We left Nashville and began heading towards Arkansas. I have lost count of how many times I’ve driven over the Mississippi River, whether in a car or a Penske truck.
We arrived at Hot Springs National Park in the early afternoon. Everything I had read about the park mentioned that it is not the same experience as the parks with grand sights. I completely agree. We spent a few minutes looking at some of the historical bath houses, and some time strolling near the natural springs outside on the trails. For me, the coolest part was looking at the intricate stained glass windows. My mission was to visit the park to say I’ve been there. It is my dream someday to say that I’ve visited every national park and monument. We concluded our visit by watching the USA soccer team lose. Oh, well. The remainder of the day consisted of driving to Crater of Diamonds State Park and setting up camp. We were hopeful about our finds for the next morning.
Our morning began with the sound of thunder and rain. Not necessarily the sound one wants to hear when you have an outdoor activity that has been planned for over six months. Turns out, the torrential downpours that would occur would be blessings in disguise. We wanted to get an early start to digging as we were afraid of the heat. (The day before was 102 degrees Fahrenheit in Hot Springs!) Luckily, the rain gave us a 70 degree morning for digging, complete with nice breezes. Here’s what digging for diamonds entails:
-gathering all gear
-lugging everything across uneven terrain, all the while scanning the ground… just in case!
-digging through dirt/mud
-doing an initial screening on site
-sorting through the screens
-filling a bucket with dirt
-lugging the bucket to the water station
-submerging the screen in water to wash away the dirt (Read: giant water table from preschool days)
-using the saruca to attempt to get the heavier material at the bottom of the screen by swirling and shaking at the same time.
-flipping the screen over and searching closely using tweezers
Overall, Debra and I spent five hours in dirt, mud, and water collecting our finds. Unfortunately, no diamonds were discovered. We did, however, have a great time. We also enjoyed watching the groups of young children playing in the mud. No exaggeration, some of them were literally covered head to toe with mud. I have no clue how those parents got them clean.
After our futile attempts at getting rich quickly, we retreated to our campsite to cook, do laundry, and relax. We then decided that milkshakes were a great idea, so wandered out of the park. We drove to a lake to cool off in the AC, as the temperature began to climb with the rain now gone. We then made our way back to do some surface searching at the park. (It is exactly what it sounds like.) No luck with that, either.
Overall, the visit was perfect. When I last visited the park, Dava and I had planned our time in the park as part of what turned into a 15-16 hour driving day. We both felt rushed, tired, and hot. I knew three years ago that I wanted to return and have a positive experience on the volcanic field. Check and check.
We broke down camp, grabbed a bite to eat, and hit the road. We were in three states today: Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
On our way to our final stop, Debra and I visited Wichita, Kansas for a few hours. We walked around the river, went to the Keeper of the Plains statue near the river, and ate at a very good local Mediterranean restaurant. Afterwards, we finished the remainder of our 540 mile drive today to reach our hotel in Salina, KS. (Go ahead. Google where that is!)
Final thoughts for today:
When I began telling people about my travel plans, some thought it was absurd. I cannot begin to explain how freeing it feels to break routine, accept uncertainty, and appreciate the unfamiliar. Long drives are opportunities to notice how the trees in western Arkansas look like no other trees anywhere else, how dogs seem not to care that the posted speed limit is 70 mph, or the random sculpture of Charlie Chaplin on the side of the road. I find that these long trips with impressive sights and locations are filled in with the subtleties that most don’t think of. Perhaps it’s the strange sensation of smelling pickles while you’re sorting through a bucket of dirt, only to realize after twenty minutes that the smell is coming from one of the many red buckets that the young guy near you is using to sort. Jack has been coming off and on to Crater of Diamonds for the past year. He said that he’s been to the park about 75 times in the past year. Each time, he processes anywhere from 40-70 buckets of dirt. (Point of reference- Debra and I were able to go through three buckets in five hours.) Jack has found three diamonds in the past year. He was willing to share pointers with us on how to process more efficiently. In our chatting, we each shared one of our favorite quotes. Moments like these punctuate the brilliance of traveling.
For those checking regularly, thanks for your patience. Cell reception was not strong in Arkansas. Moving forward, I plan on posting every 2-3 days to allow me to focus on being in the moment. Until then…