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Meteorite Hunters vs The Weather

In my last article I mentioned that I might try to get in a trip meteorite hunting in the autumn. Well, this article begins when I got an email from my friend Richard Garcia that a trip meteorite hunting was being put together and would I like to go. Not too tough a question, but I had to look at my schedule and check how free I was.

I got back to Richard about a day later saying that I would love to go and I got some more details. It was pretty easy for me. He was driving and I could ride with him. He had made hotel arrangements and even if there was no bed space for me I was happy to take a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor. It was a great group of hunters that were going. I think they were all Facebook friends but I did not think I had actually met any of them in person.

Yelland Dry Lake was a spot that Paul and I had seriously considered hunting several years ago. But it is just a little too far to go for the number of days that we usually have for vacation. So this was going to be my chance to hunt the lake even though it had been a few years and there had been plenty of people there before me. It looked like pieces of meteorite were still being found so I felt good about my chances of finding some pieces, but whether I did or not it would be fun and I would get to know a few more of the hunters from my part of the country.

I got most of my stuff together a couple days before we were scheduled to leave. Compared to going out of town for astrophotography meteorite hunting is a breeze to pack for. Just a bag of clothes personal stuff, my small hunting bag that holds all the required equipment of the modern meteorite hunter and for Yelland just my magnet stick. Not much compared to the four accessory cases large tub two telescopes, mount and laptop and a hundred other things that go to do star images.

My hunting bag is a small surplus military canvas bag with a zillion little pockets and pouches. It is great for holding all the things one needs to hunt for space rocks. I am little old school when it comes to meteorite hunting. After twenty years of using GPS equipment I still don’t trust them solely for recording the location of finds. I had everything I needed except a small notebook for writing down the find information to put in the plastic bag with the pieces if I found any. I looked around the house for a notebook and could not find one so it was off to the store to buy one. But, that was really all I needed that I did not have. I did not know if we would use them with this group as Paul and I have in the past but I put in my walkie-talkies which were basically new and had never been used for hunting. They were replacements for my old ones that had some problems the last time we tried using them.

The weather report for the next week for Ely, Nevada was changing day by day as I checked it on my phone. One of the days now was showing wind and one was showing thunderstorms. I knew that I had lost the leather strap on my hat and I had chased it enough in my life across day lakes. So I needed to make some kind of a strap and that would be about all the prep work for this trip.

I know that not all the readers have hunted meteorites so here is a short list of the things we take to find and record space rocks. Camera: either phone or small digital, magnet stick and often a metal detector, handheld GPS, extra batteries, loupe or magnifying glass, bandanas to cover back of my neck worn under my hat, plastic baggies, pen and paper, sunblock, spade or a hammer and pick combo, small pack or day bag, cell phone if there is service or handheld communicators. I add to this a diamond file for field testing and a digital scale that stays in my luggage to weigh finds in the evening.

I had about an hour and a half drive to Richard’s house and I wanted to get there a little early so we would be sure to leave when he wanted. I was driving in the opposite direction of the rush hour traffic but there would still be some spots where it could be bumper to bumper. Richard had done the planning and had been to Yelland before. He wanted to do the same thing that Paul and I have done which was drive half way to the distant location on the afternoon and evening of the night before we are really starting. Then get a fresh rested start for the last several hours drive and hunt most of the first real day. Las Vegas is just about half way and we had reservations for the night there Thursday night and would head out early to meet up with some of the other guys around noon Friday at the dry lake.

After a great visit with Richard at his home which included the tour of his observatory we were on the road. Las Vegas is well what can I say its Las Vegas. We had dinner with Richard’s brother at a Mexican restaurant they wanted to try and the food was very tasty. A little time spent in the casino of the hotel and it was time for a restless night of sleep. Not that I wanted a restless night but I guess I was like a little boy before a big adventure. I was really ready to get out hunting after a couple years of indulging in other hobbies.

It is another few hours drive up to Yelland Dry Lake from Las Vegas and we filled the time with great conversation. Robert and Robby Hoover were coming up that afternoon and we soon got a phone call that they were just a couple hours behind us on the road. The weather report had been changing from good to bad to worse over the last couple days. But going on was the only thing we wanted to do. It was close to noon when we started the off road last miles toward the lake bed. It was very windy and patchy clouds, it even then looked like it was getting rainy in the distance.

Richard stopped the Jeep as close as he could to the lake bed and I grabbed my bag and started out hiking. He finished up getting his stuff and followed a few minutes later. In just a few minutes more my walkie-talkie squawked and Richard was telling me he had found a meteorite already near the place he entered the lake bed. It was a great piece from the outside of a larger stone. It was a rounded corner with a few red spots on a nice mottled surface.

