A PERFECT "10"
On the evening of November 18, 1986, a boy witnessed an epic fireball from his driveway in Bullhead City, Arizona, on his 10th birthday.
In nearly vertical flight and westward from his perspective, the fireball first had a short tail, then the plasma dissipated and soon
young Robert Ward was watching a cherry-red object fade to solid black as it flew through the sky against a California sunset.
Robert Ward with his incredible Dhofar 1433 main mass recovery in Oman
He went to the local library the next day and checked out Harvey Nininger's Find A Falling Star - a book he'd check out again so many
times in the coming months and years that the library card became fully stamped on both sides, even though he was the only reader of that
copy. Similar to the case of Nininger's own first encounter with a fireball some six decades earlier, Ward was never able to determine
which side of the mountain range on the horizon was impacted by this flying rock from outer space. But the hook was set, and what would
become a most remarkable meteorite hunting career had been rolled out to the launch pad for countdown.
Ward's family then had a long tradition of visiting an annual mineral and gem show in Quartzsite, Arizona, and on his next trip there he
met local treasure hunters Pieter Heydelaar and Debra Morrissette. Ward fondly recalls Heydelaar's kindness, as he was more than willing
to put up with the litany of "dumb questions" and subsequently sold Ward his first meteorite. There would be many more acquisitions to
come from Heydelaar, and soon Ward was buying meteorites from Bob Haag in Tucson as well.
As the son of a big game hunter - and a quite successful big game hunter himself (his home in Prescott, Arizona, in fact looks more like
an exotic zoo frozen in time than a house) - merely buying meteorites would soon not be enough for Ward. In the late 1980s, he actually
found his first meteorite and started building a collection of incredible personal recoveries which is now fast approaching some 500
locations and many thousands of individual specimens.
JUST OUTSIDE THE COIL
I find it remarkable that while his contributions to the world of meteorites are already innumerable, Robert Ward is not yet exactly a
household name throughout the international meteorite community. Though this will no doubt change in due time, the explanation is quite
simple: Ward is the antithesis of a shameless self-promoter. While many (albeit certainly not all) hunters in the meteorite arena are in
it for profit and/or exposure, he hunts and collects meteorites for one reason: he loves it. He is probably one of the best-kept secrets
in all of meteorites, and he is right now living one of the most exciting stories yet to be told in the field.
Robert Ward with a fresh Puerto Lapice eucrite he recovered in Spain
Every person should be so lucky as to find his or her life's calling in the way Ward has, and perhaps this is in part why he is one of the
kindest, most easy going and humble human beings anyone could ever have the pleasure of meeting. Ward has never been even remotely
concerned about plaques and accolades for his achievements, and his enthusiasm, passion and infectious laugh are beyond catching. I was
fortunate enough to meet him purely by chance while visiting with Bob Haag in Tucson not so very long ago, and a terrific friendship for
which I'm most grateful has been unfolding ever since.
My first meteorite find came under the guidance of Ward on a hunt in Arizona, and we've now been hunting together on several occasions.
It is interesting to note that he is genuinely and completely excited about every meteorite find regardless of who actually recovered it
(and, therefore, gets to keep the piece); again, it's the experience and not the money that drives Ward. I hope not to offend anyone in
writing this, but I can't imagine there is a more complete meteorite hunter on the planet. He has incredible tenacity, immeasurable
enthusiasm, the stamina of youth (and the drive to hunt areas which would give pause to a mountain goat), a broad and deep knowledge base,
and is extremely creative in implementing what has become a suite of resources at his disposal (from time to time he even invents new tools
and methods altogether).
Ward has already achieved a lifetime of successes, yet he has many decades ahead of him to accomplish much more. To have the passion that
Ward has for meteorites and to have connected so successfully with active participation in that field would be a most incredible gift to
anyone in ANY field whatsoever. Of course, by virtue of his humble nature, Ward would never say any of these things about himself; in fact,
he would probably dispense with much of it altogether.
