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Out Meteorite Hunting Again

Wednesday, February 19, 2020, was a beautiful clear day when we headed toward the other side of California. Paul Harris and I had been looking forward to this meteorite hunting trip to Franconia and another Arizona strewnfield for a couple of months. But, the few days before we were to leave on the trip we had been back and forth on where we would be going. A daylight fireball had streaked over the skies of Arizona and terminated somewhere in the area near Prescott, Arizona. There had been a sonic boom and a smoke trail. Meteorite hunters were on the ground and we considered very seriously going and joining the hunt. We actually canceled the hotel reservations in Lake Havasu so we could be free to go on the rest of the way to Prescott. We would skip the day of hunting at Franconia. But as the three days past from the fireball event to the time we needed to leave there had been no finds of stones and there were plenty of good hunters there looking without success. We also had not at that time seen any doppler radar information defining the search area. As it turned out the data did exist from two individuals that were near each other in their results.

It is such a pleasant drive now from our homes in Tehachapi out to the desert. We no longer have to fight for three hours to get out of Los Angeles to Barstow so we can begin heading east toward the Arizona California border. We crossed into Arizona in the early afternoon and made a quick decision to go on down the thirteen miles to Franconia and hunt on the north side of the strewnfield for a few hours and then find a hotel in Lake Havasu City.

It was nice to be out at Franconia again. We have been there many times and for most of those trips over ten years I was never able to find a piece of chondrite. I found many of the meteoritic iron bits but had just a single tiny flake of broken off fusion crust weighing about 100 mg to show for Franconia stone material. And it had been a random find that I found sticking to my magnet after sweeping around a spot that I thought held another small iron. So it likely was the source of the signal but was just too small to call a meteorite as just a fusion crust flake. The previous trip last year I finally did find two stones. I was hoping to find something again. Paul and I parked the Jeep and put on our gear which includes snake gaiters since it was about time for the little buggers to be getting active. I had put off buying leg protection for years but finally, have and will doubtless wear them always now. We hunted for two hours until the sun was getting down in the west and it was time to drive out. The normally pretty good dirt road into the area was a lot poorer than the time before and we were by ourselves so I wanted to get out while there was still a bit of light. My Jeep is very capable and yet I still worry just a tad about getting stuck when the sand is really deep as it is now in spots. Though we did not find any meteorites actually in the short afternoon Paul did find the finest meteorwrong that I have seen in a long time. We looked at it closely in the hotel room and nearly convinced ourselves that it was a beautiful oriented meteorite. It was really too heavy for the small size to be just ordinary rock and it set off the detector strongly and held a magnet strongly. But the following morning in the bright sunlight looking at it again we could see the sheen of the mineral grains in the black spots that had held strongly to the magnet and knew they were magnetite, not melted metal spots. The afternoon of time in the strewnfield had been a good chance for us to remember the area and practice with our detectors. We would be ready for the long full day out hunting on Thursday.

We arrived in the morning down by the railroad tracks and waited a while for the others to show up. Dennis Miller was first to appear. I had not seen him since we hunted at Gold Basin on the big 20th Anniversary Hunt a few years ago. But we had talked a lot there and became friends. It was great to catch up with him while we waited for Richard Garcia and a friend of his Eli Goffman to arrive. Mike Mulgrew arrived and it had been years since I had seen him as well. It was going to be a beautiful day of cool hunting weather. Soon we were driving down a sandy wash to the spot where we would hike into the strewnfield.

Knapsack loaded with water bottles and all the hunting gear, snake gaiters back on, metal detector loaded with fresh batteries, GPS on and the parking spot waypoint marked, like a space launch countdown completed we headed into the Franconia strewnfield again. After a while, Richard reported that Eli had found a stone of a couple of grams and that was fantastic since it was his first try at hunting meteorites. After about three hours of hunting and several 50 caliber bullets recovered I finally got a strong zing from my detector off a 6.6-gram little meteorite. It has some old fusion crust on it and I was pretty happy to be going home with another chondrite from Franconia. I marked the spot in my GPS and then started hunting again. I do not worry too much about taking images of the find location and the other discovery stuff out there anymore. But, of course, I still do all the good stuff at any cold find location or other strewnfields that I hunt where in situ images and data might be valuable. Getting back to hunting and covering the rest of the gound toward the area I wanted to reach was important on this day. I moved on and in less than five minutes I got another hit on the metal detector. It was just a short distance from the first one. It was much smaller at just .7 grams, but any metal at all makes the detector scream its brains out. I run with sensitivity all the way up and the volume all the way up, with Audio Boost on, and set the threshold at just the point where I hear the buzzing occasionally. Ground balanced as well as possible these settings will have the detector just going nuts on the tiniest piece of wire or bit of bullet lead. The first afternoon we were out I found two brass jackets torn off bullets and a couple of small pieces of lead and a tiny iron tack that fooled me for a second when I saw it. The tack stuck to my magnet after searching around in the hit spot. It looked for an instant like it might be a nice Franconia iron but then I saw the round head of the tack.

