Marissa’s Meteorite Hunting Adventure

Well this year in May I embarked on a grand adventure, my very first ever meteorite hunt and if I’m lucky this hunt won’t be my last. This hunting trip completely changed my life, my fellow hunters and myself made history with this trip. Now what’s so special about this particular meteorite hunt you may be asking? Well I am physically disabled and I’m confined to a power wheelchair for mobility. This was the first time in history that a disabled individual ventured out into the desert to search for rocks from space. And it’s all thanks to the meteorite community, scientific community and the general public for raising the funds that allowed me and two of my staff to fly out to Las Vegas, Nevada to hunt on a dry lake bed. The task wasn’t easy, the road to meteorites was long, so many factors could’ve prevented me from going but against the odds the entire trip went completely smooth and couldn’t have been more perfect. Let me share with you now my entire experience of the hunt and how this has made an impact on my life. But first let me tell you how this all got started.

Ever since I discovered that I had a passion for astronomy and soon after meteorites I have done nothing but dream about going out hunting for these rocks. With my condition I was convinced that looking for my own meteorites would always just be a dream; such bitter sweet dreams. But later in 2012 my family was kind enough to take me to New York for the Northeast Astronomy Forum where I was lucky enough to meet the Meteorite Men. After that encounter and watching every episode of their show it became clear that it wasn’t impossible for someone like me to go hunting. Much later after joining Club Space Rock, an online forum for discussing everything meteorite related, I finally felt comfortable enough to ask experienced hunters for advice to pursue my dream. On June in 2014 I made a new discussion simply asking about which dry lake beds would yield some success in finding meteorites, that my goal was to get out there and hunt. Michael Mulgrew was the first to respond giving his opinions as a hunter and offering to help out if I made it out his way. Later he would become my hunting guide, a massive help and a new lifelong friend. More people chimed in on ideas and solutions to get me out there as well as words of encouragement. People even started saying that they wanted to help me financially, strangers whom I’ve never met were offering to help with this trip. The next thing I knew a gentleman by the name of Rogan Hennie created a kickstarter campaign to raise the money for me……I was deeply humbled, there were no words. This incredible community that I stumbled upon through Geoff Notkin was going to try to get me out west for meteorite hunting. Creating the discussion was in no way a means to ask for that, I only wanted information. When I found this community I wasn’t expecting to find the best of humanity but that’s exactly what I found. For the first time in my life I wasn’t seen as a burden and something to avoid, I was once again welcomed with open arms by the science community. People even donated meteorites and other perks for the fundraiser as well as the time they spent spreading the word. Even Geoff and his company wrote a PR report just to promote the fundraiser, I was in shock of all the generosity that surrounded and was given. The campaign launched in August 2014, we had a month to raise $5,000 for all the costs, the plane tickets, van rental, hotel, backup bubble chair in case mine couldn’t perform, food and meteorite hunting gear.

Talking with Mike we agreed that the end of May, after my classes, would be the best time to go search for space rocks if the campaign was successful. Most days were pretty dull with the fundraiser, I thought for sure that we wouldn’t make it but whatever was raised will be extremely helpful. Regardless we kept pushing it and spreading the word as much as possible. On August 25th I awoke to learn that the goal was actually reached…..my heart filled with joy and gratitude, I was crying and trembling. All those nights of dreaming were going to come true, I couldn’t believe how many good incredible people there were out in this world. Throughout my life I’ve only known rejection and verbal abuse from the community just because I looked different. Even after the goal was reached people still kept on donating and at the end of the campaign we reached an impressive $5,786! Now for the hard part, waiting for time to pass.

