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Arkansas Ouachita Mountains - A Natural Vacation Getaway

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Just after sunrise Betty Crump pilots a party boat out onto Lake Greeson. The sky is pink and sherbet-orange framing the Arkansas Ouachita Mountains as she turns and heads west, then south towards Narrows Dam.

Betty and her husband Clay own Kirby Landing Marina, one of four marinas on the lake. She and staff members introduce guests to their world year round, but summers are especially busy as vacationers seek cool breezes and family fun.

This day, Betty and staff member Jessica Pinkerton are taking a small group of sightseers out onto the lake which is located about 50 miles southwest of Hot Springs.

“We have more than 150 miles of shoreline and more than 7,000 acres of water for fishing, boating and swimming,” says Betty as she motors past towering rock formations. “This is Chimney Rock,” she says pointing to an outcropping.

According to Betty, you can often see white-tailed deer and wild turkeys along the shore.
For bird watching enthusiasts there’ s opportunity to view migratory waterfowl in season and, during the winter, inhabitants include the Bald Eagle.

A boat tour is just the beginning of a visitor’ s adventure. The marina also rents boats and fishing equipment; offers an excellent swimming area and children’ s programs; and visitors can enjoy other water sports, scuba diving and sightseeing.

“We have one floating cabin for rent,” Betty adds. “It’ s like a houseboat without the motor. Guests get to know other houseboat owners which add to the vacation experience.

“We also opened a motel last year,” Pinkerton said. “The 10-unit facility features everything a guest could want with all the perks of a marina.”

Day Trips

This area of the Natural State offers hiking, biking, breathtaking views for photographers and nature lovers.

One popular local attraction is Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only place on the North American continent where you can dig for diamonds and keep what you find.

Sound easy? It’ s not.

For a small fee and a few pieces of equipment, you can set out to make your fortune on a 37.5-acre plowed field that’ s the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe that brought to the surface the diamonds and semi-precious stones visitors can find here.

The good news is diamonds of all colors of the rainbow can be found here, plus 40 types of rocks and minerals including amethyst, banded agate, jasper, peridot, garnet, quartz, calcite, barite and hematite. The park is the only diamond-producing site in the world where the public can search for diamonds.

The bad news is the odds are high against finding a diamond. But you’ ll sure have fun trying. Just dress down, and be prepared to get dirty and wet. Park employees are on hand to offer advice on the best ways to mine and sift for gems.

Guests can also search for diamonds by walking up and down the rows looking for diamonds lying on top of the ground.

An informational video explains how to mine and how diamonds look. Guests are told that the diamonds found here are typically smooth and well rounded. Their shape resembles a polished stone with smooth sides and rounded edges and averages the size of a paper match head. They have an oily film on them which prevents the diamonds from being dirty.

Diamonds have a metallic luster like new steel or lead and are translucent. You can typically see into them but not through them.

Armed with this information, visitors of all ages head for the mining field and begin digging, sifting, kneeling, sitting, sloshing and walking all in the name of finding gems and having a good time.

Some of the more notable diamonds found include: the 40.23-carat “Uncle Sam,” the largest diamond ever unearthed in the United States, the 15.33-carat “Star of Arkansas,” and the 4.25-carat “Kahn Canary” diamond, worn by Hillary Clinton for two presidential and two gubernatorial inaugurals.

Another family-oriented and historic attraction near Kirby is the KA-DO-HA Indian Village — a pre-historic site that was populated by the Mound Builders approximately 1,000 years ago.

Here, beautifully molded and decorative pottery, pipes and expertly chipped flint are on display. Exhibits also help explain how the mysterious mounds were constructed, how the Native Americans lived in mud and straw houses, and about many of their customs and ceremonies.

KA-DO-HA Indian Village also includes tours of the excavations where you will view actual archaeological discoveries, a trading post featuring Indian crafts and souvenirs, and a designated area for guests to hunt arrowheads.

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