We must play. If we do not play, we wither and die, a slow, agonizing death of the spirit. And so, we decided to play at Diamond Crater State Park in Murfreesboro, AR. We had gone on a trip to Virginia earlier this year and stopped at the welcome center coming into AR. Brian Michael, our oldest (7), looks at all the brochures of all the welcome centers of the country as his own personal FREE bookstore. So, now armed with at least 60 brochures and pamphlets about the wonders of this beautiful state, we loaded back into the van and for the next 200 miles heard about all the things we absolutely needed to do as we passed through AR on the way home. In a moment, our fate was decided. He opened the Diamond Crater brochure, and said, “oh, man, we have got to do this!” So we made a plan for fall break.

On Oct 7th, we packed the van with all the typical vacation things, at least for an ND – a cooler full of healthy food: coconut milk, gluten-free bread, Earth Balance, Kind bars, gluten-free pretzels, hummus, red licorice (for Brian K), PB and J, & organic potato chips because driving in a car makes you ravenous for salty & crunchy things. Also packed were sun hats, sifting screens, a large red wagon, two 5-gallon buckets, shovels, suitcases, pillows and blankets, Asia and her bed, and the doctor’s bag. We were READY! We had spent the last month reading books, looking at pictures of diamonds in the rough and picking up tips and tricks from innumerable online blogs.

We stopped at the Cherokee Nation Headquarters in Tahlequah, OK to turn in the kid’s tribal registration, not exactly on the way, but had to be done since they lost our application sent in 2 years ago. On the road again, 4 hours to destination, Queen of Diamonds Inn. As you can imagine, excitement was rampant in the van, dreams of finding the next Hope Diamond were shared (by the kids who had just seen it in June at the Smithsonian) and how maybe we could even fit in panning for gold. Thankfully, riding in a car is a great way to rock a child to sleep, and Brian and I enjoyed some peaceful time just enjoying the countryside.

We arrived in Murfreesboro around 7 pm. Here are a few things to note – this is a dry county! So if you enjoy a cold beer with your Mexican food, or like to sip a glass of wine as the sun sets, BYOB. Also, for eats, there is Em’s Cafe (good old southern cooking) and Los Agaves (the BEST Mexican food ever!). So if you are on special diets, cart in your food items. And everything closes at 9 pm sharp!

We pulled into Em’s Cafe, a small-town, locally owned spot, with yummy food and super friendly staff. Right across the street? The Queen of Diamonds Inn, our home for the next 5 days. We had planned to camp, but with unseasonably warm temperatures in the forecast, and knowing how dusty and dirty we would get at the mine, we opted for a bit of luxury. Right to bed, with a plan to be up early and get to the mine.

Now, Brian and I did this diamond digging thing with Tony, Miki and her kiddos, like 20 years ago. So we knew what we were in for – hot, dusty, dry, hours of sifting through dirt, and a very low probability of finding a diamond. But – the finding of diamonds was not really the end goal, so off we went with smiles and a spring in our step. $24 dollars later, we had checked out the map of where all the big diamonds had ever been found, watched the video on how to mine, and were headed down the ramp to the BIG field of dirt.

The excitement that bubbles out of a child on an adventure needs to be bottled and sold. It makes life new and sparkly and I felt like I was 7 again. We chose our spots and the mining began. Every little shiny thing was put into a bag! I heard, “I think I found one!”, “Oooooh, Ahhhh” and “Grandma, is this a diamond?” at least a hundred times that day. But, 7 hours later with a bag full of interesting things, we headed to the identification desk to find out what we had. Calcite, Jasper, Volcanic rock, an old piece of metal, quartz and random other pebbles and rocks. And we made a plan to decide in the morning if we wanted to come back.

A quick stop at Em’s, a good night’s sleep, and believe it or not, those two were ready to do it again. So, we went back for a few hours, but enthusiasm soon waned in the heat of the day.

Never fear, I had a back-up plan, the Ka-Do-Ha Indian Village complete with museum, mining for crystals and an authentic Indian trading post. This is where we hit the jackpot! For a mere $50, one can purchase a big bucket of sand and dirt, take it over to the sluice and “mine” for crystals, gems and diamonds.

We hit the mother-load. Two beautiful diamonds, bags of crystals and gemstones (including a garnet). Here at Ka-Do-Ha, we met Heather from Australia. She invited us back the next morning to go through all the left-over dirt lying on the ground and tables from people who had come before us that day. The kids were so thrilled, we were happy they were happy, and off we went to try out Los Agaves.

The food and service at this little, out-of-the-way restaurant was just what we needed. And, when we found out the county was dry. Brian and I were going to share an ice-cold beer with our enchiladas, but alas, no drops of brew were to be found. We did end up driving the 15 miles to Footsies, in the neighboring county a couple of days later, but that night, iced tea was our beverage. I have to tell you, their food was REALLY good and the service was outstanding.

The next morning we trekked back to the Indian Village and spent the next four hours collecting bags of gemstones. It was really a great time and a special thanks has to go out to Heather.

Also, we took a spin to Lake Greeson where we were going to hike. But hunting season opened that morning and the guy looked at us like we had lost our minds when we asked about hiking trails. “You know, hunting season opened this morning, not a good idea to me a moving target in any woods around here!” So we walked in the water and back to hotel we went.

We talked and dreamed, played and adventured, explored and spent 5 wonderful days being a family together. My spirit is refreshed and renewed. Make a plan to go do some adventuring with your family. No cell phones, no computers, nothing at all to do except live and laugh in each moment that comes your way. It is transformative.

Have a wonderful day!

Image attributions: c2.staticflickr.com/4/3080/2825678081_2d30c2a0b1.jpg, www.mining-technology.com; www.panaramio.com