I finally got the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for decades. Hunting a fresh fall within days of the bolide event has been one of my dreams. All the time I was working it was impossible to just pick up and go. And since I have been retired I was either out of town or heard too late of the events. I had been very close to Sutter’s Mill the week following that fall and I hunted parts of two days there but I don’t really count it. I only hunted right around the local parks. Tuesday, June 12, 2018, a very bright meteor was seen over Southern California and Nevada skies. There was a spectacular video of the fireball traveling north-northeast over Tehachapi. Just before the meteor disappears out of view behind the mountains there are two very dramatic explosions seen. One of the explosions is while the bright core of the bolide is still fully visible and the other is seen the instant the core is covered by the mountain peak. When I saw the video I was excited and told my wife “I think it might be my chance to finally hunt one.” I waited to see if anything appeared on the internet about all-sky camera records or Doppler radar returns for the event. Nothing was being discussed. On Friday morning I sent Richard Garcia a meteorite hunting friend and bolide chaser a message that if he planned a trip I wanted to go. The following Sunday was Father’s Day and I usually go to the movies with the daughter who lives nearby. However, she was not feeling well and we had postponed until the following weekend. With nothing planned for Friday, I went out to the movies and saw something that we would not see the following week. I got into my seat and turned off my phone like a good boy and watched the movie. Two hours later I saw on my phone a message from Richard that he was already on his way to Nevada for the hunt. I got home and grabbed my hunting bag and meteorite magnet stick, sunblock, hat and Gold Bug 2 just in case we ended up staying out extra days hunting somewhere else. I drove to the gas station filled up the jeep and headed toward the freeway that I knew was going to be a nightmare at 3 pm on Friday afternoon.
The traffic was all the horror I could have expected. It took me 4.5 hours to go the distance at requires just 1.5 hours in the early morning or late at night. The 368 mile trip to Alamo, Nevada from my home in the Los Angeles South Bay area took over 8 hours. I made hotel reservations using the hands-free communication system in my jeep. The hotel would leave my key in the drop box since I was arriving so late. Midnight found me pulling up to the side of my cabin and finally getting to sleep. I set my alarm so that I would be ready when Richard and David Libuszowski arrived at my door in the morning. It was going to be fun to spend some time out hunting with Dave. We had corresponded and chatted on the phone but not gotten to hunt together before.
We got supplies at the little mini market for the day in the desert. I had intended to get the bottled water and granola bars to put in my hunting bag at one of the gas stations stops on the way but had completely forgotten in my focus to get to the hotel. All supplied we headed out to the location determined by the all-sky cameras. There was no doppler data as of that time for the fall. We pulled off the main paved road onto the dirt road and headed out into the desert. I expected to go farther down the road but we only had to go a couple miles or so and Dave who was leading said: “This is the location on the GPS.” I pulled off the road enough to be out of the way if someone else came down the dirt road.
I headed out sort of straight north from where we parked and hunted the area on the left side of the road. The other guys had stuff to do at their vehicles and got going a few minutes later. Richard headed off along a low ridge a few hundred yards west of my track. Dave headed out about the same spacing to the east of me. We walked lines out for the better part of a mile back and forth spaced some ten or twenty yards from our previous line. The surface had a good amount of the short scrub vegetation but was light colored with few truly dark rocks and nothing that stuck to a magnet. If there was a fresh black meteorite we would see it.
After several hours of hunting, we decided that we were not close enough to the exact location of the fall and that the data was either flawed by incorrectly calibrated all-sky cameras or more likely there was just not enough data yet to define the strewnfield.
Was I disappointed? No, not really. Meteorite hunting is, to begin with among the hardest pursuits one can take up. And finding a new fall without Doppler radar and just a few camera lines to plot a spot is certainly no easier. I had gone and tried and that was a thing I had been unable to do on many falls before. I had hunted with friends without all the problems of getting permission from landowners and the fall was in my backyard so to speak. I can easily return when better data is worked out. Life had kept me from doing a hunt within days of a new fall and it had been a long dream for me to go on such an adventure.
