Hunting Glorieta Ruben and myself.
GLORIETA MOUNTAIN EXPEDITION
by Ruben Garcia
May 21 2004
It had been a hectic day for a Friday. I had just finished a long day at work and was now driving rather hurriedly to the school where my oldest daughter, Jessica, was about to graduate. Since her graduation was scheduled for 3:00 P.M. I knew I was cutting it very close. My cell phone rings just as I am slowing for yet another annoying red light and I see from the caller I.D. that it is Mike Miller.
"Dude, I’m running late," he says in his typically calm voice. He continues: "Its about 2:45 and I may be stuck at work till 5 o’clock. What do you think?"
I tell him in a semi stressed-out tone that I’m running late too and that our weekly hunting trip may have to be cancelled. We both agree to check back with each other in a couple of hours, in order to make a final decision, but I think we both knew it didn’t look good.
Normally a late start on a hunting trip wouldn’t have bothered us much. However, this weekend was an exception — this weekend we had a lot of driving to do and a slow start could ruin our timing. Earlier in the week, five roof mounted cameras and quite a few people in the small town of Montrose, Colorado had spotted the final detonation of a brilliant meteor. There was a lot of evidence that this meteor may have actually made it to the ground, and we couldn’t wait to be the first to find pieces of it.
Unfortunately for us, the late start was beginning to make the 12 to 14 hour road trip into the heart of Colorado look impossible.
Mike says I am undoubtedly the most impatient person he knows, so he wasn’t surprised when I called him immediately after snapping a few pictures of my daughter as she was being presented with her diploma: "Its 4 o’clock and I’m walking out of the school, I’ll jump in my truck and meet you in Flagstaff in two hours," I blurted.
"Do you think we can make it?" He said.
"Um, I don’t know, but I’d like to try!" I insist.
"What about Glorieta?" Mike offers. " Maybe we can still make good time to Glorieta instead."
I end the conversation abruptly by saying, "Fine I’ll meet you in Flagstaff and we’ll decide on the way."
We had promised Steve Schoner that one day we'd take him along with us to see if any more large masses of pallasitic iron existed near where Mike had found his. Steve, of course, is famous for hunting and finding many beautiful Glorieta Mountain meteorites himself — one of which happens to be the largest Glorieta Mountain pallasite ever found. I selfishly figured that our odds would greatly increase by inviting someone so experienced to join us in Glorieta, so I called Steve. After about 20 minutes of playing phone tag Steve called me back and informed me that even though he would like to join us, he was busy and couldn’t.
Some people don’t believe in supernatural or divine intervention, but I do. On May 21 2004 at about 7:30 P.M. on I-40 a few miles west of Gallup, New Mexico it happened! After some heavy brainstorming Mike and I looked at each other, pointed at the map and said without much doubt, "The big one is right here." We had — unbelievable as it sounds — accidentally stumbled upon the key to the "big one" and we knew it! I remember Mike saying "I have a good feeling. We’re gonna find it aren’t we?" I agreed, rolled up the map and for the rest of the night we talked somewhat prophetically about how we’d split the huge pallasite once it was in our possession.
We reached Glorieta at 11:30 P.M. and — using the back of the Mike's van as a makeshift motel — we slept. We woke at 5:44 A.M., just in time to see the sun beginning to rise over the mountain before us. Without so much as breakfast Mike and I began packing our gear. I laughed as Mike displayed his new backpack. "It’s the finest backpack Walmart had," he says jokingly. "But its not too comfortable."
A few minutes later we lock the van and head off in the direction of "the spot" that we had plotted on the map the night before. Glorieta Mountain terrain is rugged and grueling— one can get injured or lost very easily in that kind of forest. We always try to be prepared, but steep cliffs, deep canyons and mountainous terrain are only some of the dangers in Glorieta. As locals will tell you, it's not uncommon to spot coyotes or even bear that have been coaxed out of their deep, wooded retreat.
At around 7:00 A.M., after hunting several possible areas along the way, we come to a small hill. It is atop this semi-lofty perch that Mike and I disagree for the fist time on the direction in which we should be heading. I believe we are on "the spot" we agreed on the night before, but Mike thinks our monster pallasite will be found further south. As I try to convince Mike that he is in error, he slowly raises his right arm and points east. Then, as if mimicking some pointer-dog on a duck-hunting trip, he remains with his arm outstretched until I turn and look. "See that valley," he says. "What do you think of that?" Before answering I look northwest, and try to imagine the palate's final detonation and trajectory. Then I try to imagine the meteorite breaking up and flying overhead and I can’t believe my eyes. It looks so obvious that for a second I’m speechless and then — as a smile crosses both of our faces— we say, almost in unison: "That’s it!"
For the next hour we swing our detectors simultaneously and try to negotiate our way through the woods and down to the valley below — a valley that looks to us like a celestial catcher’s mitt. Once we reach the valley we continue swinging and walking until we are somewhere near the center. It is at this point in our trip that I believe divine intervention came into play once again. Mike's brand-new backpack, that was at first only uncomfortable has now become intolerable and, as he tries to adjust it, it breaks. As Mike takes off his backpack and tries to fix it I wander around a few trees while swinging my detector. I weave back and forth for the next few minutes and can hear Mike talking to his backpack. From the tone of his voice I can tell he is not too pleased with his most recent Walmart purchase.
I continue walking and swinging my detector for another five minutes until I notice that I can no longer hear Mike’s voice. I circle around to see if he is through wrestling with his backpack so we can resume our search. When I reach Mike I am surprised to see his broken backpack sitting on the ground and him digging a hole about ten feet away. "What are you doing?" I say. "Fix your backpack and let’s find our rock."
