DIG YA’LLS OWN CRYSTALS - STORY, ARKANSAS
"Yeah it only takes about five hours to get there". That’s what everyone I talked to said.
We arrived in Story, Arkansas, eight hours after leaving Nashville. Granted, we hit traffic. And someone had to stop and pee a lot. But, much to our delight, our cabin (aka condo made of wood) was well-equipped to handle all three colorful personalities in our camp. We had everything we needed to eat and drink, which is what we’re always mainly focused on doing.
But this trip was also about digging for crystals. Arkansas has the largest reserve of quartz next to Brazil (Brazil being number 1). Lake Ouachita (WAH-SHEE-TAW) — the lake our place was near — features one of the biggest crystal veins in the world. There’s also a very rare jellyfish frolicking in the water.
The story goes that the Army Corp of Engineers made this lake for its hydro-electric power, water source, and wildlife conservation. But another reason was to preserve the crystal underneath it. There’re many uses for quartz — and as we’re rapidly depleting our natural resources — it’s no wonder the government wants to protect this gemof a lake. After all, we use quartz in everything from watches, microphones, radios, and computers. And some people just think they’re pretty — which is why we’re here.
After a lengthy search online for the best mines to dig, we found Gee and Dee’s, an old ma and pa shop where you can pay to dig your own crystals. We got up Saturday morning and and called to let Gee and Dee know we were heading their way. After about a 15 minute phone conversation, Dee told us that the mine was shut down but we could dig in their front yard. Sounded weird but ok. We still wanted to get back in that mine and dig.
We arrived at Gee and Dee’s greeted by two sweet dogs and Dee herself. She called me Antarctica although I was certain she was talking to Renae, my friend who was sporting a faux polar bear vest ensemble (perfect for mine digging).
The yard was beautiful. It was like Superman’s crystal cave threw up on a yard. But we also wanted answers. Why couldn’t we dig in the mine?
Dee explained that back in late June of 2010 there was a flash flood that came through early one morning and killed at least 20 people while they were camping in the Ouachita State Park. Noted as the Albert Pike Flood, it caught national headlines and President Obama even offered federal help. The national attention shed light on the mines there, as well. So, the government came in and implemented new codes and laws for the miners making it impossible for the “working man’s miner” (Gee and Dee) to adapt and conform. That’s another way of saying that the couple didn’t have the monetary resources to make huge scale changes to abide by the new regulations and stay open. Dee was even caught digging on her own land and fined.
Nobody was getting in that mine. With heavy hearts we combed through Gee and Dee’s yard collections grabbing anything that even slightly interested us. We learned from Gee about the nature of the rocks and how they form, about the history of their mine, and what the future holds for them.
“I will have to sell my mine to the government — that’s all I can do,” Gee said.
There was a sound to his voice that made you feel what this man was going through. Having mined for 54 years that’s all Gee knew. He said crystals were more addictive than cigarettes (they both smoked a pack each while we were there). He had a true passion for mining — you could see that plain by the marks on his hands. I knew came to realize all this when I saw the huge heart-shaped crystal he pulled and carved for Dee. This was a gentle man in love with his life and his rocks.
The visit ended with Gee showing us his private collection in the back shed. We bought some sacred pieces there, said our goodbyes and were soon on our way.
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Tennessee State Guide Lindsay Scott is an East Nashville based photographer, writer, drinker and ponderer. You can find her on any random night, porch sitting with a side of story telling and a camera in hand. Follow her on Tumblr at lindsayscottphotography.tumblr.com or on her website, lindsayscottphoto.com.