An Interesting Quarry
On a drizzly day back in the mid-1990s, a group of miners at the Garfield Lewis Claim on Fisher Mountain, some 30 miles west of Hot Springs, were striking paydirt — or, more accurately, quartz crystal. The open trenches of the mine had been around for years, going back to the 1880s when a man named William Fisher had staked his claim. It was known as an especially prolific mine — but now the men were finding something truly remarkable.
That morning, they’d uncovered a slab of quartz that was, in their telling, waist-high and as broad as a car hood. While the miners were eating lunch, however, the mountain started to shift. A rock came tumbling down, which became a wall of red earth crashing down carrying timber and burying everything — the quartz, the miners’ tools, and any hope for promised glory. The mountain had eaten everything.
For a long time, the mountain was quiet again.
Nearly 30 years later, there’s sound. Lots and lots of sound.
“All that noise that you're hearing down there? I believe they were working down there.” Michael Yaeger of Avant Mining points a gloved hand at a place down the mountain, just around a tree-capped ridge, the sides of which have been sheared away to reveal great walls of red dirt. Somewhere around that ridge is the source of the sound, which is a heavy, grinding, powerful sound of earthmovers and enormous pieces of earth being dragged and dropped somewhere out of sight. “The main goal is to get down there because that’s where all the glory was coming out.”
He turns back to where he’s digging, in a shallow cleft of the mountain, where the red dirt is rising high about his head. It looks to be the site of an industrial dig. Mammoth stacks of broken-apart rocks. An excavator with its arm crooked just to the side of the pit. But despite all appearances, this is not an industrial mine. Since 2020, this site — the Garfield Lewis Claim on Fisher Mountain — has drawn no small number of YouTube influencers, high-ranking public officials, and the occasional whisper of a better-known celebrity. This is where Avant Mining hosts its private, by-appointment-only digs.
Rather than sifting through the turned-over dirt piles at the nearby public dig site — the Ocus Stanley Claim, which Avant also runs and advertises as the oldest such dig in Arkansas — the private dig gives people direct access to the heart of the mountain. Before they even arrive, the miners prepare the private dig site by uncovering what they can with the long-armed excavator. From there, these visitors can poke into the deep veins and pockets, using their hands and nylon tools — from crowbars to “chopsticks” — to coax minerals from the red clay. It’s not uncommon, Michael says, for visitors to come away with four or five baskets of material — some of which, in theory, might be worth far more than the price tag ($1,000 to $10,000) charged for a day’s private dig. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that if the value of the pieces exceeds the price of the dig, per the website, visitors “will have an option to purchase them at wholesale pricing.”)
After a few moments of digging, Michael pulls out a piece that is roughly the size of a dictionary. Like, an unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.
Asked if that entire hunk of rock is, in fact, one piece, he says, “Oh, it’s definitely one thing.”
Asked how often he finds them, he says, “Oh, I find them all the time.”
Carefully setting it down beside him, Michael says: “That’s mainly what I’m going for — we go for the big ones, and then all the little ones come with it.” Pulling a smaller piece, roughly the size of a racquetball, he says, “This one should be a nice burr.”
It’s important to note here that the language of quartz is an island unto itself. There are burrs and windows. Steep terminations and internal twinning. Lattice planes, shovelheads, handedness, phantom inclusions, and Japan Law Twins. It’s possible to listen to a quartz connoisseur speak for the best part of 30 seconds without understanding maybe 10% of the words spoken. But as beautiful and delicate as the words might be, the pieces themselves are far more faceted, nuanced and intricate.
At Avant Mining’s shop just down the road on U.S. 270, you understand just how true that is.
Throughout the shop, which is really more of a museum, there are pieces on shelves and under glass. Some look like new-fallen snow from a distance, but are, upon further inspection, rolling landscapes of perfectly formed crystals. At least one is the size and shape of a torpedo.
What’s remarkable about the pieces, however, is that so many of these pieces which defy language — and what sets the Garfield Lewis Claim apart from the fray — is something that James Zigras, owner of Avant Mining, had told me a few days before.