Quite nonchalantly Mike replies, "I think I got a signal. Come check it."
I wander over and slowly swing my detector over the shallow hole. My detector gives a slight indication that some metal object might be buried there. Unfortunately, the sound is so faint I wonder if it could be a patch of hot ground, as it is definitely not the sharp zip-zipsound I’m use to hearing with Glorieta meteorites.
"If you’re gonna waste your time on that at least use my pick, its bigger," I say.
Mike digs for a few minutes with the larger pick while I pace back and forth in protest. I begin to say, "Lets go we are wasting our …" but am cut off in mid-sentence as Mike stands up and says: "Your turn."
Without a word Mike points at the ground with his left index finger, and using his familiar pointing-dog routine refuses to stop until I grudgingly take the pick and begin widening the hole.
I am not pleased. The dirt is solidly packed which makes digging very difficult. However, after breaking a mild sweat I see the hole is beginning to take shape. It is about eight inches deep and a foot around.
Mike taunts me with a fiendish chuckle as he walks up and swings the scuffed-up coil of his well-used Fisher detector over the hole. We are both visibly startled as the zip-zip of his Gold Bug II breaks the forest silence.
"Do it again!" I order.
Another swing brings the same result, zzzip! zzzip! "Oh my! Dig!" Mike commands. "There is definitely something down there!"
Trying to remain calm and not let Mike get overexcited I try offer a logical reason for the sudden sharp signal. "Mike," I say in the calmest voice I can muster, "It could be nothing more than an old rusty lard can or an artillery shell." Mike promptly replies: "I don’t care what it is, we are not leaving until we dig it up!"
We continue digging, alternating back and forth, first me and then Mike. We trade off over and over, making the hole wider and deeper until it is over a foot deep and about 16 inches wide.
I stand up and once again, and begin to swing the metal detector over the hole. The zzzip of the detector is like music to our ears and lets us know that our target is still below. Mike jumps up and screams with excitement: "It has got to be a meteorite, what else could be this deep?"
Liking our odds at this point but not wanting to see Mike depressed for the rest of the trip if it turns out to be nothing I say, "A rusty lard can, maybe?"
"No, its not a lard can," he says sternly. "It must be a Glorieta meteorite, and I’ll bet its over 600 grams!"
We continue digging, and by now have started to become giddy. When it is my turn to dig, Mike jumps up and down and kicks his legs up with his hands raised high. It’s a funny display that reminds me that I’ve never seen him so excited and sure of himself before. However, when it's Mike's turn to dig I launch into my "What are the odds" speech. It goes something like this: "Which odds are better Mike, that we drove to Sante Fe and won the lottery or that we are digging a long-forgotten lard can?
Not wanting to back down, I take his bet. "You’re on" I say and then we resume picking away at what now has become an obsession.
By 9 o’clock, nearly 45 minutes have passed since first seeing Mike hovering above the shallow hole. Unfortunately, Mike and I have now become somewhat confused and worried. While the hole has grown to just over two feet deep and the metal detector still indicates there is something below. Visibly, there is no sign of anything — not a meteorite, a lard can, or any other iron object. We become concerned when I lay on my stomach and — clutching a powerful magnet in my right hand — I reach the entire length of my arm into the hole. We should be close enough to detect at least a faint pull of the magnet, but there is no pull whatsoever.
"Mike, I think you’re gonna owe me twenty bucks, this is bound to be a brass shell case." I say.
The celebration kicks back into high gear as Mike screams, "Get that sucker out of there!"
We continue to unearth our treasure, digging with more enthusiasm than ever before. I quickly realize there is no denying it, this is definitely a Glorieta Mountain meteorite. What’s more, at least five pound's worth is already uncovered and it still won’t budge from its longtime earthen abode. By this time I have thrown caution to the wind and join Mike in the celebration: "I can’t believe it, its gonna weigh at least ten pounds," I shout while simultaneously giving Mike a hi-five.
We spend the next several minutes laughing, and attempting to pry it out of the ground. It is so large it takes some time to get the huge Glorieta specimen to loosen. We finally get it to budge by working together. Mike puts pressure on the pick that is wedged between the wall of the hole and the meteorite. I help by gripping the exposed top of the meteorite and then pushing and pulling with all my might — back and forth in a rocking motion. At first we feel no movement at all, but eventually it gives to our unrelenting pressure. The instant it breaks loose I instruct Mike to back away, as I want to be the one to hoist the large piece out of the hole.
It seems like a dream as I continue to work this giant meteorite from the ground. It feels far heavier than the ten or fifteen pounds that we had guessed. As I lay on my stomach struggling to lift it, I can feel its mass. It is still covered in a thick layer of red mud and looks quite unlike the highly sought-after treasure that it is. I grunt, "this beast must weigh at least twenty-five pounds!"
As I sit up still holding the meteorite, I recklessly place it atop the newly-formed mound of dirt. "Wow! A twenty-five pound Glorieta siderite," Mike quips. Just then a glob of mud falls off the side of the meteorite exposing a very large olivine crystal and pointing to the spot I mutter, "At least twenty-five pounds yes, but this is a pallasite not a siderite!"
Neither Mike nor I can believe what has just transpired. As Mike stares in awe at our amazing find he says, "I don’t know how this day can get any better."
"I do." I say as I open my wallet and hand Mike a crisp twenty-dollar bill.