Twenty years ago Jim Kriegh found the first meteorites at Gold Basin, Arizona while prospecting for gold in Hualapai Wash. He had the stones identified and confirmed as space rocks. For the next two years or so the area was systematically hunted by Jim Kriegh and Twink Monrad and John Blennert to determine the extent of the strewnfield in cooperation with the University of Arizona. They received special permission to hunt in the Lake Mead Recreational Area and those meteorites were sent away to the Smithsonian. Going to the strewnfield month by month for two years revealed that the strewnfield was of enormous size. We now know that it is even far larger extending beyond Lake Mead into Nevada and having personally found a Gold Basin meteorite far to the south it is truly a huge strewnfield. Gold Basin meteorites have also been on Earth for a very long time. It was thought years ago that they might have arrived millions of years ago during the Wisconsin Glaciation. But new technology and techniques set a time-frame of 10,000 to 15,000 years ago for the fall. The Gold Basin area has from nearly the start been a Gordian Knot to unravel. While many are L4 Chondrites some were early on being classified as L5 and L6 with solo meteorites as would be expected mixed into such a large area. Today with a dozen different meteorite names in the area it is still a confusing situation. So questions remain today about the relationship of all these old meteorites of varying classifications. Are they part of just one huge fall of perhaps a brecciated mass? Or were there actually a dozen or so falls on the same plot of land. Hunting continues and finds continue to be made. The area is filled with “hot rocks” that are iron mineral rich and set off metal detectors. These Hot Rocks were what originally made finding meteorites a little easier. The gold prospectors would get a hit on a meteorite and dig the spot but finding what they thought was just another hot rock threw it aside by the hole and moved on to hunt gold. After the recognition of the hot rocks being meteorites many were found still lying near the numerous holes from the past. Gold Basin has been a challenging place to hunt. Three trips in the past with just a single meteorite found. What will this fourth trip yield?
Before The Event
I begin this article while I am in the packing and getting things together stage of the trip. It has been a long time since I have been dry camping just out in the desert with no facilities. Paul and I used to do it all the time with the first astronomy club where we met. But for the last 20 years he has had an RV and I have gone to places with at least water and electricity if I went camping alone.
But the Gold Basin 20th Anniversary Celebration was being held out in the desert with nothing in the way of amenities. Like an island; if you don’t bring it with you then you don’t have it. I had to get all the camping equipment out and clean it up. I had a fire the last time I used a Coleman stove and I am not referring to the normal fire it is supposed to make. This was billowing orange flames lapping into the camper as I used it on the tailgate of my truck. I turned off the valve but the fire did not stop so I grabbed the fire extinguisher and put it out. I took the stove to the nearest trash can and mubbled something like “that is the last time I use a white gas stove.” My daughter and I got breakfast at a restaurant that morning instead of making the meal before heading home. So I needed to get a new stove for this trip if I was going to have any hot food. I have eaten out of cans and done some pretty primitive camping in my life. When I was in the field by myself doing archaeological site surveys I would often just eat sandwiches made of deviled ham or canned chicken with crackers and soft drinks that were often no longer cold. But you can do things like that when you are young, now that I am old I need a few comforts. I got a nice propane two burner stove that will probably last the rest of my lifetime.
I made a list for this trip and every few minute even as I am writing this I am adding things to it. I just now remembered that I need to take the walkie-talkies so I can get in touch with the organizers as I get close if I have trouble finding the site. I have been to Gold Basin several times and I remember the general lay of the land. I have the GPS coordinates for where the camp is being set up. Still I usually carry the hand held radios when I am hunting anyway. My list for the trip is broken down into categories of smaller lists. Stuff for the truck like tools and tire repair stuff and water and spare gas can. Then there are lists for meteorite hunting and astrophotography and for food and personal items. I guess I am really trying to make sure I don’t forget anything important.
My trucks are both in good working order and run fine but neither of them is very new anymore. Especially the one with the camper. So I am a little concerned that this long trip will go well. I have been waiting for the DMV renewal form to come in the mail so I can get the truck with the camper tuned up and checked out at the same time it is smog tested.
