The Diary of a Meteorite Hunting Trip

After a couple weeks of exchanging emails between the three of us a basic plan for vacation has begun to emerge. We do not leave for another few days but for me today and tomorrow are the last days off from work to prepare. I have my list made and I have gotten a few things like batteries ready. I got a new GPS since the screen and reliability of my old Garmin had been going bad for a couple years. That was two weeks ago and I have downloaded the updated software into my desktop and laptop so I should be ready for recording our hunting.

My cell phone went out several weeks ago also. I went into the phone store convinced that I would get another simple phone and came out with an iPhone. So I guess I have enter the modern age in another way. It has a built in GPS/compass feature. But, it is only accurate to one second of latitude and longitude. That is give or take a little difference for each 90-100 feet. Making the closest I can record a find a pretty large circle of nearly 200 feet. So I can take a great picture with the camera on the phone and get a rough location but I guess I will still have to photograph the GPS sitting next to the meteorites. If we find any of course. But, we are always confident of our success. We have a way around that every trip and that is to plan aspects of the trip that can not fail to be successful. Sometimes it is astronomy, or astrophotography, this time it is a return to one of the Alamo Breccia sites to gather some more material.

I am picking up a 4×4 in Las Vegas, Paul and I will use it to get onto the dry lakes and other places we have on our list to hunt. We are staying in an RV site and taking day trips out to hunt. Sonny Clary is joining us for part of time. We are looking forward to spending some quality hunting time with him. As I am writing this I have one more day off from work and 4 days of work until we leave. Paul has to work today and has three more day of work and he will have a couple days before we leave to get the RV ready and take care of the other logistics. I have to put together a tool box to take with us in the 4×4 and get all my hunting stuff located and packed.

On the Road

We were in contact with Bob Verish as we drove and it was then doubtful he would be able to join us and Sonny for a couple days of hunting. I figured that if he could he would and as it turned out he was able to stay for two days and hunt with us. We had an uneventful fun trip out to Las Vegas. I pickep up the car and we headed toward Rachel Nevada. I had asked for something like a 4 wheel drive Rav 4 and ended up with a Ford Escape. Which was fine but I knew nothing about it. I took a few minutes in the parkgae area in Vagas to read the manual and see how the 4 wheel drive worked. It turned out that it was engaged as nedded with no operator action required. So off I went in it. I have two Ford Rangers and the controls and buttons were all pretty similar. We got out of town and onto the highway going to Rachel which receives little traffic so I turned on the cruise control and the radio for a two hour drive at just over 70 mph. Well it was not long that I saw the gas gauge start to drop off at a very surprising rate. The car seemed to be getting about 9-10 miles to the gallon. This was going to create some problems. There is no gas for about 65 miles in any direction from Rachel. I filled up again in the small town of Alamo and we drove out the rest of the way. By the time we got to Rachel it at was at 75% in the tank. This meant that without buying some gas cans I could never make any head way on fuel. If I drove back Alamo to fill up I would use 25 % each way and be at 50% after each trip. Giving me very little range to drive during the days hunting meteorites. The first lake we wanted to hunt was 35 miles from the RV park. As it turned out I could buy a five gallon can of gas at the Little A’le’Inn which I did. The next morning when we drove up there to the lake I did not use the cruise control, low and behold the mileage jumped to where you would expect about 25 miles to the gallon and the gauge never hardly moved the rest of the trip. The controls for the cruise control are essential the same as in my Rangers. But, clearly they engage the 4 wheel drive all the time or do something that kills mileage. That was really the only rental car issue until the afternoon before returning to Las Vegas when the check engine light came on. Always a little scary to see. I checked the oil and water and what else I could and it was all fine so I continued driving the car hoping it was just the bring it in for scheduled maintenance time indication.

Both Bob and Sonny arrived in time for dinner at the Little A’le’Inn on Saturday evening.. Sonny had Brix with him and it was fun to see him again. The meteorite hunting dog would show his expertise later in the week. After dinner on Saturday night we made it an early evening and went to sleep having planned an early trip up the road to a dry lake bed to hunt for the day and observe the stars at night. Paul had checked on the Iridium flare opportunities and there was one on Saturday night that we had watched before eating dinner but the one on Sunday night was to be far brighter at -8th magnitude. It would be the brightest I had ever seen if it was clear and if we were on time to observe it.

