[meteorite-list] Salinas Man Believes Meteor Crashed in California

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:31:26 2004
Message-ID: <200402231658.IAA13256_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>



Salinas man believes meteor crashed here
Monterey Herald (California)
February 23, 2004

There are traces of catastrophe all over Al Schmidt's home in Salinas.

Schmidt, a 77-year-old retired construction foreman with flowing white hair
and a matching goatee, has assembled a theory. He believes a large meteor
made a violent impact off the coast of Monterey more than 25,000 years ago.

In a box on the couch are cubes of sand-colored rock cut from football-sized
samples he collected from all over the county. On a side table he has a
microscope for examining samples, and in the garage two power saws for
cutting the rocks and tools for polishing them. There are maps covering
the kitchen table. He uses the nearby computer to e-mail geologists
around the country, seeking advice and telling them about what he's
found so far.

At Fort Ord he has collected small spherical rocks that he says formed from
drops of molten rock. Along hillsides in the area, he's found stone columns,
more than six feet tall, that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. A book
called "Traces of Catastrophe" shows similar columns around a large
meteorite impact crater in Canada.

Schmidt has talked to professional geologists and showed them samples of
his rocks, but he hasn't won over any of them.

That hasn't stopped him from collecting more rocks and looking for more
evidence, extending a lifelong endeavor.

Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., Schmidt found limestone and little crystals
in driveways and gravel roads. Trips to his grandmother's in Albuquerque,
N.M., yielded volcanic rocks.

On one cross-country trip, his family went out of their way to visit a
meteor crater in Odessa, Texas.

"My dad was interested in everything," Schmidt said. "He had patience, so if
anyone was interested in something, we'd go and see it."

Through the 1950s and '60s, Schmidt oversaw installation of electrical
systems in schools and large buildings. In his spare time, he took night
classes at Los Angeles City College and UCLA on geology, mineralogy and
anthropology. For several years, he also helped the University of California
at Riverside researchers who were looking for fossils of camels, sloths and
bears that lived in the Mojave Desert long ago.

When Schmidt moved to Salinas 14 years ago, the shape of the hillsides of
the Salinas Valley intrigued him. He was bothered by the shorelines of what
he calls "Lake Salinas."

Schmidt's theory is that there was a lake in the Salinas Valley, and
terraces along the sides of the valley were the shorelines of the ancient
lake. If this was the case, he thought, perhaps a large impact wiped out
the western end of the valley.

"That opened the floodgates, I guess you could say, on the impact," Schmidt

Schmidt searched through scientific literature and looked for evidence in
local rocks.

"Most of my evidence is from written reports by outstanding geologists," he

But Geologist Steve Graham of Stanford disagreed with Schmidt's
interpretation of the valley terraces. Graham said erosion on hillsides
near the San Andreas fault caused them.

"It is a very, very orderly, natural process that happens in situations
like this," Graham said. The same thing happened in many other places in the
country, he added, such as around the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Philip Stoffer, a geologist at the U.S. Geologic Survey, examined round,
porous rocks the size of small marbles that Schmidt collected at Fort Ord.
Schmidt said they're drops of molten rock that formed in the impact, but
Stoffer said they appear to be more common sandstone.

"Who knows? He could be right," Stoffer said by e-mail. "It will take a lot
of work and independent investigation to prove his point, but I'm not
convinced myself."

But Stoffer added that asteroid impacts are abundant on Earth.

"Just look at the surface of the moon and Mars," he said. "The surface of
the Earth would look the same were it not for weathering and erosion
processes on Earth."

Geologist Don Lowe of Stanford University also talked to Schmidt about
his work.

"Don Lowe gave me the ultimate recommendation that thin sections are the
only way to go," Schmidt said. Thin sections are slices of rock thinner
than a hair that can be examined under a microscope.

Lowe said that Schmidt has to do other work, including chemical tests, to
make it clear what he has.

"I found the things he showed me very difficult to evaluate," Lowe said. "His
case is still very circumstantial."

Schmidt's wife, Hanneh, said she can see how people might find the idea of a
meteor impact difficult to believe. She recalled how after men walked on the
moon, she told her cousin in Jordan about it.

The skeptic asked, "How do you know it's real? Who told you?"

She said she hopes that as her husband collects more evidence, people will
be convinced.

Schmidt hopes to eventually start a museum, and has made a yellow shirt and
matching jacket that read "Monterey Comet Museum" and have a fiery ball
burning across them.

Schmidt has his eye on a large, glassy white rock near Laguna Seca that
might have formed in an impact, and is even bigger than an earlier 150-pound
rock he dug up.

"I'm going to try to get it out of the ground someday," he said. "That one
would make beautiful slabs for study."
Received on Mon 23 Feb 2004 11:58:40 AM PST

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