We just got back to New Mexico from a 10 day trip around Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. The plan was to be in Hot Springs Village, AR by Christmas and then make a loop down to San Antonio, Tx on the way back to New Mexico. The first night we traveled through the Texas Panhandle through Dalhart, Dumas, Borger and Pampa. A note for Panhandle travel, most towns have a smell, it may be cattle, or may be oil but most earn their money with a smelly product. Being from Texas, I enjoy the unique smells, but while traveling through, just remember someone is making a living putting up with it. The plan was to stop at the KOA in Elk City, OK and set up the tent for the night. Elk City has a beautiful Christmas light display down on Route 66 for those passing by at that time of year. Unfortunately we arrived after check in and while looking for a wifi password realized that there was also no bathroom codes on the check in sheet, so we left a little note for the operators that should be known by all RV campgrounds, If you are going to lock the bathroom doors and expect people to pay for services, then please provide the codes for said services!
So we headed on down the road to El Reno West KOA. Did the night check in thing and found that they were remodeling some of their restrooms, but atleast had others available. Very nice setting at El Reno West KOA, the restrooms were clean and the one already remodeled was very nice. The park has multiple levels of sorts so its more like a park rather than a slab of asphalt and there is a small lake that wraps around the area. They have one of those bounce areas for people to play on with a small fee, and right next door is a fenced area with a couple of Bison, along with a neat little gas station shaped like a teepee. So if you are traveling down I40 in Oklahoma and need a place to rest your head (and empty your bladder) I recommend El Reno West KOA.
The next day we set out down I40 towards Arkansas and although not a fan of I40, it was a necessary evil to reach Hot Springs Village in time. We grabbed dinner in Russelville and then proceeded down 155 and 247. For anyone seeking a challenge or tempting fate, Arkansas roads after dark will do both. Fun Fact: Arkansas roads are winding because when they were still dirt trails people would reroute the trail around fallen trees (that's atleast what I was taught in an Arkansas History class in college, so must be true). They are super fun in a sports car, but less so in a Jeep hauling a trailer. But after a couple of hours we finally made it to HSV.
We did the whole family Christmas thing for a couple of days and learned of the impending storms that were predicting blizzards in Texas and 8 inch rainfalls in Arkansas. At that point we decided to make lemonade out of lemons. There is a little town called Murfreesboro about an hour and a half southwest of Hot Springs, and in that town there is a state park called Crater of Diamonds. For a small daily fee you can dig to your hearts delight and whatever rocks or Diamonds you find you get to keep. So after hearing the old tales, the luck is usually higher after rain storms, therefore flooding rains should make it impossible to miss one of those shiny things! We waited out the last day of heavy rain and then proceeded to Crater of Diamonds. After purchasing a couple of pairs of knee high mud boots and cheap five gallon buckets we were ready. A note for travelers, keep some muck boots or waders handy with your travel gear because you never know when fortunes will present themselves in muddy fields. We set up the tent at the campground and prepared ourselves for the next day of digging. The campground does have wifi available when weather cooperates and decent restrooms but the rate is as high as a commercial RV campground, but who cares when you are going to make a small fortune from their dirt. We had to rent the sifter as they aren't available at Walmart but any of the gear you need and didnt bring is available for rent at the park office. The temps that day were in the low 40s and still overcast and humid from the rain storms, so not the nicest weather to be out in the mud, but most of us have tromped through the mud for less than diamonds. We walked a little looking for one to jump out at us, but no such luck, so we took to the dirtier but in my opinion more fun route, we filled a bucket with dirt and took to the water troughs. This method is supposedly a speedier way of finding diamonds or atleast of weeding through non diamonds. Just like the gold mining shows on tv, you take your sifter and put the dirt in there, shake it around in the water and low and behold there are rocks in that clump of brown dirt. And if you had the double sifters like we did the top had larger rocks and the bottom had smaller. At this point you take the little sifter and dump it upside down onto the tables nearby. With your keen eyes and something pointy like a knife you pick through the rocks looking for the get rich quick smooth glassy ones. Someone there had a infrared thermometer gun and measure the water at 40 degrees, so the dunking and shaking got pretty cold quick, I made some makeshift arctic gloves out of some liner gloves and the dishwashing rubber gloves they sell at the office. We dug and sifted for about 6 hours, and at the end of the day the little vile of clear rocks I had picked out as maybe diamonds was identified as calcite, quartz, mica and lava (but I kept them anyway just in case she was wrong). You are allowed to take with you a five gallon bucket of your sifted gravel to dig through at home, so after digging and sifting all day, I still stubbornly carried five gallons of rocks all the way to the parking lot, because maybe that glassy expensive rock is still waiting patiently somewhere in that camo bucket.