Paul in I had visited the dry lake bed we were heading up to 8 years ago when we had been in this part of the country for vacation. It had been too soft a surface to drive on that time and we did not spend a long time up there hunting. We got up early and it was cold. About 37 degrees F. We drove up the road confident that the weather would be fantastic and that the temperature would be in the mid 80’s as predicted. The lake surface was perfect this time and we drove out into the middle. Circled up the wagons so to speak and got ready to take off across the lake hunting. We all took differing directions and only met up one or twice during the day. Radio communication was not working well and cell service is non existent so we were on our own. The lake was very clean, no trash and few rocks other than prolific amounts of a brown basalt and a black basalt. But, there is nothing unusual about that. We are used to hunting where there is basalt.

I worked the shore on the north-east side to start and all the area inward about 50 yards. After a couple hours I moved the car over to where I had seen Paul hunting off the lake. I drove over near him and we talked awhile. He had found a wonderfully strange piece of rusty brown basalt. It was full of crystals. The black needle crystals cried out hornblende to me but in a funny conversation with Bob Verish later we decided to just call it amphibole. Later in the day we would find a piece of black basalt that had 3/8 inch wide crystals of a white mineral in it. This is all quite strange, normally basalts cool too rapidly for much crystal growth to occur. I was pretty jealous of Paul’s find of the brown basalt so we went off to see if we could find another piece. After a lot of searching I found another piece that was similar with the black needle crystals but not as nice. Still I was happy that I found a piece of this interesting rock. As we were hunting for the sample Sonny and Brix pulled up in the ATV and it was time for the test of Brix’s hunting skills. Sonny handed me a blue plastic glove and four meteorites in a plastic bag. He told me to throw them in to the area around us. He took Brix and walked several hundred feet away with his back turned and I placed did not throw the meteorites. When I opened the bag I found some very nice meteorites in it. Far nicer than I think I would have used in dog training. I did not want to be responsible for them accidentally getting lost. Well, as was quickly seen I had nothing to worry about. Brix found my cleverly concealed meteorites in a very short time.

We did not find any meteorites, but we had a great time hunting. We got to know friends better. We headed back to the base camp at lake center in the last afternoon and had some dinner. Paul set up his telescope just before sundown. The sky was clear there was no wind and it was going to be a perfect night for observing. The Iridium flare was spectacular. We looked at all the regular objects of this time of year, the Ring Nebula, the Dumbbell Nebula, M31, M13, Albireo, The Double Cluster, Jupiter and some others that I can not remember off hand. We saw many really fine meteors, most of which were bright Orionids. As we were seeing them it came to mind that we could go to sleep get up at about 4 am and have a look at the Great Orion Nebula. That turned out to be a really fine idea. I have never seen the Orion Nebula look as nice in an amateur scope as it did in Paul’s. It was spectacular, and Jupiter just happened to be putting on a show that night as well with a very visible festoon on one of the equatorial bands. There were seconds of seeing so good that it was as sharp as I have ever seen the planet. It was a fabulous first hunting day of vacation. Paul took some 15 second shots and managed to score this nice sporadic meteor.

Bob took this photo of the caravan leaving the dry lake for Rachel.

We drove back to Rachel in the morning and put the RV into a spot again at the Little A’le’Inn. Then headed off in the 4×4 to Rachel Dry Lake to hunt there for the day. Sonny and Bob were already on the lake hunting by the time we got out there. Having the 4×4 was great we took some time to drive around nearly all of the lake and get an idea of what the surface was like. There was an area on the east side that was covered with stones from recent wave and wind action, but the surface was pretty awful for hunting. Paul and I ended up on the north side in the hummocks where there was abundant rock between the hummocks. We hunted diligently there for several hours and met back up around lunch time had a soda and sandwich with chips. Then headed off to do some exploring and finally ended up hunting a couple more hours on the southwest end of the lake. Both of the lake we had hunted so far were large and I am sure that there is at least a meteorite on each but it eluded the four of us this try.