With classes finally over and final exams completed the time had come to start packing! The big trip was only weeks away which still felt so far away and time seemed to move even more slowly. Everything was all set thanks to Rogan and Mike, over the months earlier, the hotel was booked, plane tickets purchased, backup chair ordered and the van rental was all set. My hunting gear and supplies that Rogan sent were all packed and ready to go…finally it was the night before leaving! Our flight was set for departure at 7:20am, we were required to be there for boarding at 6:40am. Due to travel time we had to wake up at 3am so sleep the night before was very little, too much excitement to sleep anyway! We arrived right on time and even though we didn’t have first boarding classes they let my staff and myself on first, being disabled has its perks once in a while. The seats in the front of the plane were the best spot for us and having already claimed the window seat the more room those seats had made it possible for my staff to put me in that seat. This would be like my first time flying, I have flown before but I was so young my only recollection of the experience was going through the tunnel to get on the plane. The excitement was unbearable, I was a little nervous and scared but more than anything I wanted to just go and finally feel the power of the aircraft and the power of what we humans have done. The plane started taking off and I’m getting high and laughing over the experience, it was the most beautiful amazing ride that I’ve ever been on. Cleveland looked so beautiful even with it being mostly cloudy. Some sunshine did peak through and the lake was the same color as the sky, I couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began. The whole experience made me cry while my staff was scared to death! The view when we finally broke through the clouds was stunning! Beautiful clear blue skies with a thick cloud layer beneath us, the clouds looked like one giant comforter that you could fall on and they would catch you. About an hour or so later we finally passed the weather front and all the clouds. I got my first view of the land from 37,000 feet up, it was unbelievable! The trees formed around rivers looking like the very roots beneath the trees or the structure of the universe branching out away from the rivers. The landscape really did look like a topographic map with green, brown and tan squares and rectangles everywhere. Much later we finally saw some proper snow caped mountains, this was my first time seeing mountains that huge. An hour or so later we started making our decent, the landing scared me the most because a rough landing might cause me some pain. Once we got through the clouds Las Vegas was in sight, it was much bigger than I expected! The pilot landed the plane beautifully and smooth so luckily we didn’t bounce and I avoided any back pain. The airport was ridiculously huge, we had to take an Amtrak to get to the baggage claim area. Once we got there I saw a young man waving at me, for a moment I thought that someone else from Ohio came too and I couldn’t remember this person. He walked over and to my surprise it was Rogan!!!!! I was in shock, I had no idea that he was coming because he led me to believe that he couldn’t come. I was so happy that he actually came! From there we got the van rental and headed out to check out Las Vegas. We enjoyed a breakfast at New York New York since we haven’t had anything to eat yet. From there we walked up Las Vegas Blvd to hit a casino. Mike wouldn’t get to Pahrump until the next day so I had a day to spend in Vegas, how could I not this may be my only chance. After that we headed to our hotel in Pahrump, about an hour away, to change for dinner. We had reservations at the Top of The World restaurant in the Stratosphere, the restaurant is 700-800 feet high and actually rotates giving you a 360 degree view of the city. The restaurant was beautiful and the view was breathtaking! People could actually bungee jump off of the side of the building. So every so often we’d see another person taking the plunge. The service was so outstanding that when I asked our waiter if they had any plastic silverware and he said no he actually went to someplace else in the building to get me some! We finished a bottle of the best wine I ever had and enjoyed the amazing food with a brilliant view. The city lights in the distance were shimmering like stars in the night sky. We watched as Venus and Jupiter set and then we headed back to the hotel to rest up for our first day of hunting.

Michael Mulgrew was coming in today for our first hunt in Stewart Valley and to show off his metal detector and meteorites. The bubble chair did arrive in Las Vegas but they wouldn’t deliver it because it was the holiday weekend to them. So Rogan had to go get it, my staff Autumn went with him. While they were gone Mike arrived and we left to get lunch and supplies for the hunts. When we returned we went straight to looking at maps and meteorites. He showed me where we should start looking and we planed the days to come. Then he busted out his meteorites and we geeked out. I looked at some of his Stewart Valley finds and one was a puzzle piece meteorite where he could actually piece it back together! Not long after he started showing me his meteorites Rogan and Autumn were back and the three of us were geeking out and got pumped to find our own. It was so fun to finally share the love of meteorites with others who love them as much as myself. After that we loaded everything up and headed to Stewart Valley for the first hunt, they had to take my chair apart a little so that it would fit in the back of Mike’s truck. Thankfully Mike is an engineer and between the two of them they were able to load up my wheelchair. I’m so glad Rogan came because without him the trip would not have been possible it takes two men to help with everything and he made the trip go extremely smooth and perfect!

