Oklahoma Historical Society, Travel OK, and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
On March 26th, 1930, President Herbert Hoover designated the flood plain of the Salt Fork of the Arkansas River as a national wildlife preserve. The park is located only six miles north-west of Jet, Oklahoma.
The salt flats have an extreme environment due to the high salinity content of the water and soil. Underneath today's topsoil there are the remnants of a shallow sea (The Great Western Seaway). With increased moisture, the water table rises and brings up with it more salinity, which then sits on the surface as the water evaporates. The salt combines with gypsum to create selenite crystals. Of great importance, too, is that the area provides a nesting ground for a high population of avian life.
In designated areas of the flats, the public is allowed to dig for selenite crystals. Simply dig a hole two feet deep, two feet wide, allow the water to accumulate, and then splash the water against the walls of your hole to expose the crystals.
Sign at the entry way to the salt flats.
"Selenite Crystal Digging Regulations
1. Crystal digging is permitted from April 1 - October 15
2. Digging is permitted only in the designated area marked by the sign.
3. All vehicle and foot travel is strictly limited to the designated road and digging area only.
The Salt Flats are essential habitat for threatened and endangered bird species.
4. Wildlife research studies are in progress, do not disturb or approach markers. "
Posts line the road into the flats.
Salt adheres on the windward side of the posts. Interestingly, scientists found microbial life on the salt flats that are reminiscent of the life forms found along the hydrothermal vents in the oceans.
A layer of water from recent rains covered the salt flats.
The sign says, "Muddy road proceed at your own risk." Rather than drive, I left my Jeep at the entryway. In addition to the possibility of getting bogged down, the salinity of the water and mud would adhere to the vehicle until I washed it down.
As I walked along the posts admiring the view, I came upon another sign.
This one said, "Designated Dig Area, 1 Mile."
The flats have an incline of four to eight feet from the digging area toward the dam to the east. Rivulets covered the road here and there, with water still flowing as I walked by. The flowing water exposed some of the selenite crystals. I did not dig very much and returned home with a handful of fine samples of the unique hourglass selenite.
A large part of the flats are closed to the public. Birds (about forty percent of shorebird species) use the salt flats to nest and thrive. Indeed, while I visited the salt flats, a large flock of terns (perhaps over one hundred) flew all around me. Once in a while, they landed and scooped with their beaks food (insects, such as brine flies, and larvae). Biologists assist the birds by installing flat, wooden structures that resemble nests. The structures protect the birds from the winds and rain that sweep the flats. To further assist the birds, the mounds that the people create as they dig for selenite crystals provide some shelter for the nests.
Water covers the road.
A cluster of selenite placed gently on my map.
Image of the hourglass shape in the selenite crystal from the US Fish & Wildlife website.
(With great appreciation.)
In this image, I show someone's hole in search for the crystals.
Water filled it, as well as wind-blown seed heads.
After walking a mile, I came upon the dig site flooded by the rains. In the foreground of the picture, one can see someone's can used for washing away the soil to expose the crystals.
Where the water eroded the soil, I could see the selenite crystals (the little black elongated objects in the mud) emerging to the new surface. Selenite crystals grow in remarkable abundance at the Great Salt Plains. While the salt combines with gypsum to grow into a crystal, it includes particles of mud, wood, even bones, and then form them into an hourglass figure within the structure. It is unique in the world, found no where else on Earth.
My footprints on the mushy soil along the road will disappear very soon. As I walked back to my Jeep, I could not find the footprints I left the previous hour, as they had already eroded in the wind and rain.
A rainbow appeared, I think to enlighten even more my experience at the Great Salt Plains.
Sunset view over the lake from the cabin window.
The Great Salt Plains Park provides cabins, camping, and RV parking.