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California’s Recent Meteorite Fall

I named this article as I did to avoid the problem of picking a name myself when it has not been officially named as of the time of this writing. My story of the meteorite fall near Coloma, California began with my wife asking if I had seen the video of the beautiful fireball that came over Nevada and California. I had not seen it, so the Internet search for information began. The size and explosion strength were soon to be estimated. NASA said quickly that it had been the size of a mini van and had exploded with 3-4 kilotons of force. There was still discussion about where any pieces might have landed.

Well, this was my chance to go hunt a fall right away. I had no commitments for a while and the free time to go. But, I wanted to wait until the location was determined and whether there were even pieces on the ground to find. I did not have to wait long after a couple days the first several pieces had been found and I got on the computer to determine just exactly where Coloma was. That is when the first big decision was forced upon me. Coloma was just a short loop up and over Folsom Lake from Rocklin. What does Rocklin 30 miles away have to do with the meteorite fall? My middle daughter was to graduate from William Jessup University in Rocklin on May 12. Three months before the meteorite fell we made hotel reservations and plans to go up there. Now my decision is do I go up early for a few days and find a place near Coloma to stay. Return home, then turn around and go up again with my wife. When the pieces began being found and they were all small and they were being found very slowly it made more sense to wait just a few days and go up as we had planned. We had two free days built into the trip with no activities planned. So meteorite hunting and a nice visit to gold country was going to be great.

We drove straight to Coloma from LA and got there around noon. You have to start out early or you get caught in morning traffic. I had picked a road west of Coloma; but not too far to try my luck at hunting for pieces that may have flown farther. As it turned out there was not a lot of room next to the sides of the road. But, we found some spots and turnouts and hunted there for a couple hours diligently.

Then we drove toward Coloma and pulled into Henningsen Lotus Park and hunted there for a couple more hours. No meteorites, but as a long time hunter it is part of the process to put in the time without success so you can scream and howl for a few minutes when you do find one. I did find a couple nice pieces of colored native rock that were beautiful. May do something with them someday. In the late afternoon we headed to Rocklin to check in to the hotel. But, we would be back in the morning for some gold panning first while it was cooler and meteorite hunting the rest of the day.

This shot is of the large grassy area at Henningsen Lotus Park. There were several others hunting there while I was there. Four men with magnet sticks passed me discussing what the meteorites should look like. I sort of smiled inside myself.

The refrigerator in our hotel room was so noisy I did not sleep very well. But, by the time we got to Coloma I was ready to find gold and meteorites. I found a promising area to pan on the edge of the public recreational panning area. I had my concentrator screen and pans for myself and my wife. Slurpper bottles, gold tweezers, storage bottles and a magnet were all packed in a small shoulder bag in addition to my normal meteorite hunting stuff. My wife did not want to hike down the steep embankment and risk a fall so I would spend a couple hours panning by myself I thought. Well, there were about 20 kids and some adults along with a tour guide at the river when I got down there. They were working in a shallow of the river almost a beach you could call it. I went upstream a little ways and found some rocks half in the water and half out. I crevice scoured around and under the small boulders and put it all though the concentrator screen. Threw away all the larger rocks which I normally would not do without metal detecting them. Then panned it out over where the kids were. I could sit down to pick out the gold if there was any and I could stand in the water up to my knees to pan.  After a minute or so of panning I had washed off enough of the sand and small gravel to take a look if there was any  gold. I agitated the material to one side and rolled the sand and gravel off with a wave or two of water. There in the bottom in a lot of black sand I could see some flakes. So I finished off the panning down to just a little sand and no gravel and found a nice little line of color in the pan. The kids were all standing around and I showed them what the gold looked like so they could tell it from mica or something else shiny. I showed the parents how to pan a little and told them to go slower and hold the pan flatter. They were letting most of the sand and gravel out too fast without moving the pan much. Unfortunately, they were on a schedule and it was about time for them to leave. One man I had helped came over and requested I give him a single piece of gold so he could take it home to show his brother. I slurped up a piece and put it in his waiting bottle. He thanked me and I said good bye to them. I was alone now. I got back to work and panned a few pans and slurped up the gold. There always were a few flakes in each batch of concentrate.  You are suppose to just use hands and pans so with just the help of a stick I continued to work out the contents of the crevices as far down as I could get. After a couple hours I knew I could not leave my wife up there hunting meteorites by herself much longer so I made up an empty water bottle of concentrate to take back to the truck and pan out there. She had never really panned for gold. I hiked back up to the truck and got her set up on a rock where she could sit. I dumped the sandy glop into her pan. We worked over another pan just in case she spilled accidental. But, she got the knack fast and was washing off the sand and gravel while moving the pan. Both the pans I brought were old plastic types with riffles on one side. Good pans though. When she got down to very little sand left I helped her just to wash the contents back so we could see if there was gold. She had some in her pan and I was pretty happy about that. We saved her concentrate since I think there may be a little more that I can get since she was just learning how much to tilt the pan.

