Ever heard of the hourglass selenite crystal? It’s not the most expensive and precious gem on the market, but it’s actually a very unique crystal: Great Salt Plains State Park is the only place in the world where you can find them, and you can dig them up for yourself! The area gets the name “Salt Plains” from the fact that there are salt flats across the region: it was once below a shallow ocean, which deposited salt as it ebbed and flowed. When the water dried up, the layers of salt remained in the soil. As groundwater rises to the surface, it becomes saturated with salt and gypsum, which form the selenite crystals.
Now, gypsum crystals are pretty and sparkly, but they’re not exactly hard to find… but what makes these crystals so rare is the unique, rust-hued hourglass shape inside some of the crystals. It’s something that only occurs at Great Salt Plains Lake in Oklahoma. Iron oxide and clay cause this special phenomenon… so yeah, you’re basically looking for the crystals that basically have dirt inside them! Intrigued? Interested in finding some for yourself? Here’s how to do it:
- Use a shovel to dig a hole about two feet deep and two feet across until you reach wet sand. You may feel the shovel break through the crystals as it goes down. This cannot be helped as there is no way of predicting exactly where a bed of crystals is located.
- Allow two or three inches of water to seep in from the bottom.
- Use your hand or a container to splash water gently against the sides of the hole. The agitated water will wash the soil away from the crystals.
- When you find a crystal formation, continue splashing to wash it free of the supporting sand and clay.
- At this stage of the process, the newly exposed crystals are wet and fragile so use great care removing them.
- After removing crystals from sand, place them where the sun and wind will dry them. Egg cartons or other containers are recommended for transporting the crystals. –fws.gov
Sounds kind of like that book, Holes… but on the bright side, the payoff can be worth it: Crystals up to seven inches long have been discovered, and some of the more outstanding specimens can weigh up to 38 pounds. Whew. And, on the plus side, the gems can form pretty rapidly when conditions are ideal. It’s not exactly hard to find a crystal bed when digging– so don’t go after periods of heavy rain or floods. It’s still maybe the closest I’ll ever come to discovering buried treasure!
Your best bet for finding crystals is on the West side of Great Salt Plains Lake. Digging is permitted between April 1st and October 15th of each year, because it’s used as a whooping crane habitat during the winter. It’s suggested you bring sunglasses, sunblock, and plenty of water with you as you head to the Flats. No permit is required to dig for the buried treasure, but you’re limited to 10 pounds per person per day, and you can keep one large cluster per day as well. You can’t sell the crystals, but you can keep them for your personal trove. They’ll look great on display, or locked away in a treasure chest!