Sitting around a campfire with new friends, mountain bike trails to the left and to the right and the captivating solitude will forever hold a place in our memories of Arkansas. Diamond mining, drinking from the pure springs of Hot Springs, horse racing and shivering to the sound of a bear only yards away ring true to our Arkansas experience. Our week in Arkansas may top the list as a favorite and below you might understand why…
I had no idea what we got ourselves into when we decided to go mining for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds state park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The thought of finding this precious stone, raw, unrefined in a huge dirt pile seemed kind of impossible.
Contrary to some advice we received to arrive early, we weren’t in a rush to get to the park because I figured everyone was still in school. As we pulled into the park around noon the lot was full. Thankfully the RV and overflow lot was pretty much empty and we had plenty of room to park. After a quick leftovers lunch, we lathered up in sunscreen, grabbed our sand toys, wagon, and headed to be diamond prospectors.
As we entered the mining area we stood on the sidewalk looking to our left, and looking to our right, trying to feel which section of dirt we wanted to dig through. Left was the final decision. We landed near a small stream going through the property and stayed there the rest of the afternoon.
Blakely and Tessa were going to build a waterfall in the stream. I was just going to sit and watch and Colter was out to find diamonds! After about a half hour of prospecting, we decided it would be a good idea to go rent some actual mining supplies from the park. Our sand tools weren’t doing the job.
Once we had the tools, I was in! The two sifters we rented had 2×4 squares as the frame about 12 inches wide and 12 inches tall. Different sizes of wire squares were having ¾ of an inch square and the smaller box having ¼ inch squares. Colter shoveled a scoop-full of dirt into my large sifter. I shook and shook until the soil was separated and took one handful out at a time to search for rocks with clear or yellow round surfaces. After just a few minutes of searching, I found a clear stone. Was it a diamond? I got really excited but now we were in it and would have to wait for the assayers to determine if it was, in fact, a diamond.
Colter and I kept digging and the little girls just played in the mud and water. We found a few more shiny stones and put them aside. One thing I didn’t know is that you can take a five gallon (not 100% sure on size) bucket of sifted rocks home with you to mine on your own time.
When the time came for the park to close, Colter was on the phone so I gathered up our things and trekked across the field, three girls in tow a wagon full of tools and we marched like muddy, wet puppies to the wash station and assayers table where we would find out if we had truly struck diamonds. When we got to the washing station I was getting the girls’ feet washed and the mining tools when I look down and the little container I had been keeping our finding it was dumped on the ground. Grrr.
Did we just lose our marbles… or diamonds, desperately hoping we hadn’t lost the treasures so coveted in the mine? Thankfully we did not and I was able to recover all of the shiny stones we found but I was going to be more careful where I put them this time. Colter took the rocks to the inspection station while I took the girls to the bathroom. All three of them were exhausted at this time and ready to go home.
When we got out of the bathroom, the rocks had been identified and we were ready to find out what we found. We found some water polished quartz and………….no diamonds. I was slightly disappointed but impressed by how much fun I had. While I expected prospecting wasn’t for me the experience was worth the time of wet and muddy fun.
Although we learned Bill Clinton, former US president, was raised in Hot Springs Arkansas we went to the National Park! Many people have gathered in this region for the healing and soothing properties for hundreds of years. It is actually nicknamed ‘The American Spa.’
Spa row is still a main attraction and a self-guided tour will lead you through the history of Hot Springs. Do a google search for spa’s and bath’s in Hot Springs if you are interested in a soak. With three little girls, we didn’t soak. Can you ever soak with little kids around?
The junior ranger book actually taught me a lot about the history of Hot Springs. Looking for structures on the different bathhouses to match the bathhouse up with the name was one of the girls’ favorite activities. There is also a tower where you can look over the National Park and the town. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the morning we drove up (you can also hike up) so we chose to pass. I hear the views are beautiful.
We also tasted the water! People come from all around to fill up. I spoke with a gentleman from Hot Springs village filling up his glass bottles at a ‘jug fountain’. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked him about his routine of filling up water.
