Saturday, January 12, 2013

Visit the famed Old Woman Meteorite

Old Woman Meteorite at the Desert Discovery Center in Barstow.

Trevor Summons, Correspondent
San Bernardino Sun

When he was about 3, my eldest son, Michael, had the unfortunate experience of having a ceiling falling down on him. It was in his grandmother's house and no one was ever able to explain how it happened. For about 18 months he would always check the condition overhead when he entered a room in her house and asked if it was "all mended now?"

I had totally forgotten this episode, that occurred about 45 years ago, until I walked into the Desert Discovery Center in Barstow. This is the home of the Old Woman Meteorite, and there it was - on the floor just inside the entranceway.

Now, if that had fallen on your head, you'd not have been in any condition to inquire later about anything. It weighs more than 6,000 pounds and is 38 inches high by 30 inches wide.

It's a dark brown color and there is a part of it polished as some was removed for scientific analysis and also for permanent display at The Smithsonian.

No one seems to know exactly when this impressive object decided to fall from the skies, but the formation is likely to be some 4 billion years old - when the solar system was forming.

It was discovered in 1975 by three prospectors seeking their fortune in the Old Woman Mountains, and they tried unsuccessfully to make a claim on it. A series of arcane laws did not allow such a claim to be made on meteorites and so they lost out. The contents of the rock are mostly iron with some nickel and other small amounts of exotic materials.

The rock began its newly discovered life being shown at various Bureau of Land Management locations in Southern California before it spent a few years at The Smithsonian. However, in 1980, it was returned - well, about 85 percent of it - to its present home.

This interesting museum is home to a number of other artifacts, too. Director Jane Brockhurst showed me one exhibit called Crazy Cactus, the result of an art project that involved recycled materials.

There also is an outside pond that is home to some rather rare fish called Mojave Tuiechubs. These were thought to be extinct until they were found at Zzyzx, near Baker. They are believed to have come from a line of Ice Age creatures.

Visitors can see a number of other fascinating items including a solar stove - I doubt that it can handle frozen food in a couple of minutes, though!

Children's paintings and drawings give the entire place a feeling of youth and there is no entry charge, which adds to the attraction.