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Finding Meteorites The Short Story

I have hunted meteorites since I was a preteen and though I did not know what I was looking for in the earliest years I got every book I could find at the library and took every opportunity to hunt. My parents were building houses out in Bullhead City, Arizona when only a couple of hundred people lived there, and I was too young to really help with the construction work, so I walked all day looking for meteorites. I sent some of my pieces of basalt to H.H. Nininger and got nice letters back that they were not meteorites. I also got nice flyers and brochures that gave me some more practical information.

Eventually I found my first meteorite. It took fifty years for me to know that I had found them because they were mixed into iron shale that I picked up on a hike around Meteor Crater when I was about 14. I still have all the stuff I picked up and was going through it about two years ago just for fun and as I looked at the iron shale pieces the much older and more knowledgeable me recognized that two pieces were actual meteorite fragments. On a visit to the old ruin of Nininger’s Museum near the crater in the 1990s I found eight small pieces of meteorite with my magnet stick outside the ruin on the west side. In a box of iron shale that was given to me by a friend many years ago I found two more Canyon Diablos in his batch of old collected pieces. But all the rest of my meteorite finds have been hunting the hard way, walking miles and miles with my eyes to the ground.

 

 

 

It was a few decades after my childhood that I got into meteorite hunting seriously. I have been to many locations and found meteorites at most if I returned to hunt enough times. As the new year rolls around every year I have a hope that this year I will get to make a few trips to the desert and do some serious hunting again. It has been three years since I have been out with a group of hunters to. I stopped last June at Holbrook as I made my way east on a driving trip to Kansas. I found 5 pieces of meteorite that day in just a few hours. But that is the only hunting since about 2020. I have joined the local gem and mineral society, and they want me to give a talk on meteorite hunting. I have suggested a few local places the club can go and try our luck. Several dozen locations where meteorites have been recovered are within a couple of hours drive from where I live now. So it is just a matter of getting out there and putting in the time.

It occurred to me as I thought about what to write in this January new year’s article that I have never counted up the meteorites I have found in my life. They are mostly on shelves in Riker cases or glass displays. I totaled them up as best as I could. There may be a few that I failed to count; it was 206 meteorites. That’s not a bad number for someone who has only been able to get out one, two, or at the most three times a year.

I have hunted places that were easy to hunt, and I have hunted places that were rugged and difficult. I have been unsuccessful at a few places. Some of my best memories are from the hours of solitude hiking and looking hopefully for the next space rock that would either be seen ahead of me or set off my metal detector being buried and invisible. I have had immediate luck on a few occasions where within minutes I had found a meteorite. I have hunted for weeks of total days and found nothing or nearly nothing other times. For example, it took at least three weeks of full days of hunting over several years before I found a tiny little sliver of Franconia meteorite on the southside of the interstate. We finally decided that the whole area had been so well grid hunted by others that nothing was left. We had no four wheel drive vehicle at the time and had been trying to avoid the long hike from where we would have to park the motorhome to get up on the north side of the Franconia strewnfield. We finally did the hike and that day I found some pieces of Franconia iron, but a stone still eluded me. Paul found one or two Franconia stones that day. Later I would find two or three Franconia stones on each day trip and that was delightful finally. But I had been skunked there for several years. If it had not been for the dark skies and the astronomy at night, I think I would have given up on Franconia. Glad I did not give up for I have eleven nice stones now and about 30 of the little bits of H metal.

I took a trip with a friend up to Yelland Dry Lake. It was once covered in meteorite fragments from stones that had fallen apart and spread across the lakebed. By the time I took the trip it was pretty cleaned out. We arrived in the afternoon with the intent of hunting there a couple of whole days and staying in town. We barely got out on the lakebed when the clouds began to get very dark and ominous. I hurried across the lake in the direction I was told the most remaining pieces were to be found. It was one of those occasions where I fortunately had immediate success. I found one piece and a few minutes later I found a bigger piece which was quite nice . It was a corner piece with an exterior surface weighing 25 grams. I never got to the good spot on the lakebed. The lightning and thunder started, and the clouds were rolling right up the valley into the lake. The lightning was striking the mountain nearby and we were running for the cars as the rain began to fall harder and harder. The wind was roaring. It poured all night and there was not chance we were getting back on the lake. It would be days or weeks before it dried out. So we headed off to another location in the morning. As we drove the roads were all flooded on their sides, and it had been a tremendous storm. I knew in the early evening that Yelland was out. I was grateful for the two stones I had found so fast.

