Quartz is a mineral that forms into crystals under extreme pressure. Geologically, quartz crystal deposits were formed millions of years ago. They are mined for industrial uses in clocks, computers and radios, and are also valued as decorative items and for jewelry. Arkansas is one of the places in the world with sufficient quartz deposits to justify commercial mining operations. Some Arkansas mines offer people the opportunity to "dig-your-own."
Arkansas Quartz Mines
The "quartz belt" is about 30 to 40 miles wide and runs through the Ouachita mountains that stretch into Oklahoma. Ocus Stanley started mining quartz in 1930 around the Mount Ida area of Montgomery County. Quartz mining had existed in Arkansas since the 1800s, but Stanley believed that only a small amount of the available quartz deposits had been extracted, so he developed mining on a larger scale. During World War II, the government demand for quartz for use in radios increased and some Arkansas mines came under federal control.
Quartz is extracted from open pit mines. Miners only use explosives on rare occasions when they need to expose a deep seam of quartz. The reason for this is that although quartz is known for its hardness, it damages easily if it is suddenly exposed to a change in temperature, such as that caused by a blast. Instead, mining operations use bulldozers and backhoes to remove soil and clay, and expose the quartz crystal veins in the rock. A backhoe is a piece of excavating equipment with a tractor and loading bucket.
Mines in the the Mount Ida area, and around the city of Hot Springs encourage anyone interested in finding quartz to come there for a fun day out. The "Things To Do in Arkansas" website states that beginners and "rockhounds" are guaranteed to find a suitable place to dig up quartz. "Rockhounds" is a term for experienced diggers, who in the early days of quartz mining were allowed around commercial mines to pick up stones for personal use. Wearing suitable clothing is recommended and you may need a trowel or screwdriver to loosen dirt. Experienced diggers often use a crowbar or chisel to extract the quartz. Otherwise, the stones are usually found just lying on the ground. The best time of year to go is in spring or fall when it is cooler.
Arkansas holds the World Championship Quartz Crystal Dig every October. The three-day event attracts thousands of locals and tourists. Winning contestants keep the quartz crystals they mine plus the prize money. Each day contestants pick up numbered sacks and dig from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. using their own hand tools. The sack's contents are then weighed and judged.