On the spur of the moment, we decided to drive to Montana this weekend. We had heard from another family about a fun destination not too far away (four hours or so), and with the long weekend, we went for it.
In order to prepare for the trip, we had to go to the Army surplus outlet in Idaho Falls (Curious yet? Keep reading!) One of the rest areas on the way there has signs for a “geologic site” that have always intrigued us, so in the spirit of adventure we decided to stop.
It’s called Hell’s Half Acre. You’re driving through the Snake River Plain, home to large, flat potato fields, hay fields, and more potato fields. All of a sudden, you’re in a region of chaotic terrain, with juniper trees and sagebrush. It’s so abrupt you can see the edge of it coming. The terrain was formed by a lava flow a few thousand years ago. It’s all cracks and boulders and little caves, with a paved path through a small portion and interpretive signs along the way.
At the Army surplus store, we got a shovel, gloves, and some screwdrivers (Curiouser and curiouser!). The next day, we headed up to Montana. Once we got north of the Snake River Plain flatness, the landscape was really beautiful, with many cool rock formations and mountains.
We stayed overnight at the Elkhorn Lodge in Polaris.
But the main draw was the wonderful Crystal Park Mineral Collection Area in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (now you see why we needed shovels). 220 acres of decomposed granite studded with quartz crystals set aside for public rockhounding! The soil is like very coarse sand, so it’s easy for kids to dig, and there are plenty of crystals even at the surface (literally: within the first 2 minutes I picked up two nice ones right off the ground by my feet).
We will definitely be going back there. It becomes a mildly obsessive activity: just. one. more. crystal! And we didn’t find any of the most prized “amethyst” purple quartz, or any really big specimens. We did find some nice clear, white, and smoky quartz, and some stained red by iron deposits. It’s really a miracle to be able to just dig these incredible forms right out of the ground. Plus when the kids got tired of prospecting, there were lots of logs to play with and chipmunks to chase. Next time we’ll camp nearby and take our time rockhounding.