“Although there are other mines, they don't offer private digs at a mine that's part of the, shall we say, Holy Trinity, or one of the three mines that have produced one the world's great quartz specimens,” he said. And it bears mentioning, these are not just nice-for-Arkansas pieces — but nice-for-Smithsonian pieces, many of which have long occupied places of prominence in museums and private collections the world over. In fact, there are three pieces from Garfield Lewis that have been on display in the Smithsonian since they were sent there in April 1940 (the heaviest of which weighs nearly 900 pounds).
“People are getting an opportunity to dig literally at a world-famous mine that has produced world-famous pieces.”
Visit Avant Mining
11 Logan Gap Road, Mount Ida
Public Quartz Dig
Dig the Ocus Stanley Claim on Fisher Mountain
Adults $25, Seniors $20, Children $10
Bring your digging tools and gloves.
Private Pocket Digs
Dig more exclusive spots like Lemurian Zone and Zigras Mine
$1,000-$10,000+ guided digs
More info: avantfishermtn.com
It’s worth stressing that this isn’t the case in most places — and that even well-known rockhounds acknowledge as much. Not long before Avant Mining opened Garfield Lewis to the public in 2020, Bryan Major — aka The Crystal Collector, a well-known YouTuber who travels the land digging crystals and sharing those videos with his now nearly 400,000 followers — stopped by to help promote the opening. At the end of the video, he mentions the private digs with a sense of quasi-bewilderment.
"The owner of Avant Mining mine has just let me tell you guys the craziest thing ever," he said. "Check this out: So, instead of him digging these commercially and putting them all up for sale, he's gonna let you guys come and do pay-to-dig pockets on blue phantoms [a sort of quartz crystal with manganese inclusion]. What?! I mean, even I was in shock."
And, again, because it bears repeating: Yes, you can dig there.
Back at the site, after pulling out the dictionary, Michael has found another large piece in the pocket. After working on it for the better part of 20 minutes (“You can't rush perfection, and you definitely can't rush this”), Michael emerges hunched over with a piece that is several times the size of the dictionary — maybe half an alphabet of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Setting it down, he says, “I think I’ve impressed you guys enough. That’s the win of the day.”
Hot Springs’ Other Healing Power: Crystals
Buried beneath the Spa City, there’s more than just therapeutic thermal water. Located near the quartz capital of the world, Hot Springs is known also for crystals, considered powerful for an array of benefits. Visitors travel far and wide to shop locally mined rocks, which are revered for special mineral properties that purify, clarify, heal and manifest certain energies. Here are some of the most popular crystals purchased in the Spa City and their perceived powers:
Amethyst is commonly used for its calming properties. It’s used during meditation or studying, and helps provide stability, clarity and peace.
Aquamarine is a stone used for its purification properties. It purifies the body and enhances clarity of mind with its gentle and compassionate energies.
Citrine is an energizing stone that provides happiness, courage, hope and warmth. It is said to hold the energy of the sun, enhancing self-esteem, self-expression and creativity. Citrine is a powerful cleansing and revitalizing stone, awakening the mind, body and soul.
Clear Quartz is known as a powerful amplifier for other stone energies, as well as a tool for clearing the mind.
Fluorite manifests focus, intuition and understanding. It promotes stability, free thinking and clear unbiased reasoning.
Aventurine embodies a positive, easy-going attitude toward life and brings joy, happiness and emotional tranquility. Aventurine stimulates the mind, creativity, motivation and independence.
Red Jasper is a stabilizer that represents the earth and is a grounding stone that brings balance in life.
Rose Quartz embodies unconditional love, forgiveness, peace and compassion. It reduces stress and tension, allowing for the open expression of love, sensitivity and compassion toward ourselves and others.
DIAMONDS — FINDERS KEEPERS
Arkansas is home to one of the only diamond-producing sites in the world where visitors can dig for and keep any diamonds or other stones they find. The Crater of Diamonds State Park, located one hour south of Hot Springs in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, is famous for the frequency of finds, too. In 2021, more than 250 diamonds were found, with a total diamond weight of nearly 50 carats. In fact, it’s estimated that one to two diamonds are found by visitors each day. Go dig up the ultimate souvenir!
Healing powers: Stamina and strength, purification