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Road Trip and Meteorites Along the Way

I took a three-week driving trip around the country in June. I did some camping, and I stayed in hotels part of the time. If the cities I stayed in had museums, I tried to visit some of them. Of course, I was interested in any meteorites that I happened to see in the museums. I decided to drive the whole distance to Meteor Crater the first day and arrive early enough for a nice visit to the Crater at about mid-day. So I got on the road at 3:20 am, a few minutes later than planned, and drove the roughly 8 hour journey to my favorite place. The Crater had not changed, of course, but the facilities had changed since I was there about six years ago. The gift store was completely different, and there were new features in the museum area. The sandwich place was gone, and they had their own restaurant now. The short hiking tour out along the north rim was the same, but I must tell you that the guide was much closer to telling an accurate version in his talk. Other than being just a little off about the plane crash and what happened to the remains of the plane, it was historically and scientifically accurate. The cost of admission was much higher, and the discount for camping at the RV park was not very much. But what am I going to do not visit for a few dollars? No chance of that.

 

 

 

 

 

I set up camp after I visited the Crater. It was the first time I had actually set the tent up for real. I had tested it out in the house to see how it worked. But the wind was blowing fiercely, and the tent kept collapsing. I was initially quite concerned, for I had bookings for several nights at campgrounds, and my timetable was based on being at those locations to camp using the tent. If the tent was not going to stay up, then I might have to use hotels every night and my campground reservations were not refundable. Well, as often happens in the desert, the winds died down considerably by nightfall, and the tent stayed up very well. By the second night with the tent, I knew I needed to stretch the base corners out fairly taut to help the upper hydraulic support system work properly. I was up early on the next day for a short drive to Holbrook, there I hoped to do a day of hunting in the Holbrook strewnfield. I have been to Holbrook many times but never by myself. I felt just a bit of anxiety about being out there alone. It was breaking some of my oldest rules of hiking and meteorite hunting, for example to not have a companion or, even better, a second vehicle.

 

 

The road was washed out going down to near the railroad tracks. But my Jeep had no problems going down, through, and up out of the deep rut. I went along the side of the railroad tracks to a spot where I had good luck several years ago. And it was not too long before I found a small meteorite fragment. It was just a nice warm day, not hot, and I had put on plenty of sunblock. I was carrying enough water. I was ready to stay out all day. No one was about, but I never hunted more than about half a mile from the car. It is hard to find much out there now. I was able to find four fragments and one small whole stone in five hours of hunting. The total weight of my finds was embarrassingly small. Just 0.762 gram was recovered that day. But it was fun, and I was happy that I found the little pieces. I did not make much traveling east progress that day having only gone from Meteor Crater RV Park to Holbrook Strewnfield and back into Holbrook to my hotel. So the next day would be a long drive.

 

 

Tucumcari, New Mexico, was my destination by afternoon on day three. I got up early and was on the road with the tent and everything packed by 7 am. I got to my next campground in time to do some exploring around town. I went to the Tucumcari Historical Museum. It was filled to overflowing with artifacts and relics from the past. I love that stuff. Down the street, a couple of blocks, is the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum. This was my kind of place. I was not disappointed. It was great. I bought a memento or two and was chatting with the clerk/docent person about how nice I thought the museum was especially the meteorite display.

 

 

 

 

While talking to the lady, a man entered and asked if there was a geologist there. She replied that they had paleontologists but not specifically geologists. I asked, “Did you find something?” To which he replied, “I think I found a meteorite.” the lady said I will go get the guys from the back, but this man is the meteorite guy.” I had already given her my card, and we had chatted for a while about meteorites before he arrived. I said I would go out and look at what he had in the back of his truck. It did not look too bad, but it also did not look just right. He had mentioned that a magnet stuck to it. I went to my car and got my hunting bag that I had just used the day before at Holbrook and put my powerful rare earth magnet on his rock. It did stick but not enough. I stuck my magnet on the side of his tailgate to show him how it would stick if it was a meteorite. I asked if he minded me grinding a small spot to see what was inside. He was happy to know and said. “Go ahead.” I ground rather deeply into one edge of the stone; the powder produced was a dark purplish red. There were no shiny metal grains visible. The two paleontologists and I agreed it was hematite and that the rock was likely ironstone. So close to bringing home a great meteorite on my vacation, but not close enough.

 

 

There were mosquitos at the campground, so I sprayed repellent liberally around and on my tent and packed everything I needed into it before the day cooled off. I still got bitten twice. I thought that was not too bad, considering the number buzzing around. The campground was right next to I40, and the huge tree near my tent was full of birds that made noise all night long. I did not get much sleep that night. I had a full day of driving the next day. It would have been nice to have gotten a better night’s sleep, but up and on the road again at 7 am. I was on my way to Dodge City, Kansas.

No 75mph interstate I40 for me this day. I had to use county, country, and state roads. It was nearly the same distance as I drove to get to Tucumcari from Holbrook, yet it took two hours more. But finally, I was at a campground away from a busy highway. I did just a little exploring around Dodge City and got an afternoon meal at a restaurant. My dinners so far had been hot dogs, chips, and diet caffeine-free soda. It was nice to get a good meal I did not have to set up the stove for. I even had a chocolate shake for dessert since I brought nothing for dessert with me. I wanted to try and keep my doctor happy. Sorry about the shake Doc.

