This is the third article that I have written about Arizonaites, otherwise known as Saffordites. I refer you to the first two articles of this series for background information on what these rocks, not from space, are and what they are not:
Here is a quick review of what they are not and, finally, what they are:
- They are not meteorites, rocks from asteroids, Mars, or the Moon.
- They are not impactites, rocks such as tektites (Earth rocks that were briefly in space) that were shock melted by the impact of an asteroid or comet.
- They do not have healing powers (they are just rocks).
- They are weathered volcanic rocks known as obsidian glass. They came from volcanic eruptions and cooled quickly, so they are glass-like in appearance.
One thing that I learned since the last article is the source of Saffordites. Arizona was volcanically active and there are two source regions (ancient volcanoes) for Saffordites that are “upstream” from where we hunt for them. These are Cow Canyon and Mule Creek and are northeast of Safford along the Arizona/New Mexico border. The obsidian glass from both sources was formed about 18 million years ago.
In the first article, I mentioned two impact glasses found on Earth. These were rocks or sand that were shock melted, probably in place, by the impact of a large object from space. Because they were heated, melted, cooled, and resolidified, they formed a glass with no crystals. The most common ones are found in Australia: Darwin Glass, found on the island of Tasmania, and Libyan Desert Glass, found in the deserts of eastern Libya and western Egypt. Impact glass has also been found in the Atacama Desert of Chile at the site of a 12,000-year-old-impact crater. We call these impactites. The “impact” may have been an airburst, similar to the 1908 Tunguska Event in Eastern Siberia.
Here is an example of Libyan Desert Glass. This is in the Cairo Museum and belonged to a pharaoh, Tutankhamun, and is a scarab in his pectoral, his breastplate.
I personally own several impactites, a piece of (left) and a piece of Darwin Glass (center). On the right, I have included a man-made impactite, Trinitite, from the Trinity nuclear test site. This was the site of the first man-made nuclear explosion on July 16, 1945, and is featured in the movie Oppenheimer.
It had been more than three years since I last went hunting for Saffordites. This was primarily due to Covid. I was fortunate to be able to go with my good friend Twink Monrad on trips in February and in April of this year. We tried a new area in February and were fairly unsuccessful in our hunt. However, I got to go with two new people and make new friends, so the time together was worth the trip! Here is a picture with Mt. Graham in the background. There was snow on the mountain. I personally verified this a few weeks later when I toured there with Vatican Observatory Foundation board members.
Image caption: Twink co-discovered and mapped the Gold Basin meteorite strewnfield in northwest Arizona. Cyndy and Grace are retired elementary school teachers. As you can tell from her t-shirt, Grace also took on library duties and provided enrichment activities for students.
We were relatively unsuccessful on this trip. As a group, we found less than 10 Saffordites. Here is the largest one that we (Grace) found.
Twink and I went back again in April, before the temperatures were too high (over 90 degrees). We went to an area that had not been visited in many years. We were a little more successful. Between the two of us we found about 30 Saffordites. Not a bad haul, but not the 100 or more we had found on previous trips, and no large ones.
Here are pictures of Twink with Mt. Graham in the background and me after a few hours of hunting.
Where in the Arizona Desert is the Saffordite?
Now is quiz time. Can you find the Saffordite? You can do this in your home and it is easier than doing it out in the field with the warm desert Sun after several hours of walking around! It takes a little time and practice to find your first few Saffordites. You are looking for a black rock among thousands of other-colored rocks.
Let’s start out easy. The first picture shows the area around the Saffordite that Twink found.
Nature was nice enough to put the Saffordite right in the middle of some flowers (without the arrow). Here is an enlargement of the area with an arrow pointing to the Saffordite. Wasn’t that easy?
Now, let’s try two more areas. The first two pictures are what one sees as one walks around looking for dark rocks that stand out from the surrounding rocks. These are the two Saffordites I showed with the ruler.
Did we find them?
They were both in the middle of their respective images. This is a lot easier than trying to spot them in the field with the bright Sun behind you and not in your face (the best way to search for them).
Here are the same pictures with arrows and then closeups of the areas around the Saffordites.
Image Caption: Yes, there is another black rock above to the right and above the Saffordite, but it was not a Saffordite (not all black rocks are Saffordites).
If you ever go Saffordite hunting, here is what you need to remember for a safe and successful hunt: sunscreen, a good hat, sunglasses (though sometimes it is easier to spot the little black rocks without your sunglasses), lots of water, and a good LED flashlight. It also helps to have a device to pick up the rocks so you can examine them without bending over every time.
Once it cools down later in the year, we plan on going out again. Maybe we will be more successful!
 Source Provenance of Obsidian Artifacts from the Dos Pobres/San Juan Project, Graham County, Arizona – Shackley, M. Steven, 2006