Here is a picture of myself and my hunting friends Mike Mulgrew and Rogan Hennie out on the Dry Lake hunting meteorites.

The chosen site was only about 20-25 minutes away and each time we went we had to cross into California for about 200 feet. So I can say that I was in Nevada and California. We arrived at the hunt site at about 4:30 and after unloading my chair it was about 5:00 and my very first hunt began! The landscape was incredible, there were mountains all around us and I could see every detail in them that shaped them. The valley was very peaceful, not a sound was heard unless we heard the sweet sound of a meteorite jumping onto our magnet canes. Within minutes one of my aides found a meteorite and within a half hour Rogan Hennie found one, I rushed over to see his find and check the surrounding area and I found my first meteorite near his find, a small fragment weighting about 0.6-0.8 grams!!! The valley got very windy which Mike said was normal and actually it was tame compared to what it usually is like in the valley. Hours went by and Mike and Rogan made more finds, about an hour or so before we ended the hunt someone else found another meteorite and again not far from their find I found my second meteorite! The tiny rock weighted about 0.1-0.2 grams. With the wind it got cold very fast so we decided to end the successful first hunt and Rogan, Mike and myself shared a drink on the dry lake bed in the twilight under the crescent moon and Venus. Mike also set off some fireworks to celebrate the historic moment and then we headed back to the hotel where we grabbed dinner and then headed away from Vegas to see a proper night sky. I saw more stars and meteors than I’ve ever seen as well as the Milkyway clearly visible, a perfect end to a perfect day.

The next day we woke up early, got some breakfast at a Denny’s and loaded up for a very long day of hunting ahead of us. The weather was beautiful again with clouds around the mountains, yet sunny over Stewart Valley, the wind was perfect keeping us cool while hunting. Across the lake bed I noticed that I was observing my first mirage, it was so intense that the mountains in the distance completely disappeared! My aides decided to stay with the truck while the three of us hunted, Mike and Rogan took turns walking beside me having great conversations and forming deep friendships. My fellow hunters found more meteorites but I was not so successful which didn’t bother me because I got to experience a successful day and a bust like every meteorite hunter experiences. Lunch was late around 4:00 and we had to charge my chair while eating so that I could continue hunting. Even though I came with a full battery the terrain really made my wheelchair work hard, I was told that it’s technically not built for the outdoors but she put up a good fight. Spending time with other hunters was more than enough as well as priceless to me being able to completely be myself and let go of all my fears and insecurities. Throughout my life I always felt like I don’t belong…that my burden should be my own and nobody else’s problem, I avoid asking for help as much as possible because I don’t want to hurt and burden others. But when I’m with the meteorite community and the scientific community in general my problems and fears melt away, I completely forget about my disease and don’t see the dark that lies ahead. I’ve only received acceptance from everyone, not one person involved in science saw my wheelchair….they only saw me and they help me bring out my best. There were a handful of moments where I felt insecure, a bit afraid of what these gentlemen would really think of me and how they’d react to the amount of help I require. Being the first meteorite hunters that I’d be hunting with I wanted to make a good impression and not look that weak. But they welcomed me with open arms and showed that they were ready to help with anything that they could. Rogan assured me that I’m with friends, I have nothing to fear. We started hunting on one side of the lake bed and walked across to the other side to end the hunt, myself and Rogan had a wonderful talk and the scenery was amazing. The sunsets were beautiful every evening with the mountains glowing yellow, orange, gold, and red. We ended the day with fireworks again and headed back for dinner which was always hilarious! We cracked so many jokes but I’m not telling, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas remember!

