Search for treasure at Crystal Park
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If there is one rock that appeals to hardcore rockhounds and those that dabble with picking up a few “pocket” rocks; crystals are probably those stones. For years I have heard of a magical place to find these rocks, Crystal Park in Montana, in the beautiful Pioneer Mountains along the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway.
After driving for three hours from Rexburg, I was the first to arrive at the 220-acre park, paid my $5.00 fee and was in for two days of hunting crystals. I quickly noticed that the park is surrounded by a marshy meadow, home of the beautiful Camas flower and millions of hungry mosquitoes.
Much of the park resembles a World War II battlefield with very little vegetation with holes resembling hillsides pock-marked by mortar rounds. A lot of soil from digging and screening with discarded rocks cover the ground in the most popular areas to hunt.
A crystal junky, Rita Cooper, the president of the Idaho Falls Gem and Mineral Society who has made many trips to the park, gave me some tips on where to find some crystals.
“Go to an area where there are not too many holes and dig where someone has recently dug,” she told me before I left. “You will probably find some there and after a while, if you don’t find any move a little ways and start digging again.”
I found such a hole and on top of some discarded top soil, I found my first single terminated clear crystal. It was as clear as glass and was about an inch long, six-sided quartz crystal. The day was a success.
I began digging where the previous digger had quit and in the next two hours had removed enough dirt, rocks and rotten wood for a shallow grave; but I had also found about 15 nice crystals. I noticed that under about three inches of grass and Low-bush berry roots was charcoal from an old forest fire. Under the charcoal was about a foot of rich brown dirt that held the most perfect of the large crystals that I found. The smaller crystals and broken pieces were found in a layer of wet gray sand-clay mix.
About 10:30 I had my first visitor; Lester, an old 80-year-old man from nearby Dillon.
“Looks like you are a beginner. You have enough equipment to move this whole mountain,” he commented looking at my three buckets, two types of picks, three screens, a maul, a chisel and two shovels. “You expecting company?”
“Not today, maybe tomorrow,” I replied.
“Well, it looks like you lucked out and have found some good ones. Found any special ones?”
I pulled out a smoky one and a double terminate (one pointed on both ends) and a rock with about 20 small crystals in it.
“That one with all those crystals in it is kind of special. Three years ago, in that hole over there (he pointed to a hole about 50 feet to my right) I found over 200 crystals in a pocket and have spent about 60 days for the last three years looking for another honey-hole but have not found one.”
He explained that the gray sandy soil is decomposing granite called “granodiolite” and you will find the larger ones on top of that and the pieces and smaller ones mixed in it, but “you are as likely to find them where they is as where they isn’t.”
He moved over near the old hole and took a small screen, a garden trowel, sat down in the hole and began gently methodically digging as he “was not interested in moving tons of dirt.” About noon a thunder storm started moving in so I grabbed my stones and he gathered up his gear before the storm winds “made widowers of both of us.”
After lunch and a short nap, I spent the afternoon digging and screening with no “special” ones but plenty of good and not-so-good ones. As I was loading up, a couple stopped by to see how I had done. They had kind of “struck out” for the day, but on Sunday “they had hit the honey hole.” The man pulled out a bag that he claims to had found “near the upper toilet” which had several large amethyst double-terminated crystals and a smoky crystal that was four-by-six inches. Lester would have called them all “special” ones.
On Wednesday morning, my friend Mike and 10 members of his family came to enjoy the digging and screening. We were in an area where nobody else wanted to dig and we only saw two other crystal hunters. The adults had a great time harvesting crystals while the kids plainly enjoyed themselves with a lot of different activities. By noon all were tired and ready to head home with even some very special crystals and other outdoor gifts.
If you would like to go, there are three established campgrounds in the area. The closest to Crystal Park is the Price Creek Campground with the Grasshopper and the Mono Creek Campgrounds nearby. About 5 miles south of the park is the Elkhorn Hot Springs that have rustic cabins and rooms for rent along with meals and entrance into some hot pools. I understand that “rustic” is the true condition there.
I will go back again sometime when there are less mosquitoes and a little cooler temperature. I understand that I was searching were there are only a few “special” crystals and most are small; but I will take the 40 regular ones compared to the three or four that others found while looking for a special one.