I have not used my metal detector in a couple years. Everywhere I have been hunting meteorites has been dry lakes and I used a magnet stick. So I need to take it out to the backyard and refresh my memory on tuning the detector. I don’t usually use head phones when I detect because of a run in with a rattlesnake years ago that I did not hear because of having head phones on. But I think I will take them this trip and use them maybe. I am looking for both meteorites and gold this trip.
Well time has passed and actually the event is over. First off I forgot to take some of the items I mentioned above. A few days before the event I got hit from behind by a distracted driver and it threw me into a state of discombobulation. I forgot the walkie-talkie radios, and the sheets on my office bulletin board with the coordinates and google earth image I printed out. I was scrambling around doing all the extra things that have to be done when someone hits your car. Since one truck was in the body shop and I was taking the other I was worried about what my wife would drive while I was gone. She was returning from a trip to Kansas the evening before I was leaving. The insurance provided for a rental if I needed it but I got my repaired truck back an hour after picking Sara up at the airport.
I left for Gold Basin at 6:15 am on Thursday morning to arrive if all went well in the afternoon when Richard Garcia one of the planners and a all around great guy and friend was going to arrive. I arrived at the first cattle guard near the beginning of Hideout Rd at about 1:30 and since I had already remembered while driving that I did not have my map, satellite image, or directions, or radio, I called Richard on my phone. He was soon to arrive and I took the time to do a little hunting. Paul and I had found meteorites in that exact area a few years ago.
While waiting around John Humphries and Jana Becker drove up, followed quickly by Richard and then Dennis Miller. Soon our four vehicles were rolling and bouncing their way to the campsite by the back route. It was fun but with the sun getting low I had hopes that all would go well on the rough road, which it did.
We got settled in and at least partially set up before it got too dark to do more work. We started a fire in the nice pit that was there. It was time to get acquainted and tell stories, but of course no lies. I think we were all hopeful of finding Gold Basin meteorites in the next few days.
While waiting by my car that afternoon for the others to arrive a gent in a truck rolled up on his way out of the area. He asked if I had found any meteorites. I said “No not yet just practicing while I wait for friends to come.” He then showed me the two meteorites he had found that day. They were nice, one about 30 grams and the other about 50. Then he pulled out a drawstring bag and dumped his gold nuggets into his hand. He had four or five large nuggets of about a quarter ounce each and two large blobs of gold about the diameter of a nickel coin which were what he had melted of the smaller gold from his drywasher. We talked a minute or two and he said when I asked that they had been found near the exact campsite we were headed to. He added that he had been out the week before and found four and brought a friend who had found a 262 gram stone in a few minutes. I was now quite hopeful of many people being successful hunters.
I related that story around the campfire and about the same time a man from a nearby RV came over to say hello. He pulled out a nice meteorite that he had found that day which was larger than the two I had seen earlier. He and his wife were there recovering gold with a drywasher from the nearby wash. They had been doing OK but not well enough to stay plus he wanted to tour Hoover Dam before having to be in Las Vegas in a day or two. They were leaving in the morning. After they would be gone only our group would be there. I went to bed with high confidence that we were in a good spot and we had gotten good info about other hot spots near enough to walk or easily drive to.
Friday morning brought in more attendees and my first journey out into the field hunting. I had not gotten very far when Bob Verish approached me and we went off hunting together. It was great to have a chance to hunt again with him. We discussed a wide range of topics and the politics of meteorite hunting and the problems of getting classifications done. After about six hours we arrived back from our huge loop over hill and valley and many washes at camp once again. Though we found plenty of interesting rocks there were no meteorites for us that day.