I moved on again pretty fast after finding the .7 gram meteorite still heading north and west toward an area I wanted to hunt. I was keeping Paul in my vision during the day. We were trying to say close together for safety. So he was always within a few hundred yards. My walkie talkie was not staying on. It kept turning itself off so I was not hearing any reports most of the time. By the next time I go out, I will have a pair of nicer walkie talkies. I am not sure I am ready to drop the money for the fancy Garmin communicators some of the guys are using but it will something better than I have now. I hunted for several more hours without finding another meteorite. I got my fair share of 50 calibers and other bullets. That at least told me the detector was fine and I was fine. So much of meteorite hunting is luck especially at a location as well hunted as Franconia. You just have to sweep the detector over a spot no one has passed a detector over before. Finally, the machine screamed one more time. I scraped down a little with my boot and ran the magnet around the shallow hole. A meteorite was sticking on the magnet when I pulled it up. It was also small, 3.5-grams but this is not fishing we don’t throw the little ones back. I put it in my plastic baggie with the others and marked another waypoint on the GPS. I was about halfway back to the cars when I found this one and it would be the last of the day.

I could see the guys all gathered down near the railroad tracks and headed that way still searching. We stood talking there for a while. Mike Mulgrew had found a nice pointy heart-shaped Franconia iron. I got to see the stone Eli had found and shared the three small ones I had found. It was time to leave Franconia. We still had to head to the hotel in the city near the next strewnfield where we would hunt the following days.

Here is the data on my three finds. Largest 6.6 grams found at N 34° 45.711′, W 114° 14.099′
smallest .7 grams found at N 34° 45.721′, W 114° 14.111′ and the middle-sized one was found at N 34° 45.478′, W 114° 14.191′.

Paul and I had been just getting one meal a day on the trip so far and that was dinner. With just a tiny breakfast or none and only a bag of peanuts or chips for lunch which I did not always stop to eat while hunting, we were kind of looking forward each night to a nice sit-down dinner at a restaurant. We made it to the next stop on our journey and got checked in and showered up and headed to an Outback for dinner. We both chose steak with some version of a potato as a side order. Paul has watched over the last 20 years or so as I have gone from eating my steaks well done nearly shoe leather to medium, pink no red. Good dinner was eaten and just a short time watching TV in the hotel room found us sleeping soundly after working hard that day at Franconia.

The next morning was a gathering breakfast of a bigger hunting group. Several guys who had been hunting for days at Prescott for the new fall had moved over to hunt with those who had been at Franconia the day before. Other guys came for just the next two days at this second hunting location. We amassed a group of thirteen hunters which I think is the biggest group I have ever hunted with.

After breakfast, Paul and I headed out to the meeting spot in the desert for the caravan drive to the strewnfield. We arrived and there were already two trucks with other hunters waiting. One held Jim Shorten and Nate Ditto, gentlemen I had not seen in several years since a Tucson gem show trip. We met Chris Murrieta who was in the other truck. There is nothing better than standing around talking about meteorite hunting with old and new friends while waiting for more old and new friends to pull in. I have to say it was also nice to not be the oldest guy there this trip. Often that is the case now as time continues moving on. Pretty soon everyone else arrived and we headed down the dirt road to the first of two hunting spots that day.

