The ever-intriguing Josh Varnedore has the privilege and blessing of being able to mine essentially in his own backyard, the Ouachita Mountains. The crystals he finds are as fascinating as they are beautiful; each piece is mined by him and cleaned by hand with extraordinary care and love.
At the end of our interview, click on the link to take you to our partnered giveaway for a chance to win one of these beautiful crystals and a gift certificate from Experimental Forest Co. along with the complete set of Sun Potion Transcendent Elixirs!
Sun Potion: Where and how did you come up with your name, Experimental Forest?
Josh Varnedore: It came to me in a moment while journeying to see family with my Love & our Son. One of those moments that come from some magic place in the Universe, I felt suddenly connected to this name. It made sense though as I am not a geologist by any means, so my approach with unearthing these crystals has always been a flowing balance of intuition, logic, dreaming, research, faith and then action....conscientious & experimental exploration of the crystal deposits in the Ouachita Mountains. Joy is a big part of it as well….true Heart-centered Joy is THE best guiding light….it is a golden beacon that bridges us to the greatest experiences in Life. Especially while in the wilds of nature.
Mount Joy (son River, and Josh)
I had a dream one time where I was working in a garden, and my Grandmother Grace drove up to me on this old tractor with a huge smile on her face. She handed me this beautiful & unique crystal (tabular Quartz w/ twinned parallel endpoints and a place to rest your thumb on the side). She told me it was a gift, and that she wanted to show me where it came from. So I got on the tractor with her, and she drove us to my friends valley here in the Ouachita Mountains. When we arrived, she hopped off and pointed to the top of this one mountain and said that they were straight upslope on this side, and she hiked up & through the forest while I waited near the tractor. She came down shortly after with an armful of beautiful crystals and handed them to me, and said to go when I awake and there are many more waiting to be brought into this world…..I woke up immediately after this…got dressed, and drove straight to my friends property that morning (which I had been prospecting for them). I hiked the whole length of the side of the mountain from my dream, and when I was walking back the last leg, I saw a shimmer at the base of this tree near the anticline…..it was the Exact crystal from my dream the night before. I picked it up and then looked upslope to see where it had eroded out of the mountain, and swiped away the leaves and found several pure white quartz that I followed further uphill another 10 feet or so and there was the source vein! I dug down not even 8 inches and begin unearthing large tabular quartz points, clusters, optical crystals and more….I am still working this zone by hand to this day and it has turned out to be the biggest deposit of quartz I have ever discovered. I named it the Grace Prospect after my Grandmother….so yes, thank you Grandma Grace! (Dreaming, listening, feeling, faith-based action).
Up at the Grace Prospect
Were you interested in rocks and crystals as a child or did this passion come later in life?
Yes for sure, I have always been intrigued by the crystals and natural world, and as the years passed & the more immersed I became, the more passionate I became.
When did you start mining for crystals?
When I was a small child, but only began full-time within the past 5 years.
Why do you choose to mine in the Ouachita Mountains?
The Ouachita Mountains are my home, and my family has lived in Arkansas quite a long time. So I have always had this awareness of the magic here simply by spending so much time here….there is so much to explore. I am learning something new & exciting every day! I am so excited to share these experiences with my son once he is old enough.
...And what is super special about the area?
There is water everywhere! The greatest treasure for sure…It is also one of the oldest mountain ranges, and the Quartz Crystal capital of the world. Some of the clearest gem-quality crystals in the world have been found in these mountains.
What kinds of crystals do you find in these mountains, and how old are they?
Quartz, Wavellite, Pyrite, Calcite, Brookite, Diamonds, Adularia, Turquoise, and so much more. The quartz in the ordovician sandstone here in the Ouachita Mountains is believed to be somewhere between 200-300 million years old.
Planerite (turquoise family)
What is wavellite?
Wavellite is one of my favorite minerals on the planet. It is a rare & beautiful phosphate mineral that forms in a few areas of the Bigfork Chert here in the Ouachita Mountains. It can be found in a variety of colors ranging from white, yellow, green, blue & even black. Blue & Yellow are the rarest.
What is your favorite stone and/or crystal (at the moment or of all time)?
Hah! This is a very tough question…hmm. I would have to say, generally, Wavellite, Quartz, & anything with an Extraterrestrial fingerprint ie Meteorites, Moldavite, Tektite. As for my favorite single crystal…it would have to be the twin tabular quartz crystal that my Grandmother gifted me from the dream.
The crystal from Josh's dream ~ the magic bridge ~ Grace Prospect
What does it mean to be an ethical and sustainable crystal miner?
Heart-centered/conscientious mining practices…..
