When writing about the Cranfield fall last issue I did not think I would be writing about another fall this issue. In fact I had a completely separate and already prepared article put together which I put on the shelf and quickly put this together in its place. I am certainly glad to have a new fall to write about because new falls are fun and exciting, much more so than type localities (tease just in case there isn’t another fall to be written about next issue).
The stark contrast of the photos coming from the Great Salt Lake strewn field to the previous images from the very humid and green hunt for Cranfield points out that not all fall chases present the same challenges and being prepared for each unique fall is something to consider. Preparedness and gear are the topic I wanted to discuss prior to getting into the nitty gritty (and salty) details of the new fall next.
The excitement of a new fall is contagious, it spreads and gets people of all experience levels out into the field to hunt. The avid hunters are always around, but the enthusiast-turned-first-time hunters and even non-meteorite folks who simply heard about the fireball on the news show up to strewn field also. Everyone has different experience levels, but hopefully even the ardent hunter finds something useful in the first half of this article. When I am talking about the dynamics and preparedness to hunt i am not really talking about the ability of finding and identifying meteorites, primarily I am talking about being equipped and prepared for the conditions in the field. Field craft is not just about being self-sufficient but also about being as comfortable as the environment allows so you can focus on finding.
This article is not intended to scare anyone out of hunting, just the opposite, I hope it gets folks in the mindset, that after thinking it through a bit, they feel they can tackle a hunt in a safe and prepared manner. Before getting into the primer on hunt preparation I want to first point out I am no veteran hunter with just a few years of hunting under the belt, but three decades of field craft (scouting, trail running, trekking, peak bagging and adventure racing) and a decade plus of military time has provided ample opportunity to translate outdoor skills to hunting for meteorites. Hopefully some of the hard learned lessons, some of which I’ve heard relatable experiences from this current hunt and previous ones, won’t have to be learned the hard way by others due to this article. Coming home with a rock is much less important than not coming home at all, and outdoors know-how is what will get you home, assuming it is not an in-town fall.
TEN HELPFUL HINTS FOR HUNTS THAT AREN’T A “WALK IN THE PARK”
1. Let someone know your itinerary: You should never head out on a hunt without letting someone who is staying behind know the details of your hunt. They should know where about you are going and how long you intend to stay, so in case you don’t return they can alert authorities you are missing. If you get yourself into serious trouble out in the middle of nowhere, especially somewhere where phone service is unreliable, this is your best shot of getting help.
2. The weather, know before you go: Knowing the weather conditions is a major factor in hunt planning. If it has recently rained, some locations won’t even be accessible, or may require 4-wheel drive to access. Knowing what is required to get to and from the hunt start locations is an important part of planning, getting a vehicle stuck and recovered is no fun, and can be expensive if you can’t get it out on your own. Knowing the weather is also important in selecting adequate clothing to protect against UV exposure, wind and rain. Knowing how hot and how humid it will be also is key to determine things like how much water bring and how much to consume per hour. Hot dry environments can be especially difficult as you may be perspiring more water than you think as the rapid evaporation can be deceiving.
3. Dress for success. Adequately supportive footwear is a must, but it is also important to think about comfort, if you end up with wet feet, or blister up, you won’t be as concentrated on the task at hand, a light synthetic inner sock and thicker cushioned outer sock helps keep feet dry, friction down and comfort up, after all many hunts are in actuality long hikes. Another great concept out of the hiking world is to layer clothing. As conditions change throughout the day and your exertion levels vary being layered eases staying comfortable and not over-heating. Finally, if you are going to be in wet conditions leave the cotton at home, once wet it rapidly loses insulation and takes a long time to dry, good garments made from synthetic blends or Merino wool wick moisture better, dry faster, and stay warmer when wet, so are superior for all day comfort.
