Alfalfa County Info & Photos
Photos of Gypsum from the Great Salt Plains
Collecting report for 2000
Note: This year's designated collecting area is at the far north end. My experience is that this area often produces exceptional clusters. Will that be the case this year? Stay tuned for updates...
Collecting the classic gypsum (selenite) crystals from the Great Salt Plains of northwest Oklahoma has long been a favorite pastime for rockhounds and mineral collectors alike.
The collecting area is located on the Great Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge between Jet and Cherokee, Alfalfa County, Oklahoma. The collecting area is open to the public from sunrise to sunset, usually from April 1 to October 15.
The crystals form in the top foot or two of a salt-encrusted sand/salt plain. Because of their environment, the crystals usually display the classic "hourglass" shape of included caly, silt or sand. Crystals form as singles up to10 inches long (rarely) and in complex clusters weighing up to 60 pounds (very rarely); most clusters tip the scales at several ounces to a pound or two.
Successful collectors usually bring a shovel, a bucket, a cup, and an appropriate means of transporting the delicate clusters back to their vehicles.
Prospecting usually begins by thrusting the shovel into the sand to a depth of about one foot. The resistance and crunching sound caused by the shovel breaking through crystals is a good sign, especially if the crystal bed is four or more inches below the surface.
The extraction effort continues by digging a relatively small hole deep enough to reach the water table, usually about a foot or so beneath the suface. In dry periods and on particular parts of the collecting area water is difficult or impossible to reach, in which case the bucket is used to transport water from a more "liquid" location or abandoned hole nearby.
Once water has seeped (or has been transported) into the prospect hole, the prospector uses the cup to gently splash or pour water against or over the exposed crystals or clusters. This repeated action will result in the crystals becoming dislodged from the sand, so a ready, steady hand underneath is a necessity.
Once obtained, the crystals should be placed on the surface and allowed to "dry" and "harden" before being moved.
The number, type and quality of singles and clusters extracted each year vary with climate and location. The collecting area is cycled annually through five or six different areas, allowing each digging area to "recover." And since the crystals form quickly (in geological terms), there is usually a fresh crop when a particular area is re-collected five or six years later.
In addition to sand, crystals often include embedded gravel, twigs or other debris from the neighboring sand.
Collectors should take plenty of drinking water, since none is available at the collecting site. SUNSCREEN is an ABSOLUTE NECESSITY, since the treeless horizon and white salt/sand surface deliver a double UV whammy. even on cloudy days. Summer afternoons can be unforgivingly hot; cool, windy days give the term "wind chill" a very dramatic and personal meaning.
For information on collecting, contact the National Wildlife Refuge at 580-626-4794; the Great Salt Plains State Park (with camping facilities) at 580-626-4731, or the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce at 580-596-3053.
For additional information on selenite collecting at the National Wildlife Refuge, click the link below:
Selenite and Refuge Info
Here's another site with info and pictures on collecting at the Salt Plains:
Gypsum, complex cluster, Great Salt Plains, Alfalfa County.
Large, rough intergrown gypsum crystals, approximately 10 inches across, Alfalfa County.
Gypsum "starburst" clusters, Alfalfa County.
Large gypsum crystals, approximately 6 inches across, Alfalfa County.
This is it, folks, the Great Salt Plains of Oklahoma.
If you want to get some nice specimens, plan on getting wet and dirty at the Great Salt Plains.
Cherokee resident Gordon McDowell, the sultan of selenite, holds a cluster he dug this April from a very productive hole.
Note the "pincushion" clusters sitting atop a bed of more granular gypsum with much smaller crystals. The pictured area came out in two pieces, the larger of the two about 15 inches across.
McDowell with smaller but very nice cluster.
This is the "glory hole" that produced all the specimens pictured in the "new" photos.
McDowell uses a screen to salvage single crystals for use in presentations to school groups and tourists.
A morning's work at our 1998 "glory hole."
Digging in an almost sand-free area can produce some exceptional crystals on occasion, but is much more time consuming and more often yields disappointing results. Note how the silt changes the wash water into a thick, syrupy goo that quickly becomes useless.