THE WEST, TEXAS METEORITE EXPEDITION
On February 15, 2009 a large meteor exploded near the small farm-town of West, Texas. The daytime fireball was captured by a news camera and explosions heard by hundreds of residents. It quickly became clear that this was a meteorite producing event and dozens of amateur and professional meteorite hunters flocked to the area with high-hope of finding Texas' first meteorite fall of the millennium.
I received a call from Rob Wesel a few days after the fall with a simple: "Got your bags packed?" At the time, it seemed impossible to go. I had just taken a week off from work to attend the Tucson show and was battling a terrible bout of the "Tucson crud". I had an intermittent pit in my stomach knowing that meteorites were on the ground and I was stuck in Washington. I called Rob on his first day in the strewnfield for an update. He sounded tired and the wind was blowing so hard in his phone I could barely understand him. Of course, I wanted to know if he found anything. He replied "haven't found anything." Then a minute into the call he stopped mid-sentence and said "guess what I'm staring at?" Rob found his first West meteorite right there while I was talking to him. I believe it was at this moment, I knew I had to go.
Moon catching Venus. A hot evening in the West strewnfield.
Rob Wesel, Jason Phillips, and Patrick Thompson picked me up from Dallas-Ft. Worth on the Tuesday evening after the fall. It was nice to see friends so soon after Tucson. After checking in at Waco, I spent most of the night tossing and turning dreaming up scenarios and wanting to experience the moment of finding my first rock from space. The plan the following morning was for the four of us to hunt together in a new location. The next morning we woke at ~5am and I walked out to the lobby to find Rob and Jason cramming hard boiled eggs into Styrofoam cups and napkins. They were taking advantage of the free continental breakfast and stocking up on protein for the day. To my pleasant surprise, I found out that Steve Arnold was going to take me to a hot-spot with him that very morning. When Steve opened his car, there were piles of stuff everywhere. It looked like he had packed the whole house with him. Piles of clothes, gear, printers - Signs of a hardcore traveling meteorite hunter! I couldn't fit in the front seat, so I sat behind him with a printer in my lap and we took off like a bat out of hell towards West.
A West meteorite embedded in clay, just as it fell from space.
Six beautiful rocks from space found by Mike Bandli in West, Texas
We arrived at a location that was completely hidden from main road. Rows of cotton plant stubble made it a dream scenario for hunting. After a few kind words with Steve and the farmer, I began the hunt on my own while Steve drove his car through the cotton field to the far end of the property. As Steve disappeared I paused for a moment of reflection. Just days ago, I was sitting at work with a terrible cold, wishing I could be a part of the West hunt. Now I was standing in the middle of a neatly rowed strewnfield that Steve was kind enough to take me to. I remember feeling overwhelmed with energy and began tromping through the field. A few minutes later an SUV pulled up and Geoff Notkin came over to say hello. That morning it was Steve, Geoff, Suzanne Morrison, and Me gridding. About an hour into it, I heard Steve say "GOT ONE!" Steve had found a beautiful meteorite just a few meters from me - the first find of the day. It was like someone injected adrenaline straight into my heart. Ok, now I know for sure they are here. Steve began meticulously cataloging the meteorite, making sure not to touch it with his hands and walked over to the car to input the info on the strewnfield map. Geoff, Susanne, and I continued gridding at an increased rate. Only a few minutes later we rounded the corner of a grid and right there at my foot was a meteorite. I dropped to my knees and began shouting (like a fool) "I found a meteorite! YEEESSSS!!!" I immediately called my wife at work and she shared in the excitement. I then called Rob to let him know the good news. He happened to be walking up from the far end of the field with John Sinclair and we all did some show 'n tell like we were kids in Kindergarten. It's hard to explain the feeling of finding your first fresh rock from space. All I can say is that the moment is permanently etched in my mind and I will never forget it. I could have cared less if I didn't find a single meteorite during the rest of that trip. This was the one that mattered!
Later, we would all go on to find many more meteorites. I ended the trip with 6 total and remember each moment vividly like it was yesterday. I averaged 1.5 stones per day - a great average considering many hunters were getting skunked for days at a time.
West was a milestone for me. I gained many hunting skills from it and connected with friends in a way I never thought possible. Life is too short not to hunt meteorites.
A big thanks to Steve Arnold for taking me to that magical cotton field for my first ever meteorite find.
Numero Uno - My first meteorite find
Happy as a clam. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Morrison
Friends of the hunt. Gathering at the local watering hole for good food and great stories.
An unexpected consequence of hunting the area was the unbearable pain from walking close to 20 miles a day over rugged ground and hot weather. I have never seen so many grown adults hobbling in pain. In no other circumstance would I put myself through that kind of agony. We had the ultimate motivator and it was the thrill of the hunt and need to experience another find that kept many of us moving along. Each meteorite found was like a shot of morphine and kept our minds off the pain.
Copyright - M.Bandli - Historic Meteorites