The Crater of Diamonds
Search for diamonds and other precious gems (and keep them)
It’s no guaranteed get-rich-quick scheme, but a few people have struck it lucky at the Crater of Diamonds, the only place in the world where the public can search for diamonds where they naturally occur—and keep them. Fabulous finds include the Strawn-Wagner Diamond, the most perfect diamond ever certified by the American Gem Society and on permanent display at the Visitor Centre. Unearthed in 1990 by local resident Shirley Strawn, the 1.09-carat diamond (3.03 in the rough) was valued at $37,000 (about £24,000) when it was cut.
Diamonds (and 40 other rocks, minerals, and semi-precious stones like jasper, amethyst and garnet) can be found in this 37-acre ploughed field because of movements in the Earth’s plates. About 95 million years ago a crack in the Earth’s crust allowed a plume of hot magma to escape, creating a ‘volcanic pipe’ that brought diamonds to the surface. It is the world’s eighth-largest diamond-bearing deposit in surface area.
Geologists noticed the peridotite soil in the 19th century, but not until 1906 were the first diamonds found by John Huddleston, a local farmer. The site was mined in the early years, but proved more valuable as a tourist attraction, starting in 1949. Since Arkansas purchased the land in 1972 to develop it as a state park, more than 25,000 diamonds have been found here.
There are three ways to look for diamonds. After a good hard rain, just walking back and forth and keeping your eyes peeled can work. Serious rock hounds dig deep trenches and follow a painstaking process called sluicing. But most rookie visitors just dig around in the first six inches of soil (you can bring your own trowels and screens or rent them at the Visitor Centre) and pray for beginner’s luck. It helps to know what you’re looking for: a small polished stone, translucent but not necessarily clear, with a metallic lustre and a slightly oily feel. The Diamond Discovery Center offers digging tips and free rock identification, and will weigh and certify your diamonds. An average of two diamonds a day is found (you generally will hear lots of whooping when that happens).
The largest diamond ever found in America came out of the Crater of Diamonds, a monster white diamond called ‘Uncle Sam’, found in 1924. It was 40.23 carats (12.42 carats after being cut). The 15.33-carat ‘Star of Arkansas’ wasn’t bad pickings either. Although most of the diamonds unearthed here are about the size of a paper match head—so small they would not be cut—that shouldn’t stop you from dreaming.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.