After years of planning, I finally get to search this remote dry lake.
Well, I finally succeeded in hiking all the way to the north end of Lost Lake, but I still didn’t find any meteorites. Darn it!
Okay, maybe hiking 6 miles (one-way) doesn’t sound like much of an effort, but allow me to explain why it took me four (4) attempts to reach this destination.
For those who are curious, Lost Lake is a small dry lake that is located in the middle of the California Mojave Desert, nestled high in the Owlshead Mountains and situated between Fort Irwin Training Center and Death Valley. Several years ago the southern boundary of the Death Valley National Monument was extended down to the Northern boundary of Fort Irwin and the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, so now Lost Lake is on park land. And the only way to access this valley is via a 50 mile dirt road, which makes it a 2 hour drive north out of Baker, California.
Satellite image of Lost Lake from Google Maps website:
You can find a “MAP OF LOST LAKE” by going to the new mapquest website.
Part of the reason why it took me four attempts to reach my objective was the variable condition of this “50 mile dirt road”, but another part of the problem is coupled with the variable weather in these mountains. Although there are long stretches of this dirt road that are in great condition, there are many sections that are vulnerable to getting washed out by a local thunderstorm. All it would take is just one nasty “gully-washer” to leave you stranded, and cut-ff from civilization.
So, two of my prior failed attempts were the result of this “road/weather” problem. On my 2009 attempt, I was already well down the dirt road when I did a last minute check of the weather forecast (before I lost reception) and it was fortunate that I had checked, because the forecast had just been revised and the weather was taking a turn for the worse, so the trip had to be canceled and I turned around. On a previous occasion I attempted to traverse this road too soon after a storm, but had to turn-back, after seeing first-hand how badly compromised the road had become.
This is not to say that the dirt road isn’t properly maintained, because kudos should be given to the National Park Service and the Department of Defense for their prompt maintenance for their portions of this road. But there are many sections of this road that are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
An important side-note: the military is becoming more proprietary about their portion of this road. In fact, the sole reason for the existence of this road is to give access to a solitary microwave installation, which after the boundary was moved south, is now located on national park land. I’m not aware of there being a requirement for this road to have “public access” so it could become gated without notice. And should the microwave installation go away, it would be typical of the park service to close-down the road.
What my failed attempts at accessing Lost Lake taught me was that I needed to keep trying (because the limited access that we had today, could go away completely tomorrow), and that I needed to pick a time of year to go when there wasn’t a threat of winter storms (or the danger of summer heat), but wasn’t too early in the spring before the dirt road conditions had been improved. So I picked the fall season, during that window of time when the day-time high temperatures were below 85 degrees and night-time lows were above 50 degrees.
Keep in mind, “accessing Lost Lake” was NOT my objective. My prime objective was to reach “the north end of Lost Lake”.
The reason for this clarification is because, in the past, I had already “accessed” Lost Lake. Back in 2006, I actually reached the south end of Lost Lake while making a “recon” trip through this area. On that trip I had already hiked into Owl Dry Lake, but after finding that surface unsuitable for searching for meteorites, I now had extra time and decided to hike into neighboring Lost Lake. By mid-morning of the next day, I had reached the south end of Lost, but decided to forgo the additional 2 mile hike to the north end, and instead, spent the remaining hours of daylight searching the south end for meteorites.
What this successful attempt at accessing Lost Lake taught me was that (on my next trip) I would need every hour of daylight in order to make it worthwhile to hike to the north end of the lake AND to search for meteorites.
Over the intervening years, as each attempt at returning to Lost Lake was met with failure, I fancied the notion that the only logical way to return would be “by air”! I would day-dream about various methods of getting flown into Lost. I would reconcile the expense by figuring-out how much time and effort I would save.
But my dreams crashed to Earth when it was explained to me by, no less than, Scott Johnson, of U.S. AirBorne Sport Aviation LLC fame (and avid meteorite hunter), that no pilot was ever going to risk losing his license and aircraft even contemplating a landing on a dry lake inside a National Monument.
