An Article In Meteorite-Times Magazine
by Robert Verish
The Cairns of Gold Basin
Unusual piles of rock were found while "visual-only-searching" for meteorites in the Gold Basin strewn field.
All of the following images of cairns were taken by me during the 2nd week of February 2009. This was that period of time after the 2009 Tucson Show and shortly after a group of us met-up with Larry Atkins on his Franconia AZ meteorite hunt. The weather had turned quite cold and a lot of snow had fallen in the mountains to the north earlier that week. But after the snow had melted, the remainder of the group decided to reconnoiter at Gold Basin.
Each person had their own idea where to metal-detect for meteorites at Gold Basin, but after all of that coil-swinging in the Franconia strewn fields, I was more in the mood for good old-fashioned "hunting by eyeball", just searching for meteorites with only my eyes and a magnet stick. Besides, I wanted to take this opportunity to continue a field project that I've been conducting over the years in the Gold Basin strewn field (with success, mind you), that of searching by eyesight only without the aid of a metal-detector. One benefit is that my arms don't get so tired as when I swing a metal-detector all day long, but I do get to walk a whole lot more.
Maybe it's because I'm covering a whole lot more territory, but in some areas of the Hualapai Valley (closer to the Colorado River), I seem to be running into a lot more of what some of my fellow hikers would call, "cairns". What seems to be stumping me, though, is what could possibly be the purpose of these 4-to-5 foot tall monuments?
Read on and look at the images, and see if you can come up with an explanation or purpose for these Cairns in the Gold Basin Strewn Field.
Knowing how old a cairn is, or knowing roughly what period in time it was erected, usually helps in determining what was its intended purpose. Prehistoric cairns have various archeological explanations, but most theorized purposes center on hunting. Many cairns are erected by hikers, but many of the cairns erected during the last century had purposes related to mining and marking claims. Many times, rocks are piled around survey-markers, such as the one depicted above that I found at this same locality.
Although rocks are often piled around "benchmarks", these piles are rarely taller than the top of the marker pipe. Not only are these piles of rocks much shorter than the cairns, the rocks are not piled in the same manner, looking more haphazardly erected, compared to the purposeful placement of flat stones in the cairns.
The rock underlying the sparsely populated cactus is a variety of limestone that, when it weathers, will fracture or cleave somewhat in the manner of flagstone. So, the kind of stone necessary to erect a stable cairn is readily available.
The above image shows another variety of cactus and the kind of stone that is readily available to erect a stable cairn .
Panorama of the Hualapai Wash from the spot of the above "benchmark" looking south and in the direction up the trend of the fall of the Gold Basin meteorite.
At the top of the mesa I found more cairns. The above image depicts the next two cairns that I found. In the center of the image can be seen the other (third) cairn off in the distance. Personally, while hiking I've encountered many "rock-piles" that were related to meteorite find locations or grid searches, but I've never seen one erected in the shape or size as are these cairns. I would be interested in knowing how widespread is the occurrance of cairns such as these.
Looking from the location of the "third" cairn, back towards the second cairn depicted in the previous image.
Not far away (about 1/4 mile to the east) was located the fourth cairn.
Not far away (about 1/4 mile to the north) was located the fifth cairn.
The magnet stick points in the direction up on the ridge to where the sixth cairn is located.
From the location of the fifth cairn, but going back towards the direction of where the "second" and "third" cairns were located, is where I found the sixth cairn.
It was at this location that I noticed scratch marks had been made into the gravel-surface of the ground. It was hard to tell how old the scratch marks were, but it was obvious that they weren't made recently. Also obvious, was the square-shape of the scratch mark, which is evidence that the gravel was disturbed by a either a gold prospector, or a meteorite hunter. Having had success in the past finding meteorites nearby to these scratch marks (because they were discarded as "hot-rocks" by gold prospectors), I closely examined the shallow pit with my eyes and magnet-stick. I found a couple of small, dark desert-varnished pebbles, but they were too small to positively identify as being meteorites, so I then tested them with my magnet.
At last, after searching all morning, I finally found a rock that would stick to my magnet stick.
Instead of wasting time grinding a corner off of these stones, I bagged & tagged them, and went back to searching for more fragments.
Regrettably, no more fragments were found at that location, and no more finds were made that day.
But it was the proximity of this cairn to this find location that started me thinking if there was any connection between the two. I wondered if the two small pieces I found were fragments of a larger meteorite find, and whether it was found by a gold prospector or a meteorite hunter. If there was a find made here by a gold prospector, was the cairn made the prospector to mark the spot where to look for more "ore"? And what did the prospector do with his piece of "ore? But if there was a find made by a meteorite hunter, why would the hunter feel it necessary to erect such a large "rock-pile / monument"? At first, I ruled-out that a meteorite hunter had made a find, because I assumed that no hunter would leave behind even small meteorite fragments. But a short time later I viewed a video on You-Tube by Jason Snyder, where he documented finding 10 additional small fragments at the same spot where meteorites had been previously found with metal-detectors. So, the mystery remains unanswered.
Closer inspection of some of the small, dark stones found at the location of this "sixth" cairn, reveals that they are indeed fragments from a chondritic stone meteorite.
The two pieces fit together (in other word, they are two physically-paired fragments forming a single specimen).
Close-up image of the above specimen after being ground & polished. This specimen appears to be a L-chondrite and is probably paired to the other Gold Basin Area L-chondrites.
Same specimen as above.
After making the above find and realizing, that where ever I found a meteorite in this area, there was always a cairn nearby, I started to wonder if there could be any relationship between the two. In hindsight I now realize, that had I known where these cairns were located and had just searched in their immediate area, I could have found just as many meteorites and in a much shorter period of time. But this casual relationship is not evidence of a relationship. Because the proximity of these cairns to the spots where meteorite finds have been made may only be a coincidence.
Although the purpose of the cairns will probably remain a mystery, I look forward to finding more cairns in the future.
REFERENCES:Definition of Cairn - From Wikipedia, lists purposes for why cairns were erected with examples.
Cairns and other rock piles - From the aspect of the art of rock-balancing.
What is a rock cairn? - Example of one on a trail in Chaco Culture National Historic Monument Park
Hunting Gold Basin, again...: Jason Snyder's very informative video shows how to search for Gold Basin meteorites - not just with a metal-detector, but visually, as well. After finding the first fragment with his metal detector, he continues searching the same spot - unaided - by using only his eyesight. Within a 6 meter-radius area that has been searched over and over again by previous prospectors (himself included), Jason finds right on the surface TEN (10) more fragments by just using his eyesight alone! Lesson learned, here.
Jason Snyder's Gold Basin finds The ten (10) fragments that are depicted in the video referenced above can be seen in this image. Jason's image of his finds appears on the Meteorite of the Month web page for the month of April 2009. Again, these finds were found by Jason - unaided, using his eyesight only, in an area that has been searched over and over again with a metal-detector.
Franconia AZ Meteorite Hunt - Feb 9, 2009 - This is where we met-up with Larry Atkins and his group before we headed-out to Gold Basin. Larry Atkins, Darryl Landry, of Michigan, Greg Stanley of Bakersfield Ca, & Tim Glidewell of Boonville Ca take you on a short fun trip to hunt for Franconia meteorites. This is Tim and Darryl's first time to hunt meteorites; Larry and Greg are seasoned hunters. Tim shot the footage and did the editing.
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