Mid-hiatus Montana Mini-vacation

or…Geology 101.

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.

What critters live in there?


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.

Pipe Organ Rock, Beaverhead County

Pipe Organ Rock, Beaverhead County

Grasshopper Valley, Montana

Grasshopper Valley, Montana

We stayed overnight at the Elkhorn Lodge in Polaris.

See the steam? A hot spring-fed pool!

See the steam? A hot spring-fed pool!

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).

Some serious digging going on.

Some serious digging going on.

The best of our loot.

The best of our loot.

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.



Filed under Uncategorized

12 responses to “Mid-hiatus Montana Mini-vacation

  1. Szilvi

    Increadible! I’ve never been to a place where you could find chrystals, I’ve always had to buy them. An ex-boyfriend of mine used to live in Brasil, they often went rock-hounding, and found agate-rocks, the ones you have to split open. Must have been sooooo coooool.

  2. Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! That’s just so cool! Nothing else to say.

  3. That looks like a lot of fun. We panned for gold in Nevada City, MT. I know that feeling of not wanting to stop because there might be just one more. It explains “gold fever.”

  4. OK,. that does like fun – dudelet would absolutely adore it. The scenery looks amazing!

  5. Kurt Werle

    Awesome weekend!

  6. Love seeing Papa there, but why isn’t his beard as gray as mine?

  7. Oh, my kids would love that. Digging for diamonds!

  8. Oh my!! That certainly is my kind of family outing. I found you via The Scribbler’s amazing blog and will be camping here awhile. I’ve added you to my blog roll, can’t wait to read more!

  9. Ooh, that is one of my favorite places in Montana. We went there a couple years ago, and I wanted to take my husband this summer on our way home to California, but there was a HUGE thunderstorm over those mountains! I wouldn’t be surprised if it snowed (and that was in July)! That area is so beautiful. I would love to live there….

    Oh, yeah, and the crystal hunting is addictive. We had just stopped by spur of the moment and were not prepared, but we still left with tons of pretty little points. I was thinking I need to learn to wire wrap and give them as Christmas presents–ornaments for a tree (or something).

    Anyway…thanks for sharing your time at this awesome spot and rekindling the memory for me.

  10. Beautiful crystals! I love your blog and I’m going to start following it. 🙂 –Jennifer

  11. Digging for crystals is so much fun. One of my girlfriends and I went down to the Mt. Ida area of Arkansas a few years ago to dig for crystals. It was one of the best times I have had, still have a lot of my “loot” decorating the place.

  12. My girls and I did this in Arkansas several years ago and I have longed to go back ever since. Absolutely magical.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s