IN THE FIELD
His considerable catalog of recoveries features specimens as "small" as Dhofar 1428, a 213 gram lunar meteorite he found in Oman, to a huge
500 pound Muonionalusta individual he found using equipment he modified himself in Sweden. The list runs the gamut in between and is far too
long to detail here, but suffice it to say he's already seen most of his home planet in a wildly successful pursuit of fragments from other
Robert Ward with his 200 kg Muonionalusta find in Sweden
It seems like every time I speak with Ward when he isn't hunting in the field somewhere, all he can talk about is how he's "itching to get
back in the field." Best I can tell, it seems to take somewhere between five and seven minutes for the phenomenon of this itch to develop
upon his return from an expedition. Having given up big game animal hunting for the more elusive arena of big game meteorites, the field is
where Ward is happiest. It is where he belongs.
I asked Ward what it is about meteorite hunting that inspires him to dedicate much of his life to such an endeavor, and he replied, "The drive
and thrill that comes from knowing that right now something is travelling at 20,000 miles per hour towards Earth and that we might find it is
indescribable." He added, "An unbelievable chain of events in recent years has led to the recovery of so many wonderful witnessed falls, and
I've been thrilled to have been part of it. My life's dream has already come true many times over."
It is more the rule than an exception that his name appears in headlines related to witnessed fall recoveries across the globe. Think of Moss,
Carancas, Cali, and Puerto Lapice, of late and just to name a handful - and this omits countless finds from known strewn fields all over Earth.
Another gift Ward receives from his tedious and persistent efforts is the benefit science derives from it. "Seeing the fruits of the research
done on my finds is extremely rewarding," he notes with a great sense of pride. Realizing what too few in the field today understand, Ward
places "preservation of priceless material" above all other priorities.
THE GLORIETA GODDESS
A couple of years ago Ward was spending a weekend night at a local bar where they play both kinds of music - country AND western - and soon
found himself dancing with and talking to a beautiful blonde girl named Shauna. At one point she asked him "what he did," and his response
took her aback: "I'm a meteorite hunter." Of the countless lines she'd undoubtedly heard before, this was not one of them. But not only
did this not turn her away (he does travel for extended periods of time, and he is a bit preoccupied with meteorites and the like), it
actually became a fascination for her as well - and fast.
Shanua Russell with Robert Ward and her incredible 56.5 kg flight oriented Glorieta Mountain siderite recovery
We were in Holbrook one day on a hunt with my father, Barry, and Tom Bopp (of cometary fame), and within 15 minutes Shauna had found a
beautiful specimen; the rest of us were out there all day and basically found nothing. For Shauna, the activity is not meteorite hunting
but rather meteorite FINDING, and never before was this more clearly evident than during a Glorieta Mountain hunt this past spring.
On a Saturday morning after several days on the mountain, she had lost track of Ward and then finally noticed him nearby. As she was walking
over to see how he was doing she hit a very big signal. Ward, always the gentleman, dug the hole until the specimen was exposed. Several
of us were on the scene in short order, and I still remember the look on Ward's face when I suggested that the specimen - still mostly buried
at the time - was likely oriented.
When the video camera was in place and the meteorite saw its first daylight since falling in the New Mexico mountains perhaps a couple of
centuries ago, an epic, spectacular oriented meteorite with incredible features beyond description left all of us speechless (and Shauna with
a smile that has yet to depart from her face). Yet while this find was Shauna's and hers alone, something tells me that without the passion
and drive of Robert Ward that specimen would still be slowly rotting in oblivion under ground (I had this same realization immediately after
finding my first meteorite with him as well).
NOT THE END, BUT THE BEGINNING
Ward's long-term goal with meteorites is "educating people to hunt for and recognize meteorites in the field, and thereby to expand the
science of meteoritics and our understanding of the solar system." Along the way he wants to continue building what is already one of
the most fascinating private meteorite collections in the world with the aim of finding a way to keep it intact such that future generations
might be inspired by it.
The author with Robert Ward on a hunt in the southwestern United States
It has been the highest honor to write this story about Robert Ward, and it is with great anticipation that I await stories of many, many successful
recoveries in his future. In the meantime, check out www.ironfromthesky.com
to read more about the adventures of Robert Ward and to see some of his absolutely amazing - and for the most part self-acquired - collection of meteorites.
Article by Dave Gheesling
The full version of this article is published in the
August 2008 issue of METEORITE! magazine.