4. Be prepared to be benighted. This is really applicable if you are hunting off the beaten path. Sundown can creep up on you sooner than you think, especially if you are focused on the hunt. Everything is ten times harder to do in the dark so being prepared with a flashlight with fresh batteries is always a good idea if there is any chance you will be pushing to get the maximum out of a day. Even better than a flashlight is a headlamp as it leave your hands free to accomplish tasks. Likewise, if you are hunting in a remote area, and you get back to an inoperable vehicle do you have what you need to make it through a night stuck somewhere?
5. Know the terrain: Doing a map recon on google earth goes a long way to preparing you for the conditions on the ground. Finding out as much as you can about the terrain in the area will allow you to be best prepared. Just like the weather, the terrain will determine what type of vehicle will be able to get you to the site and potentially work the strewn field faster such as bringing an off-highway vehicle, or in the case of this fall a bicycle). It also allows you to prepare for hazards in the strewn field and to pick out prime search spots or even routes to maximize find chances (such as setting up grid searches with the sun to your back to make visibility higher). Doing this all from the comfort of home saves time in the field, and is more efficient. Doing a map recon will also get you mentally prepared for how tough the terrain might be and give you the right mindset to approximate how much ground you might be able to cover in a given amount of time. The terrain severity will also factor into decisions like how much water to carry as it affects exertion level.
6. Be able to navigate: Are you relying on your cell phone as a GPS? What happens if it dies or you lose signal? If you are going to be getting out of line of sight of your vehicle having the ability to navigate becomes a key skill in not getting lost. Being able to work a compass and do things like triangulate a location off two known points is an invaluable skill for hunting in remote areas.
7. Know your limits, game plan scenarios and have a backup plan: If you took a quad into a remote area and it breaks down can you get back both from a physical standpoint and a supply standpoint? Will others be in the field to lend a hand? Hunting with a buddy is always a good idea from a safety standpoint, and the same is true for knowing if others are in the strewn field who could lend a hand. But if you are like me, sometimes you are out there not just seeking meteorites but seeking solitude, if that is the case, knowing your limits, having a backup plan and being self-reliant are extra important. The best time to come up with a solution is not after the problem as occurred, but by thinking through what you would realistically do ahead of time.
8. Be prepared for the wildlife: a full day spent swatting mosquitoes is no fun, and Lyme disease is even less fun, neither is a snake bite. Knowing what wildlife is around and what risks it presents is always a good idea and allows you to bring the right gear such as snake gaiters, and tick/bug spray.
9. Hydration: hydration is not just about water. Having an adequate amount of water to replenish your body is important, but it’s just as important to replenish electrolytes lost during perspiration. Salty snacks, electrolyte beverages or powders to add to water or salt tabs are all ways to ensure you can replace the electrolytes you are losing.
10. Complacency: Getting complacent as experience rises is always a risk to keep in mind. The longer the list of successful hunts (and that is success as metered by coming home issue free, not rocks in hand) the more apt complacency is to set in.
THE GREAT SALT LAKE, UTAH FALL:
On the morning of August 13th, 2022 reports of a daytime fireball with associated audible booms was reported over Salt Lake City. The details of the reports can be found in American Fireball Network Log 4942-2022 with a couple associated videos of the fireball. NASA Meteor Watch reported that GEOS 17 and 18 satellites picked up flash readings not related to lightning, and put out initial estimates that the meteor broke up 30 miles above the lake, with an initial weight of around 800 pounds and based on trajectory might be of Aten class asteroid origin.
As of the writing of this article (30 August) the hunt is still on. The following is a stone list based on publicly announced finds:
Some of the stones display signs of orientation, contraction cracks and display primary and secondary fusion crust.
Hunter: Pat Branch
How many hunts have you been on? Maybe a dozen fresh falls, and 50 or so cold falls over about 20 years of hunting.
First time finding a fresh meteorite? I have had a cold find at Lucerne Valley about 2 years ago. But let me say it was a very long time hunting before I found my first.
How long did you hunt for this trip and how many pieces/weight did you recover? I hunted from Thursday to Tuesday. I found one rock on Saturday which was 110.3 grams.
What is your favorite aspect of this fall/meteorite? Seeing the Great Salt Lake. Amazing that there are places salt is 6 inches thick and the water is pink with minerals. So vast and yet a great place for meteorites to fall.
