening, we had a pretty pink and orange glow…a speedboat full of fishermen arced across my camera view for a few seconds while shooting so I included them in the photos too…
….as they disappeared behind the land mass on the right, I worked with the reflections in the ripples their motor prop created….
Onyx and I got some good rest, drove out to a waterfall I like and tried to find some local color, but it was mainly gone, likely the cold rain on our arrival being the likely culprit, so we had another good meal that evening, another bowl of ice cream, another good nights rest, shot another gorgeous sunrise, and then packed the truck and headed to Fort Smith to pick up Mom and head for home…..
After shooting this one, I thought the clouds might be done, but as I was packing the truck, I noticed it had deepened out and gotten even better, so grabbed my camera and headed to the balcony…..
…and soon we were headed home…we hit some rain on the way home but east of Springfield we ran out of it…it did eventually sweep thru here later that night tho…all in all, another great trip for the books tho.