Guess I was a little excited because I forgot to take a picture of the first pan. This is the second pan with black sand and some regular sand still in it.
This is my gold after a long cleaning process to remove with a tiny magnet the remaining black sand. My total finds were 1.569 grams. My wife's finds were .1665 grams from her single pan of concentrate. It was great fun but we did not even find enough to pay for the gas one way of the trip up there. Imagine how much had to be found in 1849 at the low price gold was then. As they always say it is better to sell the miners the tools and supplies then to do the mining.

Now it was meteorite hunting time. We drove back across the single lane bridge and into the Marshall Discovery Park parking lot. In the next five hours I covered as much of the area there as I could. I knew it had been hunted by others. Yet this is a fall where not just diligence is required but a lot of luck. So I hunted the corners, the edges, under the trees and along the bushes. All places I know others had probably been too. But, with limited time I had to do the best I could. I did not find any of the meteorite. A lot of interesting other rocks, some charcoal that was pretty close in appearance and hardness. But, close inspection showed the faint remains of the hardwood grain. My heart did sink on the first piece of that charcoal I found. I had a moment when I thought it might be a piece of meteorite. There were no fire pits or BBQs nearby. After a real close look though I ruled it out with some sadness.

This is one of the large grassy fields at Marshall Gold Discovery Park. It was mowed and easy to hunt but I knew it had been well searched already. So I worked all the edges too and around as far as I could walk into the off areas.

Everywhere as I walked in the area of the Marshall Gold Discovery Park I could see the grass was either trampled down or had paths winding through it. I wondered sometimes if all these hunters were actually hunting meteorites or trying to make crop circles. Some areas off the path by trees were totally trampled down. I hunted as hard as I could but did not have the time to do that kind of exploration through the grass, wish that I had been able to stay long enough for that. Clearly that is now where the pieces mostly are. It is just really hard to see through all the grass to the ground. With late afternoon approaching and we had not been to the visitor center/museum we headed that way to see it and get some souvenirs at the gift shop.

Just one spot where the grass was trampled down from hunters walking on and through it.

We entered the museum and soon found ourselves in a great conversation about meteorites and the hunting of them. There was a picture of some pieces that had been found taped to the counter. As I was talking with the two ladies behind the counter a gentleman asked if I could identify a real piece if  I saw one. I said yes and we went out to his car. He had a piece of black rock. It was not the dark grey slate that is everywhere but a true black rock. It was not magnetically attractive. Too bad it was crystalline and had some quartz inclusions in it. So I told him it was not a piece of the meteorite. He said he did not really think so either. His dad had been an oil exploration geologist, so he had learned a lot about rocks himself. We chatted a while then went back in the museum and actually got through it this time. I found a couple souvenirs and made three smashed pennies. While outside the gift shop my wife walked near another woman sitting on a bench who said to my wife, “I know you.” My wife looked at her and said her name. As it turned out she was a teacher at the same school as my wife’s sister-in-law. The school is at the church my wife grew up in and attended until we married and she moved. While they are chatting the wife of the man I had given the gold flake came and sat down with them. The kids and parents down at the river panning were all from the school that my brother-in-law’s wife teaches at. If I had known that I would have given him a bigger flake of gold.

We had not had lunch so we made up a little snack from the cooler. I had seen a person with a slushee type drink and asked where she had gotten it. So I was off  to the Coloma Grange across the street for a couple large cool ones. Two coke slushees in hand we got ready to drive back to Rocklin. We found no meteorites, but had a great time and some luck panning gold. More great meteorite memories and I can always say I was there and tried. Can not find meteorites sitting on the couch at my home I know that. Daughter Laurie graduated on Saturday and we had a nice but long drive home.

Will I return in the fall to look when the grass is dead? I don’t know I guess that will depend on how finds continue to be made. If much more is found and some large pieces are recovered maybe I will. If little more is found and nothing large, maybe not. The meteorite is friable and will not last long. It is a shame if not much is found. But, I think it possible that most turned to dust in the explosion and unless big size finds are made it may be that there are not big pieces to find. I hope that is not the case, time will tell. I am writing this while it is still pretty early in the story of the Coloma area meteorite. Hope it gets an official name soon.

Right before we left we took a little drive around the area of Coloma and we drove the full length of California’s shortest state highway. It is only about a half a mile long I guess and ends at the James Marshall Memorial. But what a great sign I had to share it.

Until next month, Jim


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