Crystal Digging

Hourglass selenite crystal / R. Weller-Cochise College ©

Exceptional individual crystals measuring up to seven inches long have been found, along with complex combinations weighing as much as 38 pounds.

Crystal digging is permitted from April 1 through October 15, sunrise to sunset. The digging area is closed from October 16th through March 31st, as the entire refuge is designated critical whooping crane habitat. No exceptions are made to these dates.

When collecting, no special permit is required. Collectors are permitted to remove up to 10 pounds of crystals plus one large cluster for their personal use in any one day. Crystals taken from the refuge cannot be sold, under penalty of law.

Safety Precautions
Once in the digging area, please stay on the designated road. Shorebirds nest on the flats. Their nests are camouflaged to the soil so you may not see them. Additionally, the ground is much softer than expected off the road.

Be sure to thoroughly wash your car after leaving the flats.

Due to the white salt surface, it is easy to get sunburned. Sunglasses, sunscreen and protective clothing are recommended. Drinking water is not available at the dig site -- bring water and a change of clothes, digging is a messy venture.

* Past Military Use * The refuge was at one time used by the military as a bombing and straffing range. If you come across anything unusual, err on the side of caution and call 911 or contact the refuge as explosive devices were used in this area.

Watch for Wildlife on the Salt Flats
The most productive area in which the selenite crystals are found has been divided into sections. Each section is used on a rotating basis to allow time for crystal growth replacement. It is also important to restrict crystal digging to particular sections because many bird species use the area for nesting purposes. Among these species are snowy plovers, endangered interior least terns, and American avocets.

Snowy plovers can be found throughout the crystal digging area. Interior least terns and American avocets are mostly seen along the streams. The birds will use the dig holes and consume the brine flies that hatch in the water in the dig holes after you have left the site. Old mounds from past dig seasons have been found being used as elevated nesting platforms. The mounds give shorebirds a place to nest above the floodplain during the rainy seasons and increases their nest success. Nesting beside the mounds can offer the eggs shade from the hot sun.It is important that these birds not be disturbed. Furthermore, it is illegal to harass or destroy the bird's eggs and nests.

How is it done?

  1. Use a shovel to dig a hole about two feet deep and two feet across until you reach wet sand. You may feel the shovel break through the crystals as it goes down. This cannot be helped as there is no way of predicting exactly where a bed of crystals is located.  
  2. Allow two or three inches of water to seep in from the bottom.
  3. Use your hand or a container to splash water gently against the sides of the hole. The agitated water will wash the soil away from the crystals.
  4. When you find a crystal formation, continue splashing to wash it free of the supporting sand and clay. 
  5. At this stage of the process, the newly exposed crystals are wet and fragile so use great care removing them. 
  6. After removing crystals from sand, place them where the sun and wind will dry them. Egg cartons or other containers are recommended for transporting the crystals.

Directions To the Crystal Dig Area 

Open April 1 - October 15, daily.

For information and map, please click here.

From the Great Salt Plains State Park: Eight miles south on State Hwy 38 to Jet, OK. Six miles west of Jet on State Hwy 64 (look for a sign). Three miles north on a sand road and one mile east on a paved road to the gate and follow the orange signs to ‘Dig Area.’

From Cherokee, OK: Three miles south of Cherokee on State Hwy 8. Turn east on the paved road (look for sign), five miles to the gate and follow signs to dig area.