Just a couple of weeks ago, when an asteroid was hurtling toward Earth, some of us remembered Bruce Willis in that 1998 movie, "Armageddon," when he saved the planet by blowing himself up while standing in a spacesuit on a similar space rock.
Then, while we were waiting for our space boulder to pass us by — WHAM! — a meteorite smashes into Russia, and in a split second it's 1979 all over again with Sean Connery and the Russians saving the world from, of all things, a meteor. Between you and me, it was actually a big chunk of asteroid, but the suits in Hollywood must have thought the title "Meteor" carried a lot more punch.
Subsequent examination of the Port Orford Meteorite sample proves that it fell in an area of dry climate, not the kind of weather found on the Oregon Coast. A 1993 Smithsonian Institution report calls the meteorite story a hoax, an attempt by Dr. John Evans to help cover his personal debts. It concludes that the sample was actually obtained by Evans while crossing the Isthmus of Panama on his return to the East Coast in 1858. The entire report is available online at http://hdl.handle.net/10088/818.
Not everyone agrees, but where would we be without stories of lost mines and lost meteorites?
Scientists have found remnants of about five large meteorites in Oregon, including five good-sized chunks of one that exploded over Sams Valley. Of course, thousands of these flaming rocks have entered the atmosphere above Oregon over the millennia, but most burn up before they hit the ground, and some of those that may have made it just haven't been found.
One that may have hit in the mountains east of Port Orford has been missing since it was discovered in 1856. The problem with a 10-ton meteorite missing for nearly 157 years is that only one man has ever claimed to see it sticking out of the ground. With thousands of prospectors and scientists searching fruitlessly for it, the possibility of a hoax must be considered.
Geologist John Evans left Port Orford in July 1856, collecting rock samples along the way as he headed northeast through the mountains on his way back to Northern Oregon. Evans had first come to Oregon in 1851, when he was hired by the Department of the Interior to explore the geology and collect mineral samples found in the Oregon Territory west of the Cascades.
Although he was trained as a medical doctor and not a geologist, Evans had made significant discoveries of fossils in the Midwest while on expeditions in the late 1840s.
Until late 1858, when he left Oregon, Evans would send his collected samples back East for analysis. In late 1859, Dr. Charles Jackson was working with some of the Evans' samples when he realized that one was from a meteorite. He wrote Evans, who was living in Washington, D.C., to ask whether he could possibly locate the meteorite again.
Evans, who had said nothing about the meteorite since 1856, suddenly was overflowing with information. From memory, he almost instantly remembered he had found the meteorite sample near Port Orford.
"There cannot be the least difficulty in finding the meteorite," Evans said. "The mountain is a prominent landmark, seen from a long distance from the ocean, as it is higher than any of the surrounding mountains."
Plans were made for an expedition back to Port Orford, but before it could be funded, in April 1861, Evans died, and the meteorite's location, if there ever was a meteorite, was lost forever.
Not much of a plot for a Hollywood movie.
Update: Our readers are always quick to come to our aid. A number of you wrote to tell us that we had missed the location of the Jenny Creek Wagon Slide in last week's column. The Slide is actually about 1.5 miles northeast of the Pinehurst Inn. We have had several invitations for a guided escort to the Slide, and once the weather stabilizes in the mountains, we're going to take them up on their hospitality and follow up with a story.
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.