He fills his five glass 3-gallon jugs about once a week. They use the water for coffee and mainly drinking. The fountain of youth was what he called it and informed me he was 104 years old. I didn’t know if he was serious but I laughed and said I needed to take some water home. He offered me one of his jugs but I politely declined since I had all three girls and did not want to carry a 20 lb jug of water around town. It was a very nice gesture.
We did, however, take a few of these breaks next to the “fountain of youth”, “watering hole” as Colter referred to them as or as the locals would say, the “jug fountain”. We did grab some cups from a close by gift shop where oops Caution: the water is hot and the paper cups are small…oh the things we learn with three curious and ambitious little girls.
Cedar Glades Park was the gem of Arkansas! Looking online at freecampsites.net I figured it would be an okay place to park for a night or two. We stayed FIVE nights because the park was awesome.
The road to get to Cedar Glades was a tad windy and narrow but once we got there and parked, we were golden. Apparently, the park was built on an old landfill and the previous guy in charge overspent on the improvement budget. There are mountain bike trails, an RC plane strip, an RC dirt track, a playground and a motocross track. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the climbing wall and fort. Definitely hits for the fam!
Things to do wasn’t the only gem of Cedar Glades but a family we met along the way. The Menzies are a family of five traveling for seven months in a Sprinter van. Seriously living simply is what they are doing! Essentials only. Mark and Tallie (the parents) hang hammocks from van ceiling and the kids sleep on pull-down beds.
Getting to know them was fun and we heard our first bear together while roasting marshmallows around the fire one night. Yikes! Shivers went all the way down my spine when Tallie mentioned it was a bear. The sound came from less than 100 yards away and I was ready to high-tail it to the RV. Colter assured me we were safe but he went and put a lantern at the edge of the forest to help me feel better.
While we were in Hot Springs over Saint Patrick’s day there were horse races. Last minute (story of our lives) we decided to go. Parking at the Kroger store a mile down the road was our cheapest and closest option. Everything was full by the time we finished climbing the rock wall at Cedar Glades and got to the races.
Our stroller was a lifesaver for the walk and gave Saylor a nice place to land to take a nap. Idaho Falls has horse racing but we have never been and Oaklawn was our first place to watch the most exciting two minutes in sports. Fortunately for us, we landed at the finish line so we were able to see it all. Between races, we were able to settle in on the cement benches to take a break. We sat by an amazing woman who was kind enough to give us a lesson on horse race betting. Needless to say, we won some money and lost some money. Good thing we only put in a total of $3! We aren’t really into betting but we came with $10, spent $7 on popcorn, soda and ice cream and figured…ah what the heck let’s give ourselves something more to cheer for.
Oaklawn was a great place to get a taste for horse racing because we actually planned a portion of our 50 states in 50 weeks trip around the Kentucky derby. These horse races helped us to decide if it was worth the money to go to Church Hill Downs the first weekend in May.
After all the fun we cruised back to the RV at Cedar Glades and while trying to pack up the slide-out would not come in. Our generator would not start. Uh Oh! The solar panels were hidden from the sun by the trees. Maybe parking at the edge of the forest wasn’t the best place.
Needless to say we needed to get out of the park. Our jump-start battery pack was our last option before we needed to call in an RV specialist. Colter took the top stair off and connected the red to the positive and the black to the negative on our auxiliary batteries. Once the cables were hooked in, he slipped the end of the jump start cables into the charge pack. We tried the generator once. Nothing. Waited a couple of minutes, tried again. We heard a put, put, put and it fired up! Whew. We had power to get the slide in and the jacks up.
Dead batteries and all we had a great time in Arkansas. Maybe drinking the water will extend my life out a couple more years and I will always remember my first bear experience. Colter was in his perfect place with bike trails, climbing walls, RC plane strip and nature. Blakely, Tessa and Saylor will remember the fort, playground, giant sandbox (RC car track) and most of all we will remember the fine people we met in the fine state of Arkansas. Who knows, and likely it may even merit a return trip.