How to Enjoy Digging When You Want to Find Something-Like Selenite Crystals

'Sand diggers' hunting for the rare hourglass selenite crystals of gypsum in the Great Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge and State Park in Oklahoma
'Sand diggers' hunting for the rare hourglass selenite crystals of gypsum in the Great Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge and State Park in Oklahoma
A typical example of a small crystal formation of selenite.
A typical example of a small crystal formation of selenite.
Location of Great Salt Plains State Park and Wildlife Refuge.
Location of Great Salt Plains State Park and Wildlife Refuge.
A stilt bird happily stretches in the safety of his sandy sunny Refuge.
A stilt bird happily stretches in the safety of his sandy sunny Refuge.
Resting or nesting, this bird doesn't give a lick about all the vacationers' activities.
Resting or nesting, this bird doesn't give a lick about all the vacationers' activities.
Collage of Salt Plains wildlife credit: Oklahoma State Dept. of Tourism.
Collage of Salt Plains wildlife credit: Oklahoma State Dept. of Tourism.
A selenite crystal form, fairly common type, but this is a particularly desirable one.
A selenite crystal form, fairly common type, but this is a particularly desirable one.

Family Vacation and a Fun Reason for the Family to Dig!

The Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in far western Oklahoma is a regional vacation spot for many families, and avid crystal collectors. It offers incredible fishing, nature trails and camping, varied daytime activities for all the family.

There is no admission fee, it is handicap accessible (with limitations), controlled pets are allowed, and there are guided tours available. Reservations are required only for the guided tours by Refuge personnnel. If you crave other recreation, there is bird watching, horseback riding, and some great fishing in the large shallow lake which is almost half as salty as the ocean. The Refuge is only open from April 1st through October 15 for fishing, or digging in the sand plat area for whatever hidden prizes you may find - and keep! Further information and regulations regarding summer activities is available at the following site: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/oklahoma/saltplains

The Great Salt Plains Lake is located on the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River, about eight miles northeast of Jet, Oklahoma and twelve miles north of Cherokee, Oklahoma. There are limited lakeshore areas available for overnight camping and daytime activities such as nature trails, hunting in season,swimming, boating, hiking, and of course the nearby sand diggings of the salt flats for the beautiful selenite crystal formations. http://www.swt.usace.army.mil/

The lake has about 41 miles of shoreline with sandy beaches and red cliff areas. There are several varieties of sport fish such as sand bass, catfish, striper bass, and saugeye to be hooked. It is recommended that personal boats not be brought to the area but boats are available for use.

The Great Salt Plains State Park regional area also has RV sites available, cabins, equestrian trails, mountain biking, a fishing dock, public comfort facilities with showers, and a community center building for use. There are picnic sites and group shelters for daytime enjoyment, and a museum with interesting displays of many local items as well as historical information of the use/site. The digging area has only recently re-opened this year after closure for two years for cleanup of ancient military vial discards found buried in areas of the sand plat. These were chemical trash and not exposives, and the plains is now considered again safe for diggers and explorers.

Among the greatest drawing points of this exciting vacation region is the supurb quality and ever-growing quantity of the hourglass shaped selenite crystals. Both opaque and translucent in design, these reddish-tan sandy prizes are initially moist and fragile forms of gypsum, much desired by crystal collectors and enthustiacally eager diggers alike. The Oklahoma Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge is the only place in the world where these unique gypsum crystals are known to be formed, and the supply is kinetic according to the ample or deficient amounts of rainwater available. When water levels remain high some of the gypsum will resorb into the water. When it remains drier the crystals will have growth spurts. Whatever else you come to this fantastic vacation spot to experience, crystal digging will likely be one you won't want to miss.

If you want to spend the day - and you most certainly will want to - there are not many eating or lodging areas available close by, other than the camping/picnicking areas. Enid, Oklahoma is about 40 miles southeast of the park area and would have the closest overnight lodging and restaurants available there. The Salt Plains Park is about 110 miles north-northwest of Oklahoma City and 157 miles west-northwest of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wichita, Kansas is 108 miles north-northeast. Cherokee, about 19 miles away, would have limited avilability eating sites but expect no lodging there. More pertinent and current information is available at http://www.oklahomaparks.com/

Shore birds eating the briney fly hatchlings in the salty water, a delicacy to them.
Shore birds eating the briney fly hatchlings in the salty water, a delicacy to them.
Museum  crystal formation. Crystals in situ, constantly change patterns with the amount of water in the sand plats.  If you could find and re-bury a crystal one year and locate it the next, it would be either smaller, larger or crusted with new growt
Museum crystal formation. Crystals in situ, constantly change patterns with the amount of water in the sand plats. If you could find and re-bury a crystal one year and locate it the next, it would be either smaller, larger or crusted with new growt
A good example of a single selenite crystal.  Note the dark hourglass inclusion is formed by the adsorption of sand as the crystal forms.
A good example of a single selenite crystal. Note the dark hourglass inclusion is formed by the adsorption of sand as the crystal forms.

Prime habitat for Birds and Crystals - What a Combination!

The Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge is a critically necessary habitat for the endangered whooping crane, and there are nearly 300 different bird species that frequent the area, including eagles. In the early winter months there are informative guided eagle-watching tours, as these great birds overwinter in the Refuge.

Spring and Fall are excellent migratory seasons to spot varied species as they arrive to rest and then continue their journeys.  The Oklahoma Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is a member of The Western Hemisphere for the Shorebird Reserve Network, and designated a globally important bird area. Bird and nature photographers will find this whole wildlife area an abundant picture capturing challenge and reward.

During migratory seasonal peaks there may be over 100,000 birds on the Wildlife Refuge, composed mainly of ducks, geese, cranes, ibis, egret, but also local birds such as cardinals, commen wren, swallowtail flycatcher and many others. Ralstin Island is an important rookery for the growth of ibis and egret. As the birds are considered primary inhabitants in this Refuge, all activities by persons visiting are expected to be respectful of the bird habitat.

So it is also with the crystal diggings -enjoy the process, do not leave anything you brought. Bring out your prized finds of the calcium sulfate crystals, and of course pictures, memories, sand, dirt, and possibly sore muscles.

Large or small, each is your personal prize.

Diggers, sun and sand.      credit: fws.gov
Diggers, sun and sand. credit: fws.gov
A selenite cluster with less red Oklahoma dirt color than most.  Rose rocks - the state rock- are another form of gypsum.   credit:  fws.gov
A selenite cluster with less red Oklahoma dirt color than most. Rose rocks - the state rock- are another form of gypsum. credit: fws.gov
Experienced crystal diggers enjoying their day.  credit:  okstate.edu
Experienced crystal diggers enjoying their day. credit: okstate.edu

How do I dig and what do I need ?

Oklahoma summers can be very hot, windy and dry, so the number one supply you must have is bodily protection: Water and personal shade! Plan as though you were going on a picnic for the day but do not overload yourself with unnecessary items. Of course you will want to bring a camera to capture that first or best crystal - like a 'first-fish-caught' memory.

Digging for selenite crystals is not hard work but you will get dirty, as some of that clean looking greyish sand holds more red dirt coloring in varied places than others, and you can wear the oldest, tackiest jeans you'd ever desire. Or shorts are fine if you dare to risk sunburning your legs. A hat is a must as are sunglasses and lip-chap. A snack is fine, though not vital, but ALL trash items must be removed with you when you leave with your crystal prizes. An umbrella is desirable when it is very hot, and whatever you choose to use for digging is up to you.

Some people do dig with their hands only, though this not feasible if you plan to stay much of the day. Most people will have a small hand digger or rake or even a short heavy stick. Others bring shovels and sift the sands through homemade wire boxes. However it must be remembered that the moist growing crystals are fragile and easily cut or broken through with rough handling while digging. The crystals are typically allowed to air-dry for several days which will decrease their fragility. From the tinest 1/4 inch single crystal to the monsterous 3 pound cluster, whatever you find is prized and yours if you want it!

Many crystals have been temporarily 'ruined' by shoveling through a cluster. One must make the choice to retain what is desirable and re-bury what is not wanted. When the crystals remain or are returned to their sandy hide-a-ways they will continue to grow, repair, change and may actually refurbish themselves into varied beautful shapes after being broken. As the water levels in the sand plats change, the growth of the crystals also change. It is only responsible to use care while digging rather than carelessly wrecking possibilities for others' experience.

Is this what you call 'Enthusiastic'?

Most vacationing diggers will only dig about 15 inches deep. Many crystals are found even at 10 inches.  credit: okstate.edu
Most vacationing diggers will only dig about 15 inches deep. Many crystals are found even at 10 inches. credit: okstate.edu
Maybe this is what he was looking for.  X marks the spot?
Maybe this is what he was looking for. X marks the spot?

Perhaps the whitetail deer or the flock of traipsing bobwhite enjoy seeing him as much as he is enjoying his adventure.

The Park Headquarters has listings of the many types of fowl who are regularly seen at the Refuge. It is asked to be reported if someone should note a different or 'accidental' sighting of a new specie of fowl in the area. Avid bird spotters welcome the many challenging aspects of the varied land, shore, water, bluff and mountainous areas. Hunters in season brave the cold winds to get their venison or turkey, and the nature trails are always available during the open months of the Wildlife Refuge.

Here is a vacation spot with something for everyone except the one who does not wish to experience the intimate joys of nature in its own setting - quiet, except for the 'home folk' splashing or talking, chirping, whirring through the clean air. It holds the shared voices of people talking with glee in showing their 'catch of the day'. It is truly a vacation for the body, the mind, and a tired soul...

The lakeside plains are beautiful in pink-gold sunrise and at golden-orange sunset, just before the nighttime activities of this creature world begin to roil. With the frogs and crickets and waterbirds cajoling in the pewter evenings, with the fluttering and twittering of many small voices, one could almost relax into a primordial being beside the crackeling campfire, watching the full moon rise over the lake.

