2009 Meteorite Vacation

Paul and I had a fantastic vacation again. Each year I do my article on what happens when we go out. We had decided that this year with all that was going on in our lives that we would take a break from the long days of hunting meteorites from morning to dusk. We had actually figured we would not hunt at all. But, as circumstances would change during the trip we did actually do some meteorite hunting. Hard to break old habits I guess.

We left on a Wednesday morning just late enough for the work traffic to clear from the Los Angeles freeway system and headed to the Mojave Preserve where we had our vacation planned. We arrived at our first night base camp in the early afternoon. We looked at the maps I had printed out of the area for the long hike we were intending to take the next day. As we were looking at the maps we were trying to find something to use as a scale to measure the distance. We were snacking on Oreo cookies and I placed one on the map as a reference. How funny it was to discover that an Oreo was exactly one kilometer in diameter. But maps are no real help for figuring the walking distance over really rough desert terrain. More about that later.

There were some old prospects just on the other side of the road from where we were camping. Later in the afternoon on Wednesday we hiked over there to explore around a little and to see over the first mountain we would have to climb on the big hike the next day. It was one Oreo (one kilometer) to the adits and tailing on the other side of the road. We played around over there for a while and I took a few pictures. Then we climbed to the top of the hill to look at our goal for tomorrow. It was easy to see and it was a long way over but there was a dirt road that would take us a portion of the way. On the map the line of sight distance was only 2.7 miles each way and we figured it would take about 2.5 hours to hike it.

We had a nice dinner and got some time to talk and catch up a little. I had slept really poorly the two night before and was hoping to get a good night’s sleep Wednesday night. To my surprise I had forgotten my sleeping bag and that just about guaranteed I would not sleep much since it was cold. We needed to get an early start to maximize our time at the ghost town and mine. We had decided that whatever time it took us to get there we would add a half hour on to the trip back to cover fatigue. We set a return to camp ETA of 5 pm which was still before sundown basically. We were on the way at 8 am. We took a slightly different path across the mountain next to camp and arrived at an old road cut that circled the top of the mountain. Once we rounded the back side we could see our destination again. However, the back side of the mountain was very steep indeed. Paul hiked over to the east and traversed the flank down to near the bottom. I hiked to the ravine which had formed where this mountain intersected another slope. I moved down the ravine from boulder to boulder. I past individual trees of many species totally absent elsewhere in the region. There must be some longer duration water collecting in the ravine. We were never very far apart actually and met up at the foot of the mountain within a minute or two of each other. It is not a good idea to hike alone in the desert.

Our dirt road was out in front of us about another Oreo. We took some pictures of the mountain that we had come down and decided that there was no way we were going to try and climb that beast in the afternoon. We would go around the end of it by following the dirt road a little farther. Then we could climb over one of the lower hills farther out. It would add some distance to the hike but would probably take on extra time.

It took us about a half and hour to go up and down the hills and washes between the foot of the mountain and the road. We were beginning to get the message about how deceptive the terrain had looked. It just so happened that the spot we wanted to go to was in a very tiny area that is not photographed at good resolution by Google Earth. All we had to go on were old digitized aerial photos from the past. Everywhere else in the region had great hi-res photos available.

Just before we got to the road I came around a bush and said to Paul ”snake”. I backed up a couple steps and took a longer look. There were no rattles and it was not at all aggressive. So we made it a photo opportunity. Since getting home I have spent some time looking at photos of snakes. I studied snake range maps. It appeared to be a Red Coachwhip snake common in the region. This was confirmed by the expert I sent the picture to. I will add its picture to my album of desert wildlife. Other than many lizards and some hawks and other birds we did not see much else in the way of life. But, we made plenty of noisy on the return trip as there were lots of mountain lion tracks in the washes where the cows travel who free range the area.

We made our way up and over hills and down and out of washes for a long time. Always the strangely shaped, titled butt was looming larger in front of us. It is a very interesting geological feature. It has the same jointed basalt on the top as many of the butts in the area, but it is tilted so that only about half of it is above ground. We passed it on the west and began to gain altitude. We neared the mountain the ghost town is nestled in.

It was once a thriving community of several thousand inhabitants. Today, there are only a handful of structures left. Two of them are in pretty good condition. One looked to actually have had some restoration, as if it was being made into a gathering place for off-roaders of the more recent past.

The other building is only stone walls, but it was really something in its day. It had many rooms and was a large structure.

 

We made our way around the corner of the town heading northward to the mine. This was really exciting. There was an enormous tailing pile and really well preserved remains of the ore handling area. Scattered everywhere were old tanks and funnels and masonry work. Great stuff; we soaked that up for a while and then headed down the old road to where I thought the mine entrance was located. It was there, and it was open which was a surprise. I never go into old mines they are just too dangerous. But, with that said this one was solid rock and the opening was almost big enough to drive a small car into. It was very impressive.