How far away where you when you spotted your piece? I was only a few feet away as I was walking. The only indication was a small (maybe 1 inch diameter) hole in the ground. I would not have spotted it on a 4 wheeler unless it was barely rolling. Apparently, this part of the lakebed was wet with rain from the night before and so of the meteorites sunk down 6-10 inches. So, I dug out the hole and found it about 6-7 inches down.
How did you get around the strewn field? Mostly walked, although Sonny, Matt, and Roberto provided me lifts into or out of the field on a couple of days. I have to say thank you to them as I did still walk about 10 miles a day on most days and my feet did get blistered which prevented me from searching more days.
What thoughts went through your head when you found your piece? After so many years and meteor-wrongs I have picked up, it was a big emotional moment. Hard to describe unless you have hunted for years with no luck. Someone who found a meteorite on their first or second hunt and then went a long time without a find would not understand.
Favorite memory of the trip besides making a find? Meeting many hunters who I was Facebook friends with but had not met in real life.
Did any of the hints mentioned above really seem applicable to this hunt or are things you apply when preparing for a hunt? Have a buddy with planned checks certainly helped. One day I was only planning on scouting the south end of the lake for access and only brought one bottle of water. I ended up walking around the west side and then up to the peninsula. Now this was day 4 and my feet were already in bad shape, but I just could not resist the curiosity of seeing the entire strewn field. I had already walked about 7-8 miles at this point and had finished my water. I was going to turn around but called Matt who was on a 4-wheeler if he was coming in that direction by any chance. Since he was, I decided I would go on to the end of the peninsula. I ended up spending a few more hours out there by the time they showed up. It was a time I did not plan to do that long a walk and then had to rely on others to help-out. If they had broken down, I would have been in a bad situation.
Any additional advice in terms of safety or preparedness you think would be important for others to know? Bring plenty of water and plan with a buddy. For this fall you should have access to a 4-wheeler or dirt bike, or even a mountain bike. It is a few miles to get into the strewn field and the field is long.
Hunter: Mark Lyon
How many hunts have you been on? Four.
First time finding a meteorite? I consider this my first time finding a meteorite. During the Cranfield fall in April this year I found some fragments from a piece that hit the road, but Roberto Vargas and Matt Stream found the main part of the meteorite so let people know where to look for pieces.
How long did you hunt for this trip and how many pieces/weight did you recover? I was only able to hunt for two days this time, and I found a single 18 gram piece. A lot of people found bigger ones but I’m happy to have found anything.
What is your favorite aspect of this fall/meteorite? The meteorite itself is probably not that special scientifically – I heard rumors it might be something interesting, but you tend to hear those at a lot of falls – but although the meteorites themselves are often relatively similar (often ordinary chondrites) what I love about the hunts is that each one is unique. Cranfield, for example, was defined both by the difficulty of trekking through the Mississippi jungle and then spending the nights at restaurants/bars with all the other hunters, sharing stories from our lives. International falls have been fascinating in terms of immersing ourselves in the culture. Although I did my share of socializing at Salt Lake (meeting Pat Branch, Mark Dayton, and Preston Allen for the first time) for me a lot of it was a more solitary experience, walking through the terrain. Although parts of the day were brutal (given that there was absolutely zero shade) once the sun began to set and temperature cooled down you could really appreciate the sublime emptiness of the vast landscape. Of course, the one commonality between all these falls has been the sense of teamwork, of being a part of a tightly knit community with a common goal. I can’t wait to see what the next fall will bring.
How far away where you when you spotted your piece? Closer than I would have liked to admit. On white salt flats, you’d think they’d stick out a mile away but they get buried in holes that you kind of have to come right upon.
How did you get around the strewn field? I teamed up with Matt Stream, Roberto Vargas, and Preston Allen, and we used a bit of a mixed approach. We rented an ATV to get out onto the field and we spent some time riding around on it, looking out both sides, seeing if we could spot either a black meteorite or else a hole where it would have fallen. When we felt like all the easy ones had been grabbed we started walking around away from our ATV to see if we could see some more subtle signs. We also tried searching some of the rare bits of the field with actual greenery, figuring that people wouldn’t have searched there yet, but didn’t turn up anything from that.
