Crater of Diamonds

Iconic Communities, On the Road
on September 10, 2000

Marshall Rieff first hunted precious gems in the finders keepers Crater of Diamonds State Park while on a camping trip with his father at age 12 and quickly learned that digging for diamonds is a delightfully dirty jobone that quickly coats prospectors in the fields sticky olive-green soil.

Rieff, now a 43-year-old plant supervisor in Fayetteville, Ark., often has heard the siren that warbles over the diamond field with each discovery of a precious stone. The siren recently blasted for him when he found a 5.5-carat white diamond, whose value has not been determined.

Two-thirds of it is so clear you can see through it, Rieff says. It just took hours for my heart to slow down once I found it. Rieff actually has found dozens of diamonds over the years. One day, 23 of them turned up in just four buckets of dirt.

The only thing that tickles me more than finding a diamond is the look on peoples faces when they find one themselves, he says.

Few are as lucky as Rieff. Still, more than 70,000 diamonds have been excavated since 1906 at the state park, which surrounds an ancient volcanic crater near Murfreesboro, 56 miles southwest of Hot Springs. Treasure hunters discover about two to three diamonds daily, including a 2.25-carat rock a high school freshman took home from spring break last March.

Thats bigger than the first one found, a 1.5-carat yellow diamond that a barely literate farmer named John Huddleston unearthed 94 years ago while spreading rock salt on his hog farm in the crater. Then he noticed another glittering stone nearby, this one a 3-carat white beauty.

Park exhibits explain how the diamonds got here. During the Age of Reptiles 95 million years ago, a volcanic eruption blasted this lode of minerals from 70 miles below the earths surface. It formed a 35-acre crater filled with volcanic rock that quickly broke down into the sticky greenish soil studded with minerals, including garnets, amethysts, and diamonds. Park workers often plow the crater floor to churn up fresh soil and rocks.

Exhibits also show uncut diamonds of various colors and qualities and describe how to tell them from quartz, calcite, and glittery mica.

Diamonds are usually small and well-rounded with an average size about that of a kitchen match head. A diamond will be shiny, and you cannot scratch its surface with a key or other metal object as you can a piece of quartz. Its color may be yellow, brown, or white, and its value is determined by the four cs: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight.

Park staff will identify, weigh, and certify diamonds, as well as demonstrate digging techniques.

The largest uncut stone discovered at Crater of Diamonds was the Uncle Sam at 40.23 carats, found in 1924. A 3.3-carat diamond that Arkansan Shirley Strawn found in 1993 may be the finest stone turned up here. After the internationally known diamond-cutters, Kaplan & Sons in New York City, recently cut the flawless diamond perfectly into a 58-faceted surface, the Gemological Institute of America certified it at the top rating possible for its cut, color, and clarityworth about $35,000.

Thats a little less than Huddleston received for his farmwhich included part of the diamond-bearing formationsoon after his find. The rest of the crater was owned by M.M. Mauney, the first to charge visitors a fee to hunt diamonds.

Through the decades, the property changed hands with various attempts at commercial mining, marked by a weathered wooden mine shaft built by Austin Millar in the 1910s. In 1972, the state bought the land from General Earth Minerals of Dallas, and tests two years ago confirmed that the crater doesnt yield enough diamonds for profitable mining.

That suits Rieff and other prospectors just fine.

To me, its like an adventure every time, he says. Remember how excited you got when you were a kid the night before you were going somewhere? Its that same way every single time I go.