The mine had workings in several terraces along the face of the mountain and roads that wound up to them. We had time left and headed up to the next level. There we found a vertical shaft. As regular readers know I have acrophobia and stay away from looking down into holes in the ground. Paul stayed back too, but he got my attention and I saw the rock in his hand. I perceived immediately his plan. He reached out and flicked the rock out over the shaft. I counted the seconds. Thirty years in darkrooms counting along with exposures has made me pretty accurate at counting time. We heard the rock very faintly hit bottom at five seconds. That was one scary deep shaft. Even a conservative estimate of depth is well over 300 feet. This mine did have a long and illustrious history producing great amounts of silver and later I believe also gold. Near the beginning one report was of 54 ounces of silver per ton of ore, with 2000 ounces per day of bullion being produced.

We had allotted ourselves two hours at the ghost town and mine before we needed to begin the trip back. We had time still for a small lunch and to replenish our fluids. The well restored building was sort of on our way out of town so we ate there. As we finished lunch I looked at the pavement of rock outside the building I noticed suddenly that all the rocks were broken sections of cores. Drilled out during the mining operation they were an amazing find. We played around there for a few minutes and of course took more pictures.

I had hoped to find the remains of the assay office if there was one. But we did not. There are often pieces of flasks and other cupellation evidence. But, there was none of that at this mine. Perhaps they did that work off site or in our limited time we did not find the right place.

At one o’clock in the afternoon we needed to begin heading back. So right on time we left the ghost town. The trip back was just as rough as the trip out had been. It was a little easier since we stayed on the dirt road longer and went over easier mountains at the end. About half way back I began having trouble with my right knee. So I took the lead and set a little slower pace. But, in the end we arrived back to camp in the time we had allowed of three hours. Our 2.7 miles each way had turned into a nine mile journey with all the up and down we had to do. I was frankly beat when we got back and suffering with my knee. It was a fantastic hike though and a very rewarding bit of fun.

We headed to another campground right after the hike. We intended to stay there for a couple days doing nothing but relaxing during the daytime and astronomy at night. But, we were having some problems with the electrical system in the motorhome. The batteries had checked out fine before we left, but as batteries will do they were not holding a charge two days later. We got up Friday morning and they were so bad that we decided to go into Needles and get replacements. We got to Needles and stopped to ask for directions to a Sears or other store where we could buy the batteries. Upon returning in a few seconds Paul tried to start the mortorhome and the engine compartment battery would not crank the motor over. He tied in the nearly dead batteries in the back and it started. What a great decision to come into town. We would surely have been stuck by the next day. Three batteries and only 30 minutes of super great service and we were on our way to Franconia to stay a couple days instead of driving back to the middle of the California desert. So we got in an afternoon of meteorite hunting at Franconia . It is always fun to pull the metal detectors out and hunt for space rocks.

We usually can not say that our trips are rocket science; this trip we can. We had a seven foot water rocket to try out. We assembled the rocket and transferred a tank of liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel (water) to the launch facility tank. About a 140 pressurization cycles (pumps) and the pressure gauge read green for launch. With video camera crew in place (Jim) and a short count down by mission control (Paul) the launch took place. “High altitude” winds quickly took the experimental vehicle off course for a crash landing down range. But, we considered it a completely successful flight beyond all mission expectations.

As soon as the launch pad was dry we set up the scope for the night’s observing. There was a tremendously thick haze surrounding us so we had to wait a long time for objects to rise high enough to be observed. We did have a few hours of looking at objects near the zenith. I wanted to take some pictures of the Moon with a new camera eyepiece adapter I made for my Nikon digital. With the haze it would be one or two in the morning before the Moon came up enough. We called it a night long before that. I’ll try the adapter out at home

There was a cavern we wanted to go through on the trip back so be left early Saturday morning and headed there. We arrived in time for the earliest tour, just barely. We grabbed our cameras and some water and bought our tickets with a minute or two to spare. So that put us several hours ahead of schedule. It was a nice cave, more than I had expected actually. The tour guide turned out to be one of the creators of the Franconia Strewnfield video. What a small world it always seems to be. Except for an uneventful drive back home this trip was over. What a good vacation it was though it took me a week to fully recover.

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Till next month, Jim

As always if you  have something to tell me you can reach me here jim@meteorite.com

About the Author

James Tobin
The Meteorite Exchange, Inc. was born in 1996 with meteorite.com and Meteorite Times Magazine in 2002. Still enthusiastic about meteorites and all things related to them, we hunt, collect, cut and prepare specimens. We travel to gem shows and enjoy meteorites as much now as in the beginning. Please feel free to share any comments you have on this or any of our other sites.
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