As a cool breeze brushes the ears in soft rushes, and you take another gaze at your selenite prize, contentment lies silently beside you listening and watching too...

You may find peace with yourself and this world right here. For at least, this moment! Go!


Let nature permeate your soul with the loveliness of peace.

May the lovliness of nature bring you its peace.
May the lovliness of nature bring you its peace.
Map of the Great Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge State Park and National Wildlife Refuge area.
Map of the Great Salt Plains Wildlife Refuge State Park and National Wildlife Refuge area.

Update information September 7, 2010

Excerpted from The Daily Oklahoman of this date.

While crystal digging still draws over 3,000 people a month on average, the camping, fishing and boating excursions are diminishing. Why? Because the lake is now so filled with sediment that the water, especially in summertime, is becoming too shallow to support as many fish or allow large motor-boating.

The Tulsa district of the U.S. Corps of Engineers has held local meetings with the interested population and are currently discussing what/whether to do about rescuing the lake tourist facilities. It has suggested dredging all or part of the lake, but that seems an impossibility financially. The other option mentioned is 'letting Nature take its natural pathway" and do nothing.

However, the local populace is generally distinctly in favor of assisting the recovery of tourist and vacation activities that have fallen short in recent years because of the gradual sedimentation problem in the lake. A suggestion has been made to dredge an area around the State Park that could be used for boating and fishing. That removed sediment would then be used to build up shoreline and presently existing islands.  This limited action would initiate recovery of tourist and local recreational activities and support the local economy.

Should you wish to assist or comment on this project, visit the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers and send in your suggestions. The site is: www.swt.usace.army.mil.

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Comments 14 comments

Camping Dan profile image

Camping Dan 7 years ago

What a cool area!! I have done the diamond digging in Arkansas but I did not know about this place.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 7 years ago from Central United States of America Author

Camping Dan, It is indeed a cool area, a fun place. It is mostly sandy so not nearly as muddy-ing as the diamond digs.

Hope you can go and enjoy it sometime. You always find some crystals too!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

What a fascinating hub! I was unaware of this area and would be tempted to dig for some of those crystals if ever near that locale. Your descriptive words almost had me hearing the chirping of crickets and seeing the sunrises and sunsets. Thanks!


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America Author

Hi, Peggy W. It is a fun place to go and there is always a group of fellow diggers for conversation.

The camping evenings are also so beautiful and relaxing! We all need more of that...

Thanks for enjoying and commenting.


6 years ago

what about ok state rock can you get those


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America Author

K, you can get the rose rocks in an area south of OKC, near Norman. You do have to pay a small fee but get to keep what you dig. They also are available for sale in a few places around, but it is much more delightful to find your own. I do not remember the name of the 'ranch' where you are allowed to hunt, but perhaps it is available in OKC information online. Some rose rocks are really fantastic! Best wishes!


emill1009 5 years ago

this is definitely the coolest thing I have done in Oklahoma!


Javonta Matthews 4 years ago

When I was in the eight grade.We went to Alerbaster Caverns to go hiking and go cave exploring.We saw fruit bats it was kind of chilly in the cave because there is no sunlight in the cave. But there are some lights in cave so you can see. But you are allowed to take a flashlight. Then after we was out of the cave. The tour woman drove us over were the park was we went to see the little stream. We saw a snake in the stream. It went in a little hole it didn't come back out. We thought it was scared. Before we did all of that we ate lunch so we wouldn't get hungry.Then we got back on the bus to the Great Salt Plains.When we got there the bus driver. Parked the bus our teacher let us off the bus. We found a digging spot. I had a partner his name was Perion. We dug for about an hour or two. Then after we dug it was time to go and eat supper at an McDonald's. After we ate we headed back to the school. Where our parents where waiting. When we got there we got off the bus.We got our jugg of crystals off the bus. Then we went to our cars and went home. When I got home I washed off the crystals because they were dirty I used soap and water

They got clean. That was one of the best feild trips I ever went to. It. Was the best time of my life. I hope I'll get to go back some day.


MR. Matthews 4 years ago

The Great Salt Plains. Is located just three miles north of Cherokee. Its open from May trough October fifteenth.


Tadasha 4 years ago

I love this story, and I believe its the best, I think you should realy write stories, because this one has realy inspired me by 99%, keep up your good work.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 4 years ago from Central United States of America Author

Javonta Matthews, delighted to read your enjoyment of the crystal digging. And I hope you do get to go back!

MR. Matthews, thank you for update on the Plains info! Looks like I will need to correct my map miles too.

Tadasha, thank you for visiting and leaving a nice comment.


Javonta Matthews 4 years ago

Thank you frogyfish for reading my commet. I like for people to read my commets.


newbizmau profile image

newbizmau 16 months ago from Mobile, AL

My Selenite tower is one of my favorites. This is my first time learning about the hourglass selenite. Thanks for the great hub and information.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 16 months ago from Central United States of America Author

newbizmau, I only recently heard of the Selenite tower crystals, and seeing pictures of several, thought they were lovely. The ones I saw were not reddish, only white/clear. Do you think their 'frequencies' would be similar?

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