I remember the night well. It was a hot August Thursday and I was driving south towards town when the sky suddenly lit up for a few seconds, then just as quickly went back to normal. Glancing left, I noticed what looked like a very bright green star flying east towards the Cascades. A couple more seconds passed and a distant rumble seemed to pass overhead. I craned my neck in time to see the light intersect the skyline before I passed a house.
Thoughts of the nuclear flash popped into my head as I pulled over to wait for the impending shock wave. The seconds passed and all remained still. My imaginary incoming H-bomb turned into an imaginary meteor. Or rather meteorite as it must surely now have become. I turned the car around, and drove back to just before the house and studied the horizon where the light had just vanished.
Like a VCR, my mind slowly played back the events. The light came from the west and headed east; towards the mountains, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of where it hit.
For once there was a loaded camera in the car, so I decided to head for the hills and see what might turn up. I had planned to go backpacking over the weekend with Mike and Greg, and I didn't have to be back to work until Tuesday.
After hours of dusty, rock-strewn logging roads, I finally reached a clear-cut area overlooking the Cascade foothills. I had remembered the daytime view as being quite spectacular, but since it was by now 3 AM, all I could see was a starry sky ending at the dark horizon of the ridge top. Except that a few degrees below this line was a faint red glow, visible only by looking at it "off center" with the night vision part of my eyes.
Was it a late night campfire? Or maybe the smoldering debris from a meteorite! I was bored anyway and wide awake so I took out the Leica and placed it on the tripod. After a half hour, I had four time exposures of varying durations, the longest one being 15 minutes at f2.8.
The glow was now getting dimmer, so I decided to catch a few "Z's." But I left the camera and tripod exactly where they were.
I woke up around six or so just before the sun started to rise over the ridge. I snapped off several more shots of the same area from the same angle, now with the detail of the trees and rock outcroppings plainly visible. A little while later, the sun came up over the ridge and drowned everything in a backlit haze.
I gathered up the gear and headed back to town the same way I had come. The morning radio news of course was rife with "meteor reports," but no one seemed to be able to pin point any sort of direction. It wouldn't be to long before all the witnesses were interviewed and the location would be found. So time was of the essence.
I was back home by 11:00 and had developed the film by noon. To my delight, I had several decent exposures! Just as soon as the film dried, I printed up a full frame of the best morning shot onto medium grade paper, and a negative transparency of the darkest time exposure at exactly the same size.
The end result was a photographic sandwich of the morning hillside with a clear overlay on top. The glow was now a little black speck superimposed over the other shot, revealing it's location in relation to the surrounding trees and rock formations.
Armed with these tidbits, I decided to give Greg and Mike a call to see if they were into a little adventure. By now it was Friday afternoon, and as I had guessed, they were game. We had planned on heading up to Table Rock for the weekend anyway, so when I told them the story of the night before, they both thought it was a great idea.
They hadn't seen the flash themselves, but many other folks had. And the media was all a-buzz with meteor sighting stories. We got together around six with all the gear ready to go and looked over Mike's USGS Topographic maps.
Mike was a burly looking sort of a guy, with a "Grizzly Adams" beard, and a laid back "good-ol'-boy" outlook on life. Greg on the other hand, was the very vision of the modern high-tech farmer. His wire-rimmed glasses and manicured mustache spoke loudly of semi-yuppish sophistication.
It was a bit hard to pin point the location by just looking at the map, so we decided that our first move should be to return to the clear cut overlook, and get our bearing with the compass from there.
By now we figured every two-bit meteorite hunter in the Willamette Valley was out looking for the thing, so we had better hurry. Of course, my little black dot may well be only some burnt out fire, but hey, we were into the spirit of the expedition anyway, so what the hell! We took off in Mike's Toyota 4x4 around 9:00.
After what seemed like an eternity on that alleged road, we finally reached the clear-cut around midnight, made camp and drank a few beers. Several plans were made as to how we could spend the money we could get from the space rock. Mike thought we should get a drift boat.