Tuesday

The Alamo Breccia is found in several outcropping around this part of Nevada. The easiest for us was the Hancock Summit site. It was only about twenty-five miles from Rachel so we headed down that way early in the morning to spend the day. Sonny had told us about a petroglyph near the place we park so finding and photographing that was first priority. We found it pretty easy and looked for more but found none. We returned to the car got our packs and headed up the long steep trek to the top of the ridge that is the layers of Alamo Breccia. We gathered up a nice selection of specimens for our collections and took a lot of pictures. Had a bit of Gatorade and a granola bar and headed back down the edge of the mountain. I had been looking at the way the Alamo Breccia layers fold and twist in synclines and anticlines through the ridges and I was pretty sure that just on the other side of the road was an exposure that was only a few minutes easy walk away. It was definitely lying on its side and eroding off the top unlike the layers we had just left which were cut through and eroding as cliffs off the edge. We unloaded the packs of what we had gotten already and walked over across the road. On the way my eye caught site of the small rock in the next photo.

 

We had only walked a few feet off the road when we begin to see pieces of Alamo Breccia. There was no doubt about it being a continuation of the layer we had fought our way up to in the morning and on previous visits. Lying as it did the nice breccia with small size clasts was in widely separated clumps usually several feet in diameter. It was not in continuous bands as across on the ridge. But, the real benefit was that the large surface area exposed of each layer presented more shell fossils. As the following photo shows there were spots with numerous shells.

We made our way up higher and I saw the neatest stuff in one small spot. It was Alamo Breccia but it was chunks of the normal gray breccia that seemingly cracked up at some time in the distant past. The resulting cracks had filled with white quartz. It is really beautiful. As I hope you will agree as you view the following pictures. I expected that it would be really strong and polish well. I had some cut and polished within two hours of getting home and was not disappointed. We carried pieces of this and some specimens of regular Alamo Breccia with fossils that were lying around up there back to the car. A very successful rock hounding adventure. I will have fun cutting this material for my collection.

We got back early afternoon and spent time on the wi-fi and writing until around dinner time. We went over to the Little A’le’Inn to get the souvenirs we were bringing back and have dinner. It had been really convenient having dinner there instead of making something in the RV. It gave us some more time with Bob and Sonny the first two nights and tonight it was just nice to relax and unwind without cooking and cleaning up. It is vacation afterall.

Once again if there had been meteorites on the lake where we walked I think we would have found them. We came back with our usual load of bullets, 50 caliber shell casings, and the other odds and ends of history that are always found on dry lakes. Paul has a piece of electronic tek that he is researching. I think it is alien tek, Area 51 is just over the hill. we saw many things of interest old skulls and bones and signs of past occupation by Native Americans. Just no meteorites.

Wednesday was a travel day from Rachel to LasVegas. We arrived in Vegas at noon and turned in the rental 4×4. We headed off to Circus Circus RV Park to get a spot for the night. We got settled in and cleaned up and it was short taxi ride to the Luxor to go to the Titanic exhibit that is there. Wow, is all I can say of that exhibit. As a big history buff with an intense interest in Titanic it was quite exciting to see the material that was on display. I know there are some that find it questionable to bring up material from the wreck site but having been trained as an archeologist I feel we do the same thing with sites all over the world. The items in this display were presented tastefully with serious consideration to the human tragedy. Preserving the dignity of the individuals that had owned the items was near the top of the motivations for the exhibit promoters.

Paul treated me to dinner at the buffet at the Wynn. We had a really fine meal before returning to the RV for our nightly session on the laptops and a movie. We had three movie nights this trip and I think that is a record.

Thursday was a drive home day starting early. Our goal was to get back into town before the LA rush hour traffic in the afternoon began. As it turned out we got quite an early start leaving the RV park at 6:00 am exactly. So we had most of the day to unpack and rest from what was a very active and rewarding vacation.

I will do a more complete presentation of the Alamo Breccia material in my next article article.

The Little A’le’Inn is worthy of some description. It is to be found in Rachel, Nevada where as the sign below indicates there are humans and well who is to say what else may be around there. Groom Lake (Area 51) is just over the mountains and not far away. Nevada was the scene of many atomic bomb tests and out near the road in front of the Little A’le’Inn is one of the monitoring units spread around the state. As we were standing by it the reading was 12 uR/h. I looked up online what natural background is and got a range from various sources of 8-23 uR/h. So after all this time since testing was done with no wind blowing the level there at Rachel was nothing to be concerned about. Everyday we were there we heard many sonic booms and some were very loud. We saw a few jets flying, but we missed seeing the spacecraft this trip.

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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