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Port Orford Meteorite

Mystery of the Lost Port Orford Meteorite
Port Orford Meteorite
Sample Pallasite Meteorite
Cross-cut and polished view of a pallasite meteorite

      Treasure hunters, prospectors, and hikers alike still pursue the legend of the Port Orford Meteorite, a 22,000 lb. space rock supposedly resting near the Oregon coast in the Siskiyou National Forest. As the legend goes, in 1851, Dr. John Evans, a geologist, was hired by the U.S. Department of the Interior to survey parts of the Washington and Oregon territories as part of an expedition looking for a railroad route from the East to Puget Sound. During a two week survey trek from Port Orford to the coast fork of the Willamette River, Dr. Evans gathered many fossils, rocks and soil samples. One such sample is what started the legend. It was during this trek that Dr. Evans discovered a large round rock protruding out of the ground which he estimated to be about 22,000 lbs. He did not know what the rock was made of so he chipped off a walnut sized sample for analysis. It wasn't until 1859 that the sample was actually analyzed by Dr. Charles Jackson, a Boston chemist, who determined that the sample was that of a rare pallasite meteorite made up of translucent crystals of olivine (the semi-precious gemstone "Peridot") that are suspended in a iron-nickel matrix. So rare is pallasite that only about 1% of all meteorites found to have landed on Earth are of this kind. The gemstones in a meteorite of this size are estimated to be worth well over $2 million. Pallasite originated in the mantle-core boundary of a large planetary body that broke apart when it collided with an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter over 4 billion years ago. Excited about this rare discovery Dr. Jackson contacted Dr. Evans to inquire further about it. Dr. Evans immediately recalled the monster rock and its exact location. Up until that time, the largest pallasite sample on record was a mere 1,500 lbs. Both the Boston Society of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution were alerted to the discovery. Dr. Evans agreed to participate in an expedition to recover the meteorite. As the wheels for a recovery expedition were set in motion and the team was waiting for Congressional approval and funding, shots rang out at Fort Sumter and touched off the Civil War. Dr. Evans died the very next day without providing a map to the metorite's exact location. Congress, busying itself with war efforts and having been notified of the death of Dr. Evans, lost interest in a recovery expediation, as did everyone else. In 1917, Dr. Evans' journal was discovered and within it the description of his Oregon trek. Finally, in 1929, the Smithsonian Institution dispatched William Foshag, the curator of mineralogy, to the Oregon region in search of the meteorite but the space debris remained elusive. Again, in 1939, the Smithsonian Institution sent their associate curator of the Division of Meteorites, Edward Henderson, on a second expedition but he also failed to locate it. Since that time, many people have tried to find the huge meteorite but all have come up short leaving some to believe that the discovery must have been a hoax.

      Here's what we know for sure. Dr. Evans' journal, under the entry "Route from Port Orford Across the Rogue River Mountains," describes his route as passing northward and never crossing the divide into the Rogue River watershed. He set out from Port Orford on July 18, 1856, and ended his trek on the coast fork of the Willamette River on July 31st. No specific entry is made to the discovery of the meteorite but this is undoubtedly because Dr. Evans was simply ignorant of what he had found. Because his assignment was to survey a proposed route for a railroad rather than mining, he took an appropriate sample of the large peculiar looking rock and proceeded on his trek. His journal entries for the area decribed only a "Bald Mountain." However, after being contacted by Dr. Jackson about the significance of the find, Dr. Evans wrote back that the meteorite's location was "Approximately forty miles from Port Orford on the top of Bald Mountain. The sample in question is removed from a partially buried rock on a western-facing grassy slope otherwise free from any other protrusions." Dr. Evans further described Bald Mountain as being higher than the surrounding mountains and easily seen from the ocean.

      So there you have it. A 10 ton iron-nickel, gemstone encrusted, meteorite, estimated to be worth over $2 million, lies lost in the hills near the Oregon coast waiting to be discovered and ready to make its finder a multi-millionaire.

Kansas Pallasite
Steve Arnold with his 1,400 lb. pallasite find

      On a similar note, in October 2005, Steve Arnold, a professional meteorite hunter, discovered a 1,400 lb. pallasite meteorite in Kansas. Using a metal detector mounted on his ATV he traversed a barren field, over and over, stopping to dig when his metal detector sounded. The huge meteorite was located seven feet underground. Only two larger pallasite meteorites have been found, a 3,100-pounder in Australia (1937) and a 1,500-pounder in Russia (1749). Arnold's pallasite has been estimated to easily be worth seven-figures. The Kansas rock was found in the same area that in 1949 produced a 1,000 lb. meteorite now on display at the Celestial Museum in Greensburg, Kansas.

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