Greg and I suggested that we buy a new video camcorder so we could make meteorite expedition films for PBS. "Hell, we might be able to get it all, so we could make white water fishing adventure tapes for HBO!" I suggested. With these thoughts fresh in our minds, we crashed for the night.
When I awoke the next morning, I had groggy recollections of a bizarre dream. Try as I might to remember, the memories seemed to disappear like water on hot pavement until only the slightest hint remained. It was more of a feeling than an image, and a strange one at that.
I could only remember the sensation of being strapped to a table in the dark as I was plunging faster and faster over a cliff until it suddenly stopped and I woke up. Weird!
I grabbed some bread and a banana in one hand and looked out over at the forested hillside with my photo sandwich in the other. It was easy to locate the area from the photo. Just to the left of one of many volcanic rock outcroppings. With the compass and the map, I was able to get a fix on the location easy enough.
So I Marked the spot on the map and took out the telescope. It was a short stubby Newtonian mirror job, and zeroed in on the area nicely. The 300X magnification revealed lots of detail, and I seemed to be able to make out several blackened trees, sheared off at the top by something. It MUST be the meteor!
Mike joined me at the scope and I let him take a look. "What if we get up there and it turns out to be a plane wreck with all sorts of crispy fried bodies?" he asked. "But the paper said it was a meteor, and besides, any missing plane would have been reported." Greg added as he joined us at the scope.
Looking at the map, it was plain to see that we were about as close as we were going to get by truck, so we locked it up and started hiking on down the hill. We figured from the map that the site was about three miles from us across the canyon as the crow flies, and about six or seven by walking.
And so off we went, unknown to us at the time into a situation that was about to change our lives forever, as the hackneyed saying goes.
We walked for what seemed like hours until we reached the bottom of the canyon. We decided that it was time for lunch, so we stopped by the small creek that had created this place over the course of millions of years.
After several sandwiches and a can of beer each, we heard a strange sound off in the distance: A muffled THUMP-THUMP-THUMP that got louder and louder until it was directly overhead.
A large unmarked dark green helicopter zipped by. It made a wide circle and came back to hover over us about fifty feet up. The prop wash blew anything not nailed down around as a crew member leaned out and took several pictures of us. I did likewise with my camera, and they quickly sped off on up the canyon from the direction that they had come from.
"Wow!" exclaimed Mike as Greg and I stood up to watch the chopper disappear over the trees. "Probably looking for dope farms." Greg said. We verbally agreed, but deep down we knew that they were up to something else, perhaps meteorite hunting. The Oregon Air Guard didn't have any choppers like that, so they must be the Feds.
We grabbed the packs, looked at the compass and headed off up the side of the hill on towards our "little black dot." After what seemed like hours of pushing through the undergrowth, we finally reached the large rock formation next to the dot on the picture. I climbed to the top, and sure enough, there were the blackened trees.
I climbed down and informed the rest of the crew of our impending discovery, what ever it may turn out to be. We rushed up to the first of the scorched trees, which seemed to form the end of a line of broken-topped trees heading up the hill for several hundred yards.
As we climbed on, the snapped off tops got closer and closer to the ground, ending at a large clearing up ahead. In the center of this clearing which by our estimation was about 50 feet across, was an obvious impact crater. Except that the bulk of the surrounding trees were left intact, forming a sort of canopy covering the area.
It looked as though the meteor had come through at such a low angle that only the immediate area of the impact was affected. From above, the canopy of trees was left virtually intact. This would explain why our friends in the helicopter hadn't seen it.
From our position looking up we could only see the rim, so we looked at each other gleefully and started up the side. "Hold it!" I commanded as I grabbed the camera. "This is for the cover of National Geographic!" I said as I snapped off several quick shots. We then continued our mad scramble up the rim.
Mike and Greg were ahead of me by ten feet or so, and when they reached the top and looked down into the crater, they just froze. A bizarre feeling came over me when I saw this, and as I reached the top, I found out why.
© 1996 by R. D. Frederick
Return to the Ramblings Page