Salvaging summer: Digging for crystals at the Great Salt Plains - MetroFamily Magazine
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Salvaging summer: Digging for crystals at the Great Salt Plains

by Erin Page

Sunshine + sand, mud and water for digging as far as the eye can see = 3 children living their best lives. I think it’s safe to say that for most kids messy fun is the best kind of fun. I’ll admit, I was a little wary about how MUCH mess a day digging for crystals at the Great Salt Plains would result in, and I was a bit skeptical about driving for two hours to … well … dig.

Visions of children whining profusely and enjoying the activity for a mere 7 minutes before calling it quits clouded my vision a bit. But my husband, undoubtedly the “fun” one, convinced me there’s no time like the present to experience the only place in the world to dig for selenite crystals (and after all, it’s not like we have much else to do on the weekends!) And I convinced myself to lower my expectations, then lower them again, and then maybe one more time, and off we went.

I’ve often been accused of being a vacation task-master. I have a color-coded itinerary and high expectations (Clark Griswold is my spirit animal). And now that most of our summer vacation plans have been canceled, I’m grieving a bit over that loss. Not a great combination. But I’m discovering it is one I can overcome. Here’s what helped me enjoy the beauty, spontaneity and mess of our day at Great Salt Plains State Park outside of Jet, Okla.:

  1. An adjusted attitude. I’m talking about mine. There was no itinerary, no specific TOA and I refrained from spiraling when we got lost on the way. I didn’t schedule how long we would stay, exactly what we would do while there or set a goal of the number of crystals we should collect. I had to take some deep breaths when the kids removed their shoes and socks and actually jumped into the holes we were digging to cover themselves with mud, but I pushed through. Those lowered expectations made all the difference and allowed me to just be present in the moment. We even really enjoyed the beautiful 2-hour drive, full of rolling plains, turkey vulture spottings and fields of wind turbines. 
  2. The right tools. Just because I didn’t have a color-coded itinerary doesn’t mean I didn’t do my research about what to take! I suggest several regularly-sized shovels for the adults and smaller shovels or garden trowels for the kids. We wore plenty of sunscreen because the combination of the sun and the white sand can result in a quick sunburn. Hats and sunglasses helped with the glare and the wind-blown sand and salt. Some people suggest gloves as the crystals can cut your skin. We took plenty of water for drinking as well as extra for washing off a bit before getting back in the car. Towels and hand wipes helped with the dirt removal as well. I was glad we took changes of clothes for the kids because they were tired, muddy messes (who promptly fell asleep after eating the lunch we packed).
  3. The right method. Again, I did my research and knew we’d need to dig a hole about 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep for the best results in hunting for crystals. You inevitably break through some crystals as you dig, but I reminded myself this was not a perfectionists’ sport. Apparently letting the 4-year-old select the spot to dig is the ticket because we found tons. The kids also dug their own small holes or found previously dug holes to explore. We found crystals in all of them.
  4. The right day and time. OK, I know I told you this was spontaneous, but for me, planning a trip two days out is the height of spontaneity. It can get really hot on that white sand, so we opted for a day with temps around 78 degrees, and it was perfect. I can definitely be described as overly-cautious when it comes to social distancing so I was a bit nervous that it would be really crowded when we arrived at 11 a.m. (spoiler alert: it wasn’t and it was very easy to be socially distant). The crowds were picking up when we left at 1 p.m. Next time I’d get there earlier or go on a weekday.

The crystal dig site at Great Plains State Park is free to enter and open from dawn till dusk through October. Perhaps most important to note for all the parents whose kids inevitably need a restroom approximately 12 minutes after you leave home, there are only two porta-potties onsite. If you’re public bathroom averse with your kids right now like I am, may I suggest our method of compostable trash bags and a toilet seat to fit on your Lowe’s or Home Depot bucket. Add this to the growing list of things I never imagined I’d have to consider as a parent. But remember, I’m lowering all my expectations this summer, and if this parenting hack means we can explore our state this summer without that added worry, so be it.

Perhaps above all else, this iconic Oklahoma experience of digging for crystals at the Great Salt Plains gave us all hope that this summer IS salvageable. We may have to vacation in ways that weren’t what we had originally planned, but perhaps that shift in sticking closer to home and exploring the state we’re fortunate to live in is actually a gift in disguise. The experience was one of those moments that I could tell will stay in my kids’ memories for a lifetime. Mine, too.

Erin Page is managing editor of MetroFamily Magazine, an award-winning writer, a lifelong resident of OKC, wife to Jordan and mom to Addie, Hutch and Weston. She enjoys running, cooking and hiding from her kids to eat chocolate.  

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