dominik schley
Crystal hunter Dominik Schley says many Arkansans don't appreciate the treasures right under their feet.

A hundred years ago — Thursday, March 4, 1921 — President Woodrow Wilson put his name on a document declaring a lush, mountainous strip of land in the Ouachita Mountains as Hot Springs National Park. What had been designated by Congress in 1832 as a reservation was established as a heralded bellwether of Wilson’s relatively new national parks program, with government-led protections for the 47 thermal springs that bubble up from the Earth at a feisty 143 degrees, believed by many then and now to be medicinal. To mark the centennial, we’re celebrating all things Spa City — the things that make it a geological anomaly, the things that make it a haven for lovers of pizza and gambling and cycling, and the things that keep it perennially weird. 

When Dominik Schley arrived in Arkansas from Germany in 2008, he expected to harvest his living from the dirt, but not in the way it turned out. He came here looking to farm vegetables and ended up foraging for crystals instead.

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“I didn’t know anything about crystals,” he said. But as he was casting around the southern United States for a good place to settle, he spent four days digging at Coleman Mine in Jessieville. And like many first-time miners, he was amazed by what he found. Schley decided to stick around and build a sparkling career out of hunting, crafting with and selling Arkansas quartz crystals. He documents many of his crystal mining adventures on his popular YouTube channel, Crystals of Arkansas.

Schley spends his days working in a rock shop, and in his off time travels to street festivals and other events to sell crystals and crystal-based art and jewelry. More than just pretty rocks, crystals can help people tap into the metaphysical. Meditating with crystals helps Schley go to higher states of conscience, he said. And he’s finding that more of his customers are using crystals in similar ways.

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Now that he’s settled in as a veteran rock hound, Schley enjoys watching other people catch the crystal-digging bug. “People are always surprised that they come out of the ground the way nature shapes them, that they’re not cut or polished,” he said.

By this summer Schley hopes to expand his professional repertoire to start offering guided tours of the Ouachitas’ best mines. It’s a great business model for these politically divisive pandemic times, he said, because it will all happen outdoors, and it appeals to everyone.

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“It’s something you can do with your whole family, young and old, with your Republican brother and your Democratic sister. It transcends all borders,” he said. “You get to connect with the Earth, to get your hands into the soil and experience all this incredible beauty that’s all around us.”

Schley anticipates a lot of the people taking his tours will be from out of town because so many native Arkansans take the mineral riches beneath their feet for granted.

“The people growing up here, they just look at them as rocks. They say, ‘We’ve got plenty of those.’ They don’t recognize how amazing it is to live here. When I meet people from out of state, they’re blown away.”