Here we are having more fun after the day of hunting talking and laughing at a restaurant. An looking at the days finds.

We didn’t wake up quite as early as the day before and the plan was to hit a different hunting site called Stump Spring a dense collection area and then back to Stewart Valley. After eating our Denny’s breakfast we loaded up my chair for the last day of hunting, I was feeling lucky and determined to find one or more meteorites. Stump Spring was not too far from our hotel maybe 20-25 minutes away. Making our way to the location I observed numerous dust devils which I had never seen before. One even went right across the dirt road we were on and Mike tried to catch up with it but the dust vortex was too quick. There were also some rain clouds coming off of the mountains and I was worried that it might rain on us, if that would’ve happened then my chair would’ve surely gotten stuck. Luckily they all dissipated when they moved over the desert and the smell of the rain was intoxicating. The ground had rocks everywhere! Hunting could never become boring at Stump Spring but it’s also slow going having to check countless rocks hoping that you’ll hear the sweet sound of one jumping onto your cane. We talked about the Meteorite Men a bit and commented on how Steve Arnold’s magnet rake would’ve been perfect for this area and I could drag it around and hunt at the same time! I saw much more wildlife at this location from bugs to butterflies to lizards, one lizard even hid under my wheelchair. Mike and myself spent the most time walking around together here while Rogan, the geologist, was nerding out over all the rocks. He actually found quite a few that were very interesting and later he let me choose some to take home. After a few hours I decided that we needed to get back to Stewart Valley because the odds are better and it wouldn’t stop calling my name so we packed up and left. By the time we arrived and unpacked everything it was about 6:00 so we went straight away to looking for meteorites. The ground was perfect for my wheelchair but I still had to watch out for soft spots so that I wouldn’t sink and get stuck. Griding an area is actually very easy for me because my chair left tire tracks so I knew where I already looked.

Rogan made the only find of the day on that last day, I look over and see my tire tracks just feet away from his find!!! I was so mad but now I can say I had the complete experience of hunting with other hunters where you missed one and someone else found one right where you were. The sunset gave us a beautiful show with lighting up the mountains and the sky, Rogan couldn’t stop taking amazing pictures. We started heading towards a new area but at a certain point my chair kept sinking in sand so we had to turn back and by that time it was time to end the hunt….I looked around at the scenery, the mountains, the clouds, the lake bed and said my final goodbye to Stewart Valley and thanked it for my precious meteorites as well as making the weather perfect for me to hunt safely and successfully. My hunting days are all over and I cherished every moment of the experience, I finally understand how hunters feel when they find a meteorite and they say/think “there’s gotta be more I gotta find just one more!” Hunting is truly addicting. I think Stewart Valley was sad to see me go because a storm rolled in up on the mountains, it was stunning to see all the lightning strikes. We headed back for our last dinner together as Mike was leaving right after our meal. He brought his metal detector with him to show me how they work, he was forming ideas on how I could use one but I’m still doubtful that I can because my wheelchair is metal and I’m betting that it will set off the detector too much.

We sat at the table checking out all of our finds and taking photos. Mike brought his scale cubes for the photos but the lighting in the restaurant was poor for the rocks. It was a bitter sweet moment for me because while it was so fun being with fellow meteorite lovers and checking out our haul it was also sad because this might be the only and last time that I spend with friends and hunt for meteorites. Back at our rooms it was time to say goodbye to Michael Mulgrew…I tried not to but I teared up while we were embraced in a hug goodbye. I was so very thankful that he was my guide and took me to his best locations for finding meteorites, most never do that because as we all know these rocks are very valuable and nobody wants their spot to be hunted out. I’m so happy that I’ve made a new lifelong friend. Because the truth is I don’t have that many friends besides my astronomy club, people usually don’t want to be around me. Whether it’s fear, sadness, misunderstanding or pain most avoid me, but not Mike and Rogan…they ignored my condition. I truly hope that I get to see Mike again someday and hope for nothing but the best in his life.