Having heard this (bad news), I was now resolved, more than ever, to return to Lost Lake, and that I would have to do it on my own. So, I started planning my next trip and waiting for those “ideal” weather conditions.
I didn’t have to wait long. A quick check of the weather forecast for that area, showed that the conditions were ideal and that I should depart immediately. I drove all night, and by dawn of November 1st 2010, I was already hiking, and by mid-morning I had finally returned to Lost Lake!
The “northern shoreline” is actually 2 shorelines, or is better described as being the point where the north ends of the eastern and western shorelines come to meet at the middle of Lost Lake Valley. Each of these two shorelines are described in geologic terms as being the distal margin of an alluvial fan, and since the source of the alluvium in each of these “fans” are from separate mountain ranges (each composed of rocks with different petrology) the gravels in each of these shorelines is distinctly different. In general, the alluvium on the eastern shoreline is a dark-colored volcanic rock. Whereas, the alluvium on the western shoreline is a lighter-colored granitic rock and is predominantly finer-grained. Dark-colored volcanic cobbles that have “migrated” (ice-rafted) across the lake and have been stranded on the western shoreline, easily stand-out against the lighter-colored granitic pebble-gravel (as would any dark-colored meteorite).
The “northern shoreline”, this confluence of the eastern and western shoreline AND the drainage of all surface water to this low-point in the Lost Lake Valley, also appears to be the stranding surface of preference for a variety of objects (both man-made and natural) most likely having been transported to this spot by wave action during those periods when the lake contained standing water. The man-made objects were primarily debris that fell from the sky, i.e., balloons, bullets, flares, shell-casings, weather-balloon parts, etc. By comparison to other California dry lakes, this was a pristine lakebed surface. The natural objects were mostly dead vegetation, algal mats, and of course cobble and boulder-sized rocks. The surface conditions were perfect in order to recover meteorites, but alas, none were found (at least, not by me).
On my way back to my truck, I had plenty of time to reflect on my effort at Lost Lake. I felt that I covered enough of the lake that, if there was a strewn field on its surface, I would have found evidence of it. I figure that there must be at least a solitary meteorite still waiting to be found, because I’ve found meteorites on even smaller playas. (Of course, there is always the possibility that a meteorite has already been found from there, in which case, I hope the finder does the right thing.)
I am satisfied with my effort because I know that I pushed myself to the limit for a person of my age and condition. I am not happy that I’m not getting any younger and that I may not be able to replicate this physical feat. I resent some of the restrictions to accessing large portions of public lands, now that I’m old enough to have the time to enjoy the desert, knowing that over time I will be increasingly less able to access that enjoyment.
That is why I went to all of this effort, even knowing full-well that I would NOT be able to remove any meteorite [ or anything else for that matter] . So, there’s no need to write to me and to remind me that Lost Lake is now within the boundary of the Death Valley National Monument, because I’m very much aware of that. And by the way, as long as you don’t do any digging, hunting for meteorites isn’t prohibited. What is prohibited is the “removal” of any rock!
And one more final note, I must admit to being very disappointed that I didn’t find a Lunar meteorite. Now, that would have really made my millennium! (I found Los Angeles in the previous millennium ;-)
I would have loved to have found a Lunar! I would have recorded the recovery data; taken the in-situ images; then try to find a small sliver for a type specimen; then leave the main mass in place; then try to find some way to protect it (but probably would cover it up); and then upon my return notify the Department of Interior that I found their Lunar meteorite in one of their national parks but that because of their regulations, I wasn’t permitted to remove it, so I had to leave it behind.
I wonder what would happen next?
Link to the Google Maps website for a satellite image of:
Lost Lake San Bernardino County, California
Link to the website with geographic and hydrologic information:
California Groundwater Bulletin #118
Lost Lake Valley Groundwater Basin Description – 1975 (Last updated 2/27/04)
Link to website with “ultralight trike” information:
U.S. AirBorne Sport Aviation LLC – Eagles Nest Airpark
c/o Scott Johnson, Sport Pilot C.F.I WSC-L WSC-S
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