 

 

Seven o’clock in the morning seems to be the time I get up and on the road when camping. It was just a three-hour drive to my destination at my sister-in-law’s home in Osborne, Kansas. One day of rest and we were off to Hutchinson, Kansas, and the Cosmosphere. We met up with more family and had lunch at a famous burger place down the street from the Cosmosphere. Then it was off to meet up with more family coming there soon. We milled around looking at the gift shop til the next group arrived. Thegift shop had nice Brenham pallasite slices there for not a bad price, but otherwise, there were no meteorites at the Cosmosphere. But there were fantastic displays and great pieces of the space program and missiles of war. I admit to a fascination with WW2 and the technology developed during those years. The displays of the V1 and V2 weapons of the Germans were very interesting to me. Actually, the whole museum was as great as I had been told for years. The Liberty Bell capsule that had been at the bottom of the ocean for 38 years was there, and I took a few pictures of the corrosion it suffered from the seawater. It had been remarkably cleaned and restored for display.

 

 

 

I stayed three days in Hillsboro, Kansas, with family. I was taken on a great ride out to the Flint Hills, where I saw the thick woods and many old buildings. We saw a large number of deer and other animals on that ride.

 

 

After that great stay, we returned to Osborne, took a day off there, and headed the following day to Hays, Kansas, and the Sternberg Museum, a world-famous fossil museum. It was also fantastic. Fossils of every kind; huge and tiny, vertebrates, plants, and shells, mostly from Kansas and, in fact, mostly from quarries not too far from the museum. The 30-foot-long Mosasaur was impressive, but all the specimens were excellently presented. I was not so thrilled by the extensive collection of live venomous snakes and other poisonous animals there. It really was extensive. I looked, but was eager and happy to get back to fossils after finishing with the snakes, toads, and tarantulas.

There was a nice display of meteorites at The Sternberg. Mostly meteorites from Kansas.

 

 

 

I went on other shorter excursions and adventures in Kansas. I saw numerous deer, foxes, and raccoons and so many birds of bright colors. We don’t have them where I live. I saw pheasant and turkey as I drove and managed not to hit any of these animals with my car. After about nine days in Kansas, I headed toward home by way of New Mexico and a visit with Geoff Notkin.

It was going to take two days to get to Geoff from Kansas, so I chose Amarillo, Texas, as my city to stay in the first night. I did not have much radio reception as I traveled. I did bring CDs with me, but some of the time, I tried to find a radio station along the way. It happened that I did find a good station about forty miles out from Amarillo that had rock and roll almost continually. It was 98.7 “The Bomb” if you find yourself around Amarillo. It served me well the next morning, too, for about 40 miles leaving town. I had a nice meal in Amarillo at a Steakhouse near my hotel. I don’t eat much meat except turkey and chicken anymore, so apologies to my Doctor again, but it was really a good meal.

I picked up an hour going out of Texas and made my way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with extra time before I could check in to my accommodations that Geoff had made for me in his town. I had noticed several times over the years as I drove through Albuquerque a sign for The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. So with plenty of time that morning, I stopped to check it out. I love everything about the history of the Atomic Bomb and the study of the atom, so I was excited to finally get to visit this museum. Wow is about all I can say. It was a spectacular museum for someone who loves science and history. I will include a few images, but I am not going to spoil this by telling everything. This was a great museum.

 


This is an image of one of the Uranium Cubes that was made for use in a reactor the Germans were building in WW2. Designed by Werner Heisenberg and utilizing 664 of these cubes and heavy water they could have made an major breakthrough in their nuclear program. The reactor was built but never went critical.

 


Its not a meteorite, but it is ablated by a return through the atmosphere. This is the warhead of an MK2 nuclear bomb. Behind it is one as it appears before launching.

 


Among the many planes and missiles displayed outside the museum is this beautiful B29. They also have a B52 and a B45.

 

I got down to my hotel just a few minutes before three pm, which was check-in time. A few minutes after that, I met up with Geoff. We chatted for several hours and ate pizza till evening at a local hangout. I rested for the night in a quaint and quirky hotel that had natural hot spring baths to soak in. The naturally heated water was 105 degrees F that day. The next morning we got together at his home for a bit of work and a lot more fun chatting. So often, I see him, and he is busy with the gem show or an auction or a film thing, and we can not have a nice sit-down and talk. It was great to have that time on my trip. At about noon, it was time for me to get on the road and make my way home. I decided I would go as far as Tucson that day, and as I would pick up another hour going west, I was going to get there just about at check-in time for this hotel. Nothing exciting was done at Tucson except to rest as I decided to press all the way home the next day, and that was a long day of driving indeed.

I had been fighting strong winds all the way since I left Kansas. And nothing was changing about that as I drove across the rest of Arizona and California. In fact, the winds got to be horrifically strong the closer I got to home. Our town is world-renowned for its winds, and we have nearly 5000 wind turbines in the vicinity. I was surprised to see so many windmills all across Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. I passed countless thousands. The weather had been good mostly. There were thunderstorms and lightning many nights in Osborne however.

 

 

When I got off the interstate at Amarillo, I drove through the part of the city that had been torn up just a few days earlier by a tornado. I had seen the news coverage while in Osborne. Roofs were gone on most of the buildings, and the brick walls of many older builds were only half standing now. As I approached my hometown from a direction I never travel, I got to see the windmills at an angle that showed all of them spinning as fast as their governors would let them in the powerful winds. It was eerily majestic to see them all facing right at me and whirling. My trip was over. I had included meteorites in it. I did not get to use my metal detector on a family member’s farm in Kansas. Maybe next trip if I drive, I can find one that Harvey Nininger left behind for me.

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