Well today was my last day in Nevada. Before packing everything up and leaving we grabbed breakfast and then had a nice swim in the pool at our hotel. That water was the coldest water I’ve ever experienced in a pool!!! I know it gets to be in the triple digits but geez! The water took all our breaths away and you never get completely used to the temperature. Of course I can’t swim but I love to sit on the stairs and move a heck of a lot more than I usually can move while in my chair. By noon we were done swimming and had to quickly pack up all of our stuff and souvenirs hoping that we don’t leave anything behind which we didn’t. By 1:00 we were on the road back to Las Vegas, we needed to make a quick stop at the welcome to Las Vegas sign for pictures since we forgot to do that on our first day. Can’t leave without getting that! The ride to the airport was so sad for me knowing that it was all over and I had to say goodbye to Rogan and everything. The gentleman who dropped off our van was right there to pick it up and take Rogan to another part of the airport because as we were leaving his girlfriend was arriving. They had plans for a vacation as well and go visit family in Texas I believe. The time had come to part ways…..We had one last hug and I thanked him again for everything he has done for me, he changed my life forever. Rogan didn’t have to do this, most wouldn’t due to how much work this required but he did it anyway. I am eternally grateful for him and everything he did as well as Mike and every single person who helped with this trip. Once he walked away I cried my eyes out, I’m not ashamed to admit that because they were happy and sad tears…I don’t know if I’ll ever see him and Mike again in my lifetime. I can only hope that someday I will. We made it through security and our plane was almost delayed by 45 minutes but luckily it wasn’t. While waiting for the plane my Twitter account for the trip went nuts, I look down and it was Geoff Notkin! I was fortunate enough to have met him once back in 2012 at NEAF and we’ve talked a little here and there ever since. He was spreading the news of my successful historic hunt. We got to talking a little saying his congrats to me and how he wished that he could’ve been there with us. I mentioned how I’m gonna try to get to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show next year and he said that if I go he’ll arrange private tours for me. Well my jaw dropped to the floor at that point! No promises but I’m sure as heck gonna try! As you can imagine that made my day better, but it was still a sad moment. The memories I’ve made will be with me forever and always bring a smile to my face in dark times.

The plane ride home was amazing like the first flight but this time I was heading into the dark, I was so excited to see city lights from 37,000 feet. Before I could see any lights we were flying over clouds and I thought ok boring nothing to see yet, but then I saw a flash. Staring out the window I thought to myself “there’s no way that I’m lucky enough to see a storm cloud from above!” But sure enough I was!!!! Oh my God it was incredible, I was geeking out so bad while my aides were about to crap their pants!!! People worry too much and easily forget how amazing it is to see storms from above. Soon after the storm clouds we finally came to a clearing and I couldn’t believe my eyes, there were small cities and lights dotted everywhere! The ground actually looked like the night sky, it took my breath away. Back home the weather was supposed to be bad and stormy, but lucky for us it was clear and nice out, for a nice smooth landing. Even the staff and
pilots asked me if I was successful in my hunt and they congratulated me for my success and a great trip! We arrived home at about 2:00 in the morning. I didn’t even notice how tired I was because I was still sky high over the trip and everything. This was an unbelievable experience, Mike and Rogan were more amazing than I ever thought they’d be and I’m very thankful and lucky to call them friends. I really cannot thank you all enough for this, you guys are all amazing and angels in my book. YOU ROCK!!!!!

Later at home I was finally able to weigh my finds and the official weight is 0.58 grams for my first find and 0.31 grams for my second. My life has completely changed from this experience, I’m very grateful as well as proud to belong to such an amazing and loving community. The generosity given to me will always be with me giving me the strength to carry on and I will always give it back to others, especially children, and foster their interest and share the love.

About the Author

Marissa Fanady
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