This is Richard’s very nice meteorite he found on Yelland Dry Lake in a minute or two. It is am exterior corner piece and that is quite special. Most pieces are broken internal shards from larger masses.

In just a few more minutes one of the four rocks that stuck to my magnet stick that day jumped up. It looked like a meteorite enough but not like the few samples I had seen of Yelland. I showed it to Richard and he agreed it might be a meteorite but thought the same thing that it looked different. After getting home I went to the Met Bulletin and looked at the pictures posted of Yelland and some of them do look like this little stone.

This is the first of the meteorites I found on Yelland Dry Lake. It is difinately a meteorite but has a little different look than most of the pieces.

Richard had lost phone service so I had been sending messages to Robert and Robby Hoover using my phone until my phone got unreliable too. We were on the lake bed when our walkie-talkies crackled with a broken up call from Robby. They were just a little too far away but were out there. When they did not arrive after a time Richard said that at 3 pm he would head out to look for them and asked if I was going to stay on the lake and hunt. I said I would keep hunting. The weather was starting to turn worse. There had been some rain on my side of the lake but not enough to get wet just sprinkles. It was raining more on the other side we were heading for where it was thought our best chance would be. I was well into the middle of the lake and far from the Jeep when the second of the four stones that my magnet picked up was touched. It was nice sized and though it had a lot of clay on it I was hopeful it was my first Yelland that looked like a Yelland. I bagged it and recorded the location. Doing this was pretty hard in forty mile an hour winds. I had stopped trying to wear a hat. It would not stay on and was just billowing out to the side of my head pulling on the strap around my neck. It went into my pack until later. Richard had made his way much further to the other side of the lake bed but had hunted back toward me since it was nearly the time he had said he was going to leave to look for the Hoovers. I showed him the piece I had found and we spoke for a minute then I moved on into the lake further to where he had pointed me.

After cleaning up this stone some it looked just like it should and made me pretty content since I was not going to be skunked for the whole trip. The red spots we saw on it after cleaning were very much like thoses on Richard’s nice corner piece.

I hunted in the rain and wind for I guess another 30-45 minutes when I saw the two vehicles on the edge of the lake. A figure was making his way out toward the direction I was going so I walked toward him. In just a few moments I was greeted by Robby Hoover.

The weather continued to deteriorate and I was heading back to the vehicles. I could see Richard coming in my direction and when he reached us he was still determined to make it to the spot out there where we would have our best chance for finding a few meteorites. We made a great try at getting there, but the clouds continued to darken and the rain got stronger and the fierce wind grew as we pressed on When the lightning began striking ever few seconds on the mountains off the sides of the lake we turned back. We were the highest objects on the lake bed we were starting to look like candidates for getting struck by lightning.

We were trying one more time to make our way across the lake to the area where we would have our best chance, but as you can see in this picture the clouds are getting ominous and the wind and rain were not subsiding. Within minutes of this image that Robby Hoover took the lightning was striking every few seconds on the hills around the lake and it was time to accept that we had to leave.

Somewhat disappointed that we were only there for about three or four hours and not sure we would be able to return the next day we retreated from the lake. The 50 odd miles from Yelland to Ely, Nevada seemed like the longest 50 miles of my life there is something about that drive that seems to take forever to pass.

Richard had found a nice stone and I had found a something or two. I would clean up the one at the hotel later and get the clay off it so we could see the color better. We headed to our hotel and the Hoovers headed to theirs. We had called the other guys that were going to come up in the evening and told them to not come because of the rain and wind. They had not really started yet. We would hear later that they decided to go to Franconia to hunt to save their weekend.

After checking into the hotel we met up with Robert and Robby for dinner. The pizza and beer were on Richard since he had said first one to find a meteorite buys. That is what Paul and I do too so that was normal fun for me. But, he had been the first and my find was still somewhat in debate since it was so dirty with clay on all but one side. And my other little piece was more meteorite looking but different. Both had been found after his immediate find.

Dinner was great I had not met the Hoovers before that day and this meal was our first time to converse. It was another of those crazy things that happens with weird frequency. Within minutes Robert says that he was a pilot for the Catalina Island seaplane company. I ask if it was the one under the Vincent Thomas Bridge, and he says yes. In shock I tell him that I worked at the Catalina Steamship company next door that shared the same launching ramp. I used to fly in the seaplanes to Catalina to see friends who owned a hotel in Avalon about once a week during several summers. We missed working at the same time by only about a year. The SS Catalina stopped running and ended up half sunk in Ensenada Mexico. His seaplanes were grounded (if you can actually ground a “sea” plane) because of too much corrosion from seawater. But, if I had worked there only months more I might have taken my early morning flight with Robert as pilot. On those flights I was always the only passenger so I sat by the pilot and we chatted on the trip.