What thoughts went through your head when you found your piece?
There were some rubber bits on the strewn field, and some charcoal and blackened wood and some other things that can fool someone from a distance, so when I first saw it I didn’t have my hopes up. It’s kind of funny that people can be so easily tricked by a meteorwrong – even myself – but when you find a real one you know immediately it is a meteorite.
Favorite memory of the trip besides making a find?
There wasn’t a single defining moment of this trip, but it was one of the most beautiful hunts to be on. Whereas with other hunts there were a lot of different things to concentrate on, this was a lot of relatively easy walking in flat land in a lot of empty space. Although I didn’t find so much, I’m really glad I went.
Did any of the above mentioned hints really seem applicable to this hunt/are things you apply when preparing for a hunt? I think all of it is good advice, and I think the two most important things to keep in mind are 1: Am I relying on a vehicle? and 2: Is there any chance of getting lost? Both were very important on this trip because several people had their ATVs get stuck in the sand or have the battery die, and it is a several-mile walk back to civilization IF you know where to go. Also, once you lose sight of your ATV, there were literally no nearby sight markers to let you know where you are. A lot of the area just looks all the same.
Any additional advice in terms of safety or preparedness you think would be important for others to know? Since a meteorite can fall anywhere, there is really no single piece of advice about how to be prepared except to say you should familiarize yourself with the area and do your research before getting on the plane.
Hunter: David Libuszowski
How many hunts have you been on? This was the first on a fresh fall, I have been on numerous other hunts.
First time finding a meteorite? Yes for a new fall, but no on older falls.
How long did you hunt for this trip and how many pieces/weight did you recover? I hunted one day, and found a 133 gram meteorite, and a 53 gram meteorite. All of the finds together, it was find #2 and #3 for the Salt Lake Utah fall.
What is your favorite aspect of this fall/meteorite? This fall was very easy to locate visually. The flatlands, and the terrain was light colored, so any black rocks really stuck out.
How far away where you when you spotted your piece(s)? I was approximately 30 feet from the 133 gram find as that one was on top, and I saw the blackness of the meteorite. The 53 gram piece I spotted when I was on top of it as it had buried itself in the mud a little.
How did you get around the strewn field? I brought my Polaris ATV/ Quad.
What thoughts went through your head when you found your pieces? Oh my God! My first fresh fall find since hunting gold and meteorites for over 20 years. What an exciting and proud moment. My hands were shaking, and my heart was racing…
Favorite memory of the trip besides making a find? Meeting other hunters, and getting to know them.
Did any of the above mentioned hints really seem applicable to this hunt/are things you apply when preparing for a hunt? Yes for example, asking someone that was already in the field what they would bring, and they said a motorcycle or quad, so I loaded up my quad to bring out, and was able to cover 100x more area, than on foot. I live in Las Vegas, so it is like odds, you want the odds to be in your favor for a successful hunt/ find.
Any additional advice in terms of safety or preparedness you think would be important for others to know? I have been prospecting and hunting meteorites since 2000, and I always learn something new. Best advice is to ask other hunters that are local, or already hunting in the field what they recommend to bring, besides the basics you already have bringing with you into the field.
Hunter: Jason Whitcomb
How many hunts have you been on? This is my second.
First time finding a meteorite? No I found some Cranfield street sweeping on a Mississippi highway.
How long did you hunt for this trip and how many pieces/weight did you recover? So far day one 248g, day two 10.5g, and days three through five were “skunktacular” (Jason was still on the hunt when he provided these responses).
What is your favorite aspect of this fall/meteorite? The double flash on the low angle of entry created a drawn out strewn field. Luckily the terrain is accommodating of that. By this I mean the salt flats extend for miles and miles. The lake is exceptionally low right now allowing for more material than would have been recovered in a wetter year.