It was just before twilight when we got back and time to get dinner on and the stove going. I had only had a wonderful ice cold Bartlett pear and glass of milk for breakfast and just a few cheese puffs for lunch. Something warm would feel good for dinner. I heated up a can of beef stew and had that with saltine crackers and a soda. It was nice to be off my feet. But I could not rest long. In the very little light that was left I had to get the astro imaging stuff out and partially set up. I had my red flashlight but you can add “forgot my lantern” to the list of items I left at home. But soon everything except the camera and computer were set up ready to be connected and aligned and plugged in. Now it was time to sit around the fire and get warm and listen to more stories and tonight maybe even a few lies. The group was really a great bunch and we had a good turn out by Friday night. There were a couple dozen people by then.
About 10:30 or 11 the last couple people were ready to head off and get some well earned sleep after a hard day of meteorite hunting. But my night had a couple more hours of fun in it. I had taken a break during the campfire time to get out the laptop and connect everything together. I had even begun taking some exposures of an object that I sort of accidentally got in the field of view. I had aligned my little camera tracker and then pointed the camera around roughly toward the Pleiades. I needed to take a few test shots while I waited for Orion to get higher. When the first shot of the Pleiades came up on the computer the famous cluster was there on the screen but so was the California Nebula. So I got everything focused and decided to do a complete run of 30 frames of a minute each on the California Nebula just to see what I would get. Once it was set up the software would take all the images and I could go back to the warmth of the fire for half an hour.
After that imaging session ended I started on a wide field session of 60 subs of as long as I could go on Orion. Unfortunately I bumped the tripod in the dark and messed up my polar alignment. I had already put the alignment borescope away so I realigned the best I could and started the session with one minute exposures. After it was going I watched the meteors that were happening ever few seconds. Then I saw the brightest meteor I have ever seen. Wow! I stifled my excitement and did not wake anyone else up but Wow! It was not a streak of light but a very wide brush shaped white meteor. It was very bright and moved really slow. It dropped out of sight behind the mountain to the north just below Cassiopeia. Soon I had my 60 shots and put away the computer and camera. I was in bed by about 12:30 I think. I was still thinking about that meteor as sleep finally came.
Saturday Morning we had been asked to make ourselves available for a group photo at 8:30 am.
After the photo was taken a group of us headed down the road about a mile and a half. We hunted for a while as the group grew to include all those going to another area. I got out pretty far from the cars, was not the last to return when we were called back but close to last.
For the meteorite hunter there are tools we use and even rely upon to find the stones. If they are buried then a metal detector is indispensable. But when you are hunting and see the stone 10 feet away and say in your mind it looks the right color, it is rounded not broken and angular, it is without a doubt a meteorite and know that when you put a magnet on it there is going to be a lot of sticking. Then you reach it and touch it with the magnet and what you knew in your mind is confirmed; that is the best. To know before you touch it and to find it with just your eyes. For me that is the supreme find experience.
There it was a chocolate brown colored rounded dome sticking above the dirt surface. Everything screamed meteorite. When I picked it up it had the heavy feel in my hand. It had stuck to the magnet but not as strongly as I thought it should. When I felt the weight in my hand I said that is why. It was bigger when it came out of the ground then I thought from what I could see. I walked over to Roy Miller and his son Cody and showed them. At nearly the same time we heard over the radio that Jason Synder had found one too. His turned out to be a whooper at 276.8 grams. All of us were re motivated to hunt a little harder.
Mine was also a nearly complete individual with a pretty ovoid shape. After four trip totally many days I had now found my second Gold Basin meteorite. This one was also so much nicer than the first which I found many years ago. I hunted that area for another couple hours and found no more. Luck as much or more than planning determines if you find a meteorite. And hours in the field do more to increasing your chances but there are always meteorites found instantly right next to where someone parked their car. We had a couple finds like that at the event. But any find is a great find and everyone who found a stone was delighted. I think everyone who did not make a find had fun too and knew they were closer then before to the next one they would find by having been there.