A lot more great conversation at dinner about a host of topics which included a new plan for our trip. We would see what the rain did overnight and likely head south to the Alamo Breccia site at Hancock Summit, hunt and play there for a couple hours then head to Stewart Valley for hopefully a few hours to find some meteorites.

It did rain all night and as late as 4:30-5 am I was still hearing thunder in the hotel room. There was no doubt after a whole night of hard rain we would not be trying to return to Yelland “not so dry” Dry Lake.

Robby and Robert Hoover and Richard Garcia under the Extraterrestrial Highway sige at the fork in the road heading to the Alamo Breccia.

It was about a two and half hour drive down to the Alamo Breccia site and we arrived at just about 10 am. Richard said we had to leave near 12 or we would not have any time at Stewart Valley. The hike up to the top of the breccia layer is not my favorite hike. As any longtime reader of my articles knows I have some acrophobia. But, I did make it up to the highest spot again and had a picture taking moment with Richard and Robby. I found a dime up there. Do not know if it was accidentally dropped or some crazy geocaching deposit. I had said I was not going to take back much breccia but I did bring back my small bag stuffed with it. Robert and Robby had not been there before so I did my best along with Richard to see that they found some nice pieces that would look great when cut.

Almost nothing is as much fun as hunting fossils except maybe hunting meteorites. Here are a few pictures of the Alamo Breccia and one petroglyph image. There are not a lot of petroglyphs there as in other places in southern Nevada but it is always fun and interesting to see any that you find.

Two hours passes fast up there on the ridge and we were back on the road headed toward Stewart Valley. We got there after a stop for gas and a bite to eat at 4 pm. That gave us about 2 ½ to 3 hours to hunt. Richard wanted to find one as fast as he could so I would know what they looked like. He drove around on the lake looking out the window and found one in a few minutes. We stopped near there and he found another in about a minute. He called Robert and Robby from where they were and we all hunted nearby that spot. In a few minutes Robert had found one then another. Then Robby found one. Then his dad had found another and then another making four for Robert. I was not seeing anything even close to the right color and though I was touching everything nothing was sticking to my magnet stick.

After an hour or so of this I was starting to smell skunk on me and was thinking I would probably not find one for there was not much light remaining. The Hoovers were ready to go and said goodbye. Richard took the jeep over to another spot that had been productive in the past and I got my magnet stick and started hunting again. In just a matter of seconds I touched toward the only stone I had seen that was brown and clack. It jumped onto my magnet. Richard was still just feet away since it had only been a minute. I held the end of the magnet stick toward him and he looked at the stone and held out his hand to congratulate me. There were only a few minute left until it was just too dark to continue hunting. But, I had found one. Richard had given me the ones he found since I needed at least two.

I was carrying beads this trip and needed two meteorites. There is a wonderful program called Beads of Courage that serves children with serious illness by providing a bead for each procedure and special event or challenge overcome during treatment. They have a bead kit that you can purchase with a donation. It consists of two beads and a note card and a pin or string. You can carry the two beads on an adventure or on a hike or bike race or really whatever. You keep one of the beads and you send back the other with the report card and you post images to a website. Then that returned bead is gotten by a child and they become a participant in the adventure or journey. Well I had decided to carry beads on this trip and if I found meteorites to include a meteorite that was found in with the returned bead and images. So I needed the second meteorite or I would have to give away my only found Stewart Valley. So big thanks to Richard for providing the actual recovered meteorite that is being sent to a very courageous child.

This is the Stewart Valley meteorite I found.

Since I did find a meteorite at Stewart Valley the Dairy Queen soft serve ice cream cones were on me at Baker on the way home.

I had cleaned up the Yelland at the hotel and it was looking a lot better that it was a meteorite. I got home from the trip at about 12:30 am on Sunday morning almost two days early. Got few hours sleep but went straight to the garage in the morning to put a window on that stone from Yelland. It was 25.4 grams when I started and 25 exactly when I finished lapping it. There was no more doubt after lapping it. The stone had a nice sprinkling of small metal grains and I was an even happier hunter.

Here is the Yelland Meteorite after grinding a window on the nearly flat broken side. It has a nice scattering of metal grains and is my newest found treasure along with the Stewart Valley.

Paul and I got in our traditional autumn astrophotography trip a couple weeks later and here is one of the images I took on that trip just for the fun of it.

This is the Orion Nebula shot for this year. With over two hours of total exposure time it is much deeper than last year’s image. But there is no end to how long you can shoot this area. Who knows next year I may go even longer to see what else I can bring out. Its my favorite object to image.

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