Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Great Salt Plains

"You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."  Matthew 5:13
After driving approximately 267 miles from home, with a detour to Ponca City to see the Marland Mansion, and another stop in Enid to see Leonardo's Discovery Warehouse, and find a hotel room since the Little League World Series was in town, we finally made it to the Great Salt Plains of Oklahoma.  Unfortunately, we had no idea where we were going and went east when we should have went west and ended up on the east side of the lake where there is actually water.  There wasn't a whole lot of scenery in the area.  Apparently the wheat harvest is just getting started. 

We asked several people where to dig crystals by the lake, but they'd only heard of it and had never been there themselves.  Okay, we drove 267 miles and these people had never been there?  Anyway, we found a bathroom and vowed to press on and find the salt plains before sundown.  We also conveniently found a water hydrant outside the bathroom with a hose so we filled up our two water containers with lids that we had in my trunk. 

Things you need to know #1 - you'll need jugs for transporting water, possibly long distances, so you'd better have a lid for it unless you want a wet trunk. 

The outside of the bathroom also had a map of the lake area, so we figured out we were on the wrong side of the lake.  We were approximately 20 miles from where we needed to be.  And we were burning daylight! 

Thing you need to know #2 - The digging area is located on the west side of the lake, west of Jet, Oklahoma.  There is a dirt road cutoff that we took that takes you to the salt plains.  There is a large sign on the right-hand side of the road for the cutoff.  3 miles on dirt road, 1 mile on pavement.  My car can take it!

We finally arrived about 8:00pm, but I'd forgotten my camera at the hotel and so there is no photographic evidence of our maiden entrance into the great salt plain.  I will tell you, it looked a lot like this.  Only I was totally freaked out driving out into it.  There were no other people there.  The bathroom and "scenic" overlook greeted us at the gate and then let us out into the white plains ahead.  It was probably a quarter-mile to the parking area from the gate/bathrooms and it was completely white and sandy.  To me, it felt like we were driving out onto ice, or snow, or water, none of which I am a fan of driving out onto.  I felt a bit claustrophobic or something. 

Then we arrived at the designated digging site and our excitement was only briefly squelched when all four doors of my car were nearly ripped off their hinges from the constant wind gust we experienced while we were there.  I instructed the children to "hang onto your doors" and then we tried again.  This time, no doors were nearly damaged.  Unfortunately, I had to pop my trunk and the wind tried to take off with it too.  It bent the hinges of the trunk so that it closed funny until we got home and my husband took a board to it.  Now it is as good as new.  Well, close.

Things you need to know #3 - It may be quite windy out on the salt plain.  Hang onto your doors, even if it doesn't sound windy to you from inside the car.

We dug about 30 minutes before the sun turned a deep red color that was warning me to get the heck out of there before it was pitch black.  So we heeded its warning and vowed to return in the morning.

The hub was so excited.  He said he'd never done anything like this in his life.  I told him that made sense since this was the only place in the world you could do anything like this.     

This is us the next morning.  We arrived at 8:00am.  We were the last ones out on Saturday night, and the first ones in on Sunday morning.  We began to wonder if very many people visit here or not?  Anyway, that's the hub and children up there with visual examples of our water jugs, and our digging gear.  We wore pool shoes and brought along regular shoes to change into after the digging was over.

Things to know #4 - you'll need a shovel, and possibly a change of clothes/shoes.  Oh, and sunscreen, definitely going to need sunscreen!    

Yes, the wind was blowing 999 mph on Sunday too!  
Obviously people had been here before, but it really is quite deserted.  We felt like we were at the end of the earth or the surface of the moon.  I wonder why more Hollywood Armageddon movies aren't filmed here?  Apparently the military used it as a test bombing site during WWII.  There is a sign when you first go in instructing you what to do if you find any leftover bomb paraphernalia.  *Call 911!!*
The salt plain is also home to the Least Tern, whom we saw several times.  Kind of like a killdeer, but smaller and faster and tougher.  Most killdeers I know make there homes in cemeteries, where there is at least grass.  These guys have NOTHING!  I don't know how they do it. 

 It goes without saying, but it is very salty - hence the name, I suppose.  Salt crystals actually form at the top of the abandoned holes after the water evaporates.  I was apparently the only one in the family that was fascinated by this because.... 

...  the "boys" all headed straight to work.  I told the kids, "Stay where we can see you" which by all accounts was approximately 10 miles in any direction.

Here they are digging the hole.  It is just sand, so it goes pretty quickly.  The hub decided the best bet was to find the clay "bottom" and start there.  He had quite a bit of luck with this theory. 

After digging the hole, we filled it up with water and then started scooping through the sandy soup with our hands.  If you find something hard that almost cuts your finger off, then you've found a crystal.  We worked for about 2 1/2 hours this day and finally..... 

More people showed up!  Some were ill-equipped.  Some dropped their buckets and they immediately flew right to Kansas.  Some probably had their doors ripped off like I did.

And this is what we found.  Singles, clusters, all shapes and sizes.  Selenite crystals!  And no fingers were even lost in the process. 

When we got back in the car and began to dry out.  Even my jeans began to crystallize from all the salt on the ground.  I was glad that I'd asked for a late check-out from the hotel and that we could all go back and take a shower before we headed home. 

Things you need to know, #5 - You're going to need a shower.  Sand is not my friend. 

I suspect that our ease and success of finding so many crystals in such a short period of time was based on the fact that we were there relatively early in the season.  The Great Salt Plains open on April 1st and I suspect are quite picked over by October when they close.  So, if you're planning a road trip, here's my advice:

  • Secure a hotel room in advance (just in case the World Series is going on or something).
  • Take bags for dirty clothes.
  • Take large sealable containers for water.
  • Take small containers for rinsing/transporting crystals.
  • Don't forget your shovel and spade.
  • Wear clothes you don't mind ruining (although miraculously it appears everything came out of the clothes we wore) .
  • Take extra shoes, sunscreen, and water to drink.
  • Make sure you go to the west side of the lake instead of the east, unless you need water and don't want to drive all the way back to Jet. 
  • Fuel up before that last strip of highway through Nash and Jet.  Gas was 30 cents higher there per gallon than in Enid!     
  • Get ready to get dirty!!   

The kids are already asking when we can go back.  I am not a road warrior by any means, but I suspect we'll visit again.  Probably not this season, but perhaps when we run out of crystals. 

Now, what to do with them all??? 


  1. My comment is on the wrong blog by mistake I have drunk too much brandy today.

  2. I am ready for a road trip now! I have often said that Oklahoma seems like a different planet to me. And the landscape in your pictures proves it! I know how enjoyable it is to introduce young minds to wonders like this.


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