Saturday afternoon found us all back at camp. Richard had asked us to return at 3:30 pm because “you have to be present for the drawings to win.” Twink Monrad gave us a review of the history surrounding the discovery by Jim Kriegh of the meteorites and told us of the study they did in the area for a couple years to map the extent of the strewnfield. She served as prize awarder and name picker in the drawing and prize award portion of the festivities. Richard Garcia was the main Master of Ceremonies but he brought up Dave Libuszowski to help. There were thirty-nine hunters in attendance by Saturday afternoon. Some people were staying in Meadview at night and driving over each morning. Jason Synder and Jana Becker tied for most found with four meteorites each. Jana also won prettiest looking meteorite for one Richard nick named “peanut” beating out my 116.9 gram stone. Jason Synder also won for largest with his whooper 276.8 grammer. Annie and Tim Morris received the award for having traveled the farthest to attend.
We had a big impromptu hot dog cookout on Saturday night with chips and cookies and some sinfully wonderful cupcakes over at our campsites that were serving as base camp. A huge fire was started and kept going until late. The nights had been chilly in the high 30’s to mid 40 degrees F. The fire was appreciated. There was again a lot of great conversation and story telling, and I am sure there were lies told on Saturday night. Lots of laughing and fun. Slowly though the crowd dispersed and it was again time to try and get a little sleep. I had a long drive home and a decision to make. Some of the group were heading to Franconia to hunt in the morning. Richard was going to take Annie and Tim Morris to Franconia to let them try some good spots he knew and invited me. Others were going as well.
I have spent weeks at Franconia and have found the little irons on the north side but have never found a stone. Without a 4×4 Paul Harris and I can not get to where they are still being found. Paul has found stones on the north side but I get skunked each time. So the offer of get way back into the strewnfield on the north side was exciting to me. But getting home early was important too. Richard had to be on his way from Franconia by about 2 pm so I would get back home pretty early and I decided in the night before sleeping to go down there for the mid day hunt.
Tim and Annie Morris had come the farthest for the event all the way from the East Coast. Annie found a Gold Basin meteorite as well. She is a very skilled astro imager and we had a nice chance to talk during the weekend. Richard was almost finished packing up and Tim and Annie and myself were ready to leave so Richard told us to go a head and start. We both needed gas in Kingman and Richard would probably catch us anyway. We made our way to Franconia and I called to check with Richard where he was and got news that Dennis Miller’s battery had died and Richard had stayed to assist him and could not make it to Franconia in time to still get on the road to where he needed to be going. So I took Annie and Tim out to the area where Paul found stones and I have found irons and we hunted. Tim used my Gold Bug 2 and Annie had the detector that had been successful for her at Gold Basin. As we were walking from our trucks to the plateau we ran into Robby and Robert Hoover who had been there since early. It had been nice chatting with them during the weekend. We have hunted together before, they are fun to spent time with. But they were just waiting for a stopped train to move away so they could drive home. We kept walking out further and I told Annie and Tim anywhere in here is as good as anywhere else since we were in the strewnfield.
We hunted I guess about 3 ½ hours. They did well with the detectors. They found all the buried flying metal that they walked across. The bullets, bullet jackets and the ever present tiny bits of wire kept them digging and sifting at Franconia.
I got a nice chance to chat with them more. They were returning home by I 40 and were going to stop at Meteor Crater. My favorite place any regular reader of my articles knows. And I suggested that they stop at Holbrook and hunt. They had magnet canes and the meteorites are visible almost always. I heard a couple days later that they had been successful in finding some Holbrooks, Woo Hoo!! We left Franconia at 4 in the afternoon. It had rained on us for a while but got nice later on. That was my first meteorite hunting in the rain.
I was thinking that I would get home quite late and called Sara to let her know I was leaving Franconia. I forgot that I was going to gain an hour in a few miles when I crossed over into California. My truck had preformed very well and I had babied it a little going to Gold Basin staying at between 60-65 mph. But I said I might as well go the speed limit of 70 mph. Even with the terrible rain and wind I got home about 8:45 pm which was great. And it was good to be home and I had a Gold Basin meteorite too.
Next morning I got on the computer and sent some images of Holbrook with directions and clues on hot spots I had good success at to Annie and Tim and wished them luck and a safe trip. That was the true end for me of the Gold Basin 20th Anniversary of Jim Kriegh’s Discovery Weekend Celebration. But the memories and friendships will go on for years I hope.