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Franconia Hunt Spring 2019

It had been a few years since the last time that Paul Harris and I went to Franconia to hunt meteorites. But we were going with some old friends and new friends in the middle of April which we hoped would still be a cooler time of the year. Well, it turned out to be hot and much hotter than the forecast. We headed out on Thursday morning in my 4×4 for Lake Havasu where we were going to stay the nights of the trip. I would imagine that I have been down the I-40 maybe fifty times in my life and I had never turned down and gone to Lake Havasu so this was a first. I had to see the London Bridge while there. So after checking into our hotel, we headed just down the road to give it a look see. It was pretty impressive. I examined the construction and was interested in how much was original. The surface seems to be covered in sections with original stone but it is clear for modern use and strength that the underlying structure is made with modern materials and techniques. The old stone has been cut into slabs that have been applied as a veneer over concrete. But other parts of the bridge appear to be totally original and it was fun to walk on such a historic structure. We got some dinner which was fun. Nothing that the waitress did was correct. We ordered Diet Coke and got ice water with a lemon wedge. Paul’s response to her was “we think something is wrong with the Diet Coke but it looks like it is diet water.” We ordered teriyaki chicken and chicken fried rice and got sweet and sour chicken instead. It turned out to be dry boiled chicken covered in a terrible sweet and sour sauce. We just accepted the food given us and got out of there as fast as we could. We headed off to get some ice cream for dessert since dinner had been so poor. The ice cream was great it was cold and helped because the weather was hot and it was clear that it was going to be much hotter than the mid to high 90s. 100+F was what we were going to get out in the desert the next two days.

Friday morning found us up and out the hotel room door early headed to the complimentary breakfast at the hotel. It was terrible for the most part and I hoped a pattern of bad meals was not beginning to form. I ate my rubbery scrambled eggs and tough as shoe leather round slice of ham as Paul did but he added some toast and a muffin. I would wish later that I had eaten just a little more. But the orange juice and milk were fine and washed the other parts of breakfast down. We were on the road for the few minutes drive to the Franconia strewnfield. We had arranged to meet Richard Garcia, Eric Rasmussen, Dave Libuszowski at the end of the road off the interstate by the railroad tracks and drive into the day’s hunting spot. We arrived and waited just a minute or two for Eric to arrive next. Richard and Dave would be just a little later so we followed Eric on into the north side up toward the mountains in the distance. After just minutes Richard pulled in behind my Jeep with his. We reached the spot and parked. Soon we were heading on foot in an easterly direction into the desert. We were supposed to hunt seriously after we got in a good way. But I was hunting while I hiked. Both Paul and I ended up going too far north instead of more southeast and never found the others. It was a long hard, hot hike.

Photo Credit: Paul Harris

We all got back to the vehicles one way or another and just one flat tire was corrected. Roy Miller and Cody Miller were there at the parking area. It was nice to see them. We headed back to town. Pizza was on the menu and I know Paul and I were both ready for something after the poor breakfast and just energy food and liquid all day in the desert. The pizza was fantastic and the conversation and fun at dinner made for a sparkling evening. We were tired and ready to get some sleep for Saturday was going to be an early getup day. We wanted to hunt as much as we could in the early morning when it was cooler. It was sprinkling a little and there was lightning was we drove from Lake Havasu to the Pilot gas station at I-40. I was going to top off on gas and get something there for breakfast. 7AM was the time to be at the end of the Franconia road again and we were there just before that. We could see the tail-end of the clouds so we were not worried about being hit by lightning. It would be totally clear by the time we arrived where we were hunting. We followed Eric again to a spot just east of where we had hunted a few years ago. So we were more confident as we headed away from the cars that we would have some luck.

Over the years I have found many of the small pieces of meteoritic iron but had never found more than my one single small flat flake of stone broken off a larger meteorite. I really wanted to finally break the ice at Franconia and find a stone. Paul had found stones but had never found any irons. He wanted to fill that gap too. Richard and Dave arrived very soon and headed in also. We were hunting for maybe an hour when I got a hit. It was a small meteorite but I was not going home skunked this time. I reported the find over the walkie-talkie and immediately heard Paul yell from where he was a couple hundred yards away “I know who is buying dinner on the trip home!” We have a deal that the one who finds a meteorite pays for dinner on our homeward drive. Always something the person is happy to do. Richard was just a little ways away from me so I walked over there and proudly showed off my tiny 1.8 gram Franconia stone. But I could not have been happier after the month of days of hunting without finding one if it had been a kilo size stone. The Franconia jinks were off and I could relax and just hunt hoping for more luck. It was not long before the other guys began to report finds of stones and irons. Dave had hit a spot with irons and Paul was near there and hunting in that direction and bang within a minute or two he found a very nice, neatly shaped, over a gram iron. So we were both successful and splitting the dinner bill on the way home.

Paul and Richard

We wanted to be on the road by around 2PM so about 1 in the afternoon we started making our way down toward the cars far away. As I came out of a small wash I swung the detector to the left and it screamed on the side of the low slope of the wash. I took my magnet that I hold in my other hand and went through the spot and found the second and much larger stone for my day of hunting. Everyone did well recovering meteorites. Dave found two stone a 20+ gram and a 90+ gram and several irons. Eric found irons. Richard found a nice stone on the surface baking in the sun. Everyone was heading home with meteorites.

We got back to the cars and compared finds for a couple minutes and said our goodbyes. It had been a great weekend. We hunted with old friends and made new friends. We were off toward home after a stop at the gas station near the strewnfield to get something cold to drink during the drive to Peggy Sue’s Diner outside Barstow. Paul and I often stop there on our way home from hunting. The food is always good there. This was the first trip hunting Paul and I had taken since we moved into our new homes. As fate would have it we ended up living only about a mile apart. So I dropped him off at his house. The wind was blowing and it was cold. So very different from the blazing heat we had been in just five hours earlier. I jumped back into the car and drove the mile to my house the end of a great successful hunting trip at a location that had shut me out for well over a decade.

Franconia meteorites are officially listed as H5 ordinary chondrites. The two I found were from the northern portion of the region. Therefore it is possible that they are actually Franconia stones. However, there are Buck Mountain meteorites found also in the northern portion of the area and it would seem some evidence supports it being a much larger event with the clearly larger distribution. My larger stone having a nice patch of quite fresh fusion crust might support the idea that it is a more recently fallen stone. That would also make a case for Franconia which has the lowest of the terrestrial ages for all the falls in the area. Sometime around 7,000 years ago the scientific articles report.

The Buck Mountain also may be a better candidate for the source of the small irons that are found on the northern side. Both meteorites have enough metal but the chemistry of Buck Mountain might fit the iron a little better. Franconia meteorites are shocked a bit with an S3 shock stage and are a little weathered at W2. They are getting harder I am told to find but since I never had any luck hunting before I can simply say they have been impossible to find for me. Good metal detectors scream so loud when they have swept over even a small H chondrite that little is missed after a decade of many hunters. But we were all successful this trip. As mentioned above the Franconia strewnfield was hunted so much that several other meteorites were found and the overlapping strewnfields included an area of very low metal stones that John Wolfe was quite successful at finding. We would often camp near John and he would show us his finds. He kept them in plastic compartment boxes and he did find many. Names were added as the years went on for the other finds in the area. Today the region has now been named two dense collection areas. I am sure Paul and I will hunt there again but it will be when it is cooler.

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