We headed out in the early afternoon to a dry lake that I had hunted with Paul Harris on two other occasions. It was about 70 miles up the road and would be fun even if we again did not find any meteorites. Nothing beats pulling your 4×4 out onto a dry lake bed and just driving across without a thought as if it was a 2-mile wide road surface. You just pick your spot and get out and hunt. I had been to the lake before as I said so I knew where I had hunted and what portion I had not hunted. Dave had found a meteorite up on the far end of the lake and I knew I had never hunted up that far so I headed almost all the way across the lake before stopping to hunting.
The hunting was pretty pleasant for the first short time and then the wind picked up like crazy and increased until it was me that the wind was trying to pick up. I tightened the strap on my hat and leaned into the wind as did the other guys who were moving about the lake on quads. We got in about four hours of hunting before beginning the trip back to Alamo.
I had gotten up on Friday morning and gone about doing some chores and then headed to the movies. I had a drink at the movies but after hearing Richard was on the road already I jumped into my car and got going without getting anything at home for lunch. I missed dinner in the big traffic jam. I pulled off to top off the tank at Lynwood on the outskirts of Barstow and did grab a Coke Icee and a small snack at the gas station. Then it was a long run for the hotel and then no breakfast in the morning before we headed out to the hunting area. I ate one of my granola bars when I took a break to drink some water hunting at the bolide fall area. Later, I had a peanut and oat bar on the dry lake but I had not had a real meal since Thursday evening at home. I was really ready for some kind of food for dinner after hunting. The guys chose a grill that was actually part of the little market at the gas station we had been to in the morning. They got double bacon burgers I think with chips. I got a single cheeseburger with fries and a chocolate shake. It tasted so good. We ate in the guys’ room and discussed what the plan was for the next day. The winds were expected to be even worse Sunday. They had been sustained 50 miles per hour I am sure with gusts much stronger. None of us wanted to hunt in anything stronger. We decided to head home with hope in our hearts that we would return after a closer determination of the strewnfield location could be made.
I packed my stuff in the morning after an OK night of sleep. I was a little restless but got enough to drive home safely. I had bought two 20-ounce Mountain Dews at the mini market while waiting for dinner to be made and had placed them in the refrigerator in my cabin up next to the freezer section. They were about half frozen in the morning. Perfect to be really cold when I felt thirsty on the drive home. I drove the few hundred feet from my cabin the guys’ cabin and they were still heading home too. We took a few pictures and I got on the road. My map program said I would arrive home at 1:57 in the afternoon. But, I topped off the tank at the gas station where I get on I-15 and that took a few minutes. The update after that stop was 2:02 PM. The traffic was not perfect but not too bad. I was in a wrong lane in the construction area in Las Vegas and that took me off the freeway and it was hard to get back on. In the end, I got home about five minutes after the predicted time. A long weekend of 902 miles of driving, but fun.
We found no meteorites but that is OK. You won’t find them sitting at home and they are not ever easy to find so coming home skunked is just part of the game. I hope we try again. I am sure from looking more times at the Tehachapi video that there were many pieces formed in the event.
I am a big fan of the Alamo Breccia. Both Dave and Richard have collected that material too. It was interesting that where we were hunting pieces of meteorite there were outcrops of the Alamo Breccia everywhere. The one thing I maybe should not have done was hike high up the nearby mountain to the dark brown/black boulders that litter the flank of the mountain to see if there were any petroglyphs. Not having eaten that strenuous hike was almost too much when added to the additional hour and a half I had ahead of me once I got back down into the low lands hunting the meteorite. I was pretty tired out when I got back to the jeep. I still had plenty of water and more energy bars so I was safe. The 70 or so mile drive to the dry lake was enough rest to get my legs going again. There were no petroglyphs up on the mountain. However, similar type rocks and groupings of boulders found nearby were used by the Native Americans for inscribing petroglyphs. The guys had similar boulders over where they were hunting and they hiked up to theirs also and found no petroglyphs. Like meteorites, you have to go and see or you will never find them either.
It was a great trip and as always great fellowship with nice friends. Things have settled down some for Paul who could not go with me on this trip but hopefully will be able to go if we return again