There is a major problem in the industry as a whole currently….difficult to approach as there are so many people now whose livelihood depends on having gem-show-sourced online crystal businesses, and a lot of them do not go the extra mile to truly research the origin of the crystals they are getting cheap (bulk wholesale) at the big gem shows etc. But, the reality is, there are mines in other countries that are still using slave labor, child labor, clear cutting of forests and complete exhaustion of entire ecosystems all while underpaying (or not paying enough) the guys and gals who are risking their lives for these minerals to see the light of day. The truly sad part, is I do not believe there are any “fair-trade” equivalent programs for the mines to address and fix this issue before they end up at Tucson, Denver, etc.….so these stones end up floating around the world from show to show, and end up on instagram labeled as a Love stone, etc….very sad & strange. Another issue is, the method of cleaning some of these stones….I have even heard stories of people using battery acid and bleach to clean crystals. There is a trend currently happening where there are these crystal water bottles with crystal standing in center of the bottle, and then you add clean water and drink out of this. I guarantee you that, these huge industrial mines do not have the time to pull their 200,000 lbs of bulk crystal water bottle crystals from bleach and acids and properly soak and wash them off/scrub them individually with clean water. So, these crystal water bottles are potentially leaching extremely toxic materials back into the water that is supposed to be “charged with healing properties.” Just use wisdom…Source clean crystals, and use a crystal water bottle that allows you to put your own personally sourced stone in the center. We clean our quartz using water only! It just takes a lot of extra time cleaning every single piece by hand…..the result is magic tho!
High vibrational quartz crystal point
Are you required to have a permit to mine in these mountains, and do you have to give money back to the state for the crystals you find?
Yes, one must have permission from the landowner or leaseholder before digging. There are several public mines that have a leaseholder/the person leasing the mineral rights. A digger can pay for a permit fee, that goes to the leaseholder. The leaseholder pays fee to the national forest. The national forest uses these fees that go back to county maintenance on roads and schools, etc. On private land, has nothing to do with the state, but I give back in the form of gifts to anyone and everyone that I feel led to. I donate stones all over the world, and pay for shipping out of pocket that adds up to $8,000+ per year (which is a large portion of any profits from this business). I also donate my time to picking up trash all over the national forest.
My next goal is to arrange meeting with the national forest offices about the publicly leased mines (equivalent of a mining claim) regarding the reclamation process. They are very strict about ecological preservation, but I want to speak with them about some new techniques I feel would become valuable from a research standpoint using mycelium.
Quartz point meeting the sun for the first time
Do you mine for these on your own or with a team of people?
I do everything by myself most of the time…some of the most fun moments are spent with others in the mountains tho….it is one of the most joyous experiences in the world to share with others!
A day at the Grace Prospect
What defines a “high vibrational” crystal? Can you elaborate on what that means? Are there low vibrational crystals?
From my perspective, It can vary, but most of the time I can “feel” it…usually they were unearthed in moment of joy, or they surprise me with a small spark/zap of electricity in the underground crystal pocket, optical clarity is important too (“efficiently structured energy vessel” / atomic lattice is undamaged/pure form). Low vibrational crystals I would say exist in lower vibration state because of various negative circumstances involving humans. This can all fluctuate and reverse though. Quartz for example is the vessel for energy to flow and amplify…so I believe a crystals vibration can shift dependent on the human environment / human interaction.
High vibrational quartz
Tell us how crystals have an effect on people’s mood, energy, environment and health?
Crystals are incredibly efficient vessels for energy to flow, and our hearts and minds are powerful…I have always told everyone to approach the above from the heart….listen to your own heart, everyone is different. My take: clear your mind and tap into feeling deeply, ego aside….and the meant-to-be crystals will reveal themselves….once the crystal is in your environment, hold it, breathe, open your heart like a flower and heart-centered emotion will become amplified and grow like a wave. This is a powerful practice….most efficient with the crystals, but most importantly try this with anything, master this using anything and everything….be a good person, help your fellow man, give from the heart, be kind, be Love….as Ram Dass once said, “We're all just walking each other home.”
Natural aura quartz
How did you first hear about Sun Potion?
I met Scott 10 years ago while working on a sustainable permaculture farm in Hawaii…he actually re-sparked my joy for the Crystals when he showed me how the quartz lights up in a dark room when you rub two crystals together. I needed to experience this bridge between the science and faith-based feeling of crystals….Quartz has amazing properties! Scott seems to be a wizard on all levels…..one of the kindest and most authentic humans I have ever met. After Hawaii, I would catch up with him and over the years & Sun Potion transitioned from an idea-seed to a magnificent Garden! What a beautiful thing to witness!
Do you have a favorite Sun Potion product?
Quartz in Anandamide
What is your "spirit animal" or an animal you feel connected to?
Owl & Dog
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, all expenses paid for 10 days - where would you go and why?
Hmmm…spin the globe and place my finger….or just wait for that moment to present itself and I will know it was meant to be. All expenses paid would be a blessing….wherever was meant to be and I will feel free!
Ideally a journey to share stories and spend time with the brothers and sisters of the world that I haven't met in person just yet….when it is time, it is time. This next decade will be a beautiful one….looking forward to all of the adventures to come.
Click here to head to our giveaway with Josh and Experimental Forest Co. for a chance to win one of his beautiful hand-mined, specially chosen crystals, and a full set of Sun Potion Transcendent Elixirs. Follow the directions in the caption for a chance to win! One winner will be chosen and announced end of week on Instagram.
Images courtesy of Josh and Experimental Forest Co.
Feature Image: Elestial quartz with natural rainbow aura