How far away where you when you spotted your pieces? Almost right over them. There were two generations of tracks within a stone’s throw. They were surprisingly hard to see.
How did you get around the strewn field? At first it was a fat-tire e-bike. Now it is a Coleman minibike. That and a lot of hoofing it.
What thoughts went through your head when you found your pieces? A long checklist of how I am wrong and it is not a meteorite. But in my gut I knew.
Favorite memory of the trip besides making a find? The people who I got to meet and hunt with. After that it would be the incredible lake ecology and geology.
Did any of the above mentioned hints really seem applicable to this hunt/are things you apply when preparing for a hunt? I think every single one of them is spot on. We should call it the ten commandments of meteorite hunting.
Any additional advice in terms of safety or preparedness you think would be important for others to know? Be sure to savor that journey because you may never cross that finish line. Yesterday my friend Gediminas and I searched for 11 hours in the 90f+ salty sun only to come up empty handed.
Hunter: Mark Dayton
How many hunts have you been on? Not including the many trips to cold falls like Franconia, Gold Basin and the DCAs, for fresh falls I have spent three weeks at Sutter’s Mill (21 days), Many trips to Novato, a few days at Creston and a two trips over five days at the Great Salt Lake event.
First time finding a meteorite? No, I have been very fortunate to have found many, including three at Sutter’s Mill.
How long did you hunt for this trip and how many pieces/weight did you recover? Four full days in this strewn field, mostly on foot with over 35 total miles walked across the huge expanse. I recovered one stone weighing 484.1 grams (cleaned).
What is your favorite aspect of this fall/meteorite? This event occurred over a major, landmark USA city and was a near miss from a direct hit on a very densely populated area. The fact that the terrain is mostly flat and barren of vegetation made for easy hiking. For me as a historian specializing in the 1850’s California Gold Rush, it was especially fun to hike through the same areas near the many emigrant trails that both the Mormons and pioneers traveled in over 180 years ago! We found a few 19th century bottles just laying right on top of the playa.
How far away where you when you spotted your piece? I was about 12′ feet away, while walking, when I spotted the impact crater.
How did you get around the strewn field? I mostly walked (my preference) but used an E-Bike and an off road Electric Scooter to make access to the strewn field.
What thoughts went through your head when you found your piece? As always when I make an epic find, mostly just disbelief and sincere appreciation for my success. In this case it was a surreal moment when I picked it up for the first time and saw how big it was, I looked around to show my buddy . . . but quickly realized there were no other human beings in any direction for many miles. I was by myself on that day.
Favorite memory of the trip besides making a find? Undoubtedly meeting Pat Branch and Mark Lyon for the first time in person. I always enjoy the camaraderie and friendships when we all converge on a new hunt. Getting to spend a couple full days in the strewn field with my main hunting partner (on many hunts) Dr. Jim Baxter.
Did any of the above mentioned hints really seem applicable to this hunt/are things you apply when preparing for a hunt? Absolutely! As many know, I am an avid adventurer and spend plenty of days a month in the most remote areas on the planet. I have learned several lessons the hard way and now days I may seem a bit over prepared, but to survive and thrive in remote areas such as this one or any other requires total preparation and respect for the elements, wildlife and topography of any area we search.
Any additional advice in terms of safety or preparedness you think would be important for others to know? I personally use a device called a SPOT which is an emergency beacon that uses satellite communications anywhere on the planet (with a clear view of the sky) that I can use to not only communicate with family but request rescue in an emergency. I highly recommend a device like this if you are planning on searching for meteorites in remote or desolate areas. Spend as much time looking at how to survive in the terrain that you are going to search in as you do looking at strewn field maps, etc.
Big thanks go out to the finders for contributing their thoughts words and photos, Michael Duran for editing and Roberto Vargas for helping me with some of the front content.
“Authors note, although I was not able to make it out on this hunt, I was excited to get this meteorite in hand to prepare a thin section. This was my first opportunity to make a thin section of a yet to be classified witnessed fall, and I was happy to have a pre-classification look inside and be able to share that with the community”