I walked a long long way and hunted hard all morning with a detector. The radio was not working right still and I had been keeping Paul in sight the best I could but then I got a signal and had to dig. He was no longer in sight when I stood back up. He had gone around or over a ridge and that was actually the last I saw of him until we were all back at the cars in a couple of hours. I had cell phone service despite being out in the desert. I was a long way from the car when I got a “check-in call” to see if I was alive and well. All was fine but some of the group were looking at meteorites that had been found in the area and Richard Garcia wanted to let me know that was happening. I told him I was way out and would hunt just a bit more and then head back to the parking area. There were a few bullets and some super hot rocks in the area. Some yellowish-tan colored rocks made the detector just scream. So I occasionally got fooled by one of those when they were buried. I knew the meteorites were basically black, kind of fresh-looking, and a type L. So my detector would scream if I did not see them on the surface. I was definitely looking for black rocks, you never want to not look for them. Even when you are hunting old falls that are weathered you want to look for black fresh ones that maybe there. I was making my way back hunting right along under some power lines when I got another phone call. Dave Libuszowski was coming down to pick up me and Jim Shorten who I could see from where I was because we were going to head to a place that might be better hunting. I was within just feet of the powerline road. I just moved over a little and headed right up the road until I reached Dave. The free ride in his truck back to my Jeep was a nice few minutes off my feet. Mike Mulgrew had found a beauty of a meteorite. It was not big but it was cute. No one else had found anything.

I am not showing the numbers this time but if you have read my articles you know I love to get pictures of all the benchmarks that I see. It is always fun to find them while hiking. The 1915 survey date was cool.

The caravan was off again heading around some mountains to another spot down some more dirt roads. They were off and on sandy but nothing that was not easy for my Jeep. We pulled down into an open area with gently rolling small hills in a valley. Since the meteorites were all very black and had all so far been found on the surface I decided to switch to a magnet stick and not use the detector. I hunted for another three hours or so with the sun to my back using skills developed over a lifetime of rockhounding and meteorite hunting. Looking for black meteorites is quite similar to hunting for saffordites or agates. You keep the sun behind you and you look out a few feet from where you are for anything the right color or black and sweep bigger areas faster with your eye than you can with a detector.

If there had been a black meteorite where I hunted I would have found it but I did not find anything other than two small flakes of rock that stuck to my magnet cane very strongly. I saved them but am not prepared to state that they are tiny pieces of meteorite. There were, in fact, no actual black rocks in the hunting area the closest would be a middle gray colored rock but there is a huge difference when you are hunting meteorites between the gray rocks and the real thing. The many brown rocks were there of course but none of them looked like a meteorite or affected the metal detector or the magnet stick. So it was an unsuccessful hunt on Friday but that happens sometimes. The strewnfield has been hunted hard for years and that makes it tough but it always remains fun.

The wildflowers were already beginning to bloom in Arizona and I took breaks a few times to snap images of them. The poppies which we love seeing near home in about April were already coming up and a few patches were in the valley I was hunting. They were the yellow variety of the same flower as the orange poppy the state flower of California. I missed the elk, deer, and the burros that others saw. I guess I was focused on hunting too much and need to look up from the ground and see the wildlife around me.

As we stood at the parking area waiting for the last members of the group to return Dennis Miller found a piece of rock and brought it over joking that he had found a big lunar feldspathic breccia. It was a very funny moment and the rock ended up back on the ground. A while later I asked him if he was leaving the rock or wanted to take it since it was interesting. He was done with it. I want to say very clearly this is not a lunar meteorite and you will not see it selling for a thousand dollars a gram. It is terrestrial and looks like a breccia of some kind and it does have nice big feldspar clasts in it. I have sliced it and polished up some pieces.

As the sun was getting down low we were finally all assembled back at the parking area and we got this group photo. One nice meteorite was found this day and yet we all had a great time hunting.

Front Row left to right Richard Garcia, Mike Mulgrew with the meteorite, Eli Goffman, Jim Shorten, Dave Libuszowski. Back row left to right Paul Harris, James Jolliff, Jim Tobin, Nate Ditto, Dennis Miller, Chris Murrieta, Roy Miller, Pat Branch.

Meteorite hunting is a great hobby and Paul and I get out a few times a year. I wish it was much more often but we are busy with other things too. Meteorites are rare to the extreme and difficult to find. Nothing, however, quite approaches the thrill of holding for the first time a rock that is not from here. A stone that came from space and landed on Earth never seen by human eyes until mine gaze upon it. I had that experience three times this trip so can not complain.

We had pizza for dinner after hunting. The whole group was there and that was a hoot too. We are all a bunch of comedians at heart I think. It was going to rain all across the southwest the next day so Paul and I headed home a day early. And boy did it rain for a couple of hours. Then it was clear skies for most of the drive across the Mohave Desert. We stopped at the Essex rest area and I noted how nice it was of the State of California to provide an area for the rattlesnakes.

When we got to our home mountains we had rain again for most of the rest of the day. A great trip and a great time spent again with Paul and other friends.

Paul Harris took this sunset image as we drove away from our last hunting spot. It is a great image to end this article.


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