 

 

We did some fossil hunting down at the Hancock Summit Alamo Breccia site and then made our way to Stewart Valley Dry Lake by the afternoon. We had a few hours of hunting before it got dark. I had been there before for a few hours at the end of another multiple site hunting trip. I found a few pieces of Stewart Valley that day and everyone on the aborted Yelland trip had a good time with the fossils and breccia and finding bits of Stewart Valley. I returned on my own later to Stewart Valley and found in a whole day of hunting a nice batch of pieces some with areas of old fusion crust remaining and some that were nice size. I have never really worried about whether it was fragments of old meteorite or mostly intact complete stones or fresh or ancient. It has always been the fact that it was meteorite that made the hunting and finding special. In whatever form it was great.

There are several day lakes I have hunted on where I have never found a single bit of meteorite. Rachel Dry Lake and the larger lake up the road have both been hunted three times and I have found nothing. I hunted Bristol Dry Lake as a kid. My father always drove out to “The River” as he called it, by the old road using the cutoff through 29 Palms. We would pass Bristol Dry Lake as we approached Amboy. I saw the vast open area and thought even as a kid that such a place would be great to hunt for meteorites. But as a child I did not realize that it was a salt lake and had been mined for a long time. It was constantly being stirred up by equipment. Of course I found nothing in the few hours my parents gave me to search. But it was my first hunt on a dry lakebed.

I have hunted a big number of dry lakes now and found meteorites on about half of them, I guess. Paul and I took our second or third trip out to Broadwell Dry Lake to try it again. We hunted hard and knew others had been there too. We found nothing and as far as I know no one else has either. Which is a little strange, it is a big lake and I still believe that there must be meteorites on or around it. I have written about this before. We took a break to explore some old mining sites on a nearby mountain. There I found Old Dominion Mine meteorite. Though I was not sure it was a meteorite out in the desert. I had seen no metal grains or chondrules on the little spot I ground off. I still brought it home and later tested it better. The following day we headed home and stopped at El Mirage Dry Lake and hunted there for the day. I found nothing on El Mirage. But Paul was victorious and found the first meteorite ever recovered on that lake. So that was a successful trip for both of us. A trip where we both made new cold finds where meteorites had never been found before.

Over the years I have been most successful finding meteorites at Holbrook, Arizona. I guess it is not surprising since tens of thousands of stones originally fell on that relatively small area. They are getting harder to find but I have never been skunked there yet. Many of the stones are small and on one trip I deliberately took one day to hunt for just tiny ones. I found many meteorites weighing just a few to a couple dozen milligrams each. They are fascinating. Covered in fusion crust and with very tiny rust spots on some. They are exact miniatures of their larger cousins. I even found a few individual chondrules that day. That was fun hunting. In all the days I have spent hunting at Holbrook I have never found a large stone. My biggest is about a five or six gram meteorite. But I have found dozens of meteorites there and will likely go back again to search for more meteorites.

 

 

The last few years with all the things going on which have kept me home, I have not done much hunting. But just before the COVID thing I was traveling farther to more isolated places to hunt. A nice 122 gram stone was found at Jungo Dry Lake. Many pieces of meteorite were found at Tungsten Mountain. For me nothing beats being the first human to touch a space rock. I spent my childhood digging up bottles in ghost town dumps, fossil hunting, and metal detecting for relics and gold. For a brief time as a young adult I did a bit of archeology and that was more digging. None of those digging activities, as much fun as they are, is quite as rewarding for me as finding meteorites.

My list of places I have hunted for meteorites is quite long now. I hope to add a few more this coming year. Maybe I will be successful, maybe I will find something unusual or a bigger stone. You never know but the chase is most of the fun for me. The time to wander and think and be where it is quiet and peaceful, where there are few demands on my time. Those are special occasions for me. Whether it is meteorite hunting, or reading or whatever else you love to do, I wish for everyone in my audience to have a safe, peaceful, and happy new year.

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