By Greg Hupé
(Meteorite Magazine, November 2006)
First there was the sample then the whole stone, then another, and then yet another!
It all started the first week of July 2006 while on one of my monthly trips to Morocco when I
received a sample and photographs of an interesting crusted 675-gram stone. It had a couple of
broken areas where you could see a light green interior. I thought it might be a diogenite or just
possibly a Martian meteorite. The latter would later prove to be the case. I agreed to have the
sample analyzed at the University of Washington by Drs. Tony Irving and Scott Kuehner once I returned
home. I spent the rest of the week stopping at the homes of my usual Moroccan dealers buying any
NWA 4473 diogenite (left) and NWA 4468 Martian shergottite (right).
Once home, I quickly mailed the intriguing sample to Dr. Irving so I could learn the true identity
of this mystery stone. A few days later he phoned me and said that by making a thin section of the
sample he was able to identify the telltale signs of maskelynite, the clear shocked feldspar glass
that almost always indicates a meteorite of Martian origin.
NWA 4472 - 64.3-gram KREEP lunar.
He made an appointment in two days time
to use the electron microprobe at the university to further analyze the small section. This was
performed on schedule and scientific proof was at hand. It was indeed a Martian shergottite meteorite!
Armed with this first-hand information, I called my Moroccan partners, Salam and Mustapha, and
started the lengthy negotiating procedure, which typically takes many weeks or months when it
comes to such special stones. In this case there were seven Moroccan partners who shared in the
ownership of the 675-gram stone which meant that it could take an even longer time to work out
a deal. It is hard enough working with one Moroccan, and I thought it would be
difficult with so many hands in the decision process. To my amazement and delight, it only
took two weeks to barter back and forth and come to an agreement on price and terms, which
included a nice bonus if the stone proved to be Martian.
The next day I purchased another airline ticket to Morocco that would put me back in the Sahara
Desert within just three weeks since my last trip. During the days before I was to travel, I
spent the time inspecting and cutting interesting stones that looked promising, and that is
when I came across a 64.3-gram individual that I had purchased earlier along with two
carbonaceous chondrites. Those two were slightly attracted to a magnet and all three looked
the same, at least visually. I cut the single small rock for the type sample of the three
stones. Upon doing so, I was shocked to see that the interior looked like that of lunar
meteorite NWA 3136, which my brother Adam and I had discovered three years earlier. I thought,
“How can this be if it is magnetic?” I then placed the magnet to the stone and was surprised to
see that it was not attracted to the magnet like the stones I had tested earlier. Remarkably, I
had not tested this one with the magnet while in Morocco or in my shop in Florida, but luckily
I had selected it to be cut. I compared it directly to a slice of NWA 3136 and noted the
I called Dr. Irving regarding this discovery and informed him that I would send a sample of it
for analysis. He said he could polish the surface of the sample and examine it petrologically
to see what it would indicate. When he received the sample a couple days later, he performed
this test and stated it had all the features of a lunar. He said he would not be present
during the microprobe analysis a week later as he would be on a field trip, but that I should
make arrangements with his close colleague Dr. Kuehner who is in charge of the microprobe lab.
I contacted him and he said he could have the sample analyzed by the Friday that I would be in
Morocco. I agreed to call him from there to receive the news.
Since the 64.3-gram “lunar” meteorite appeared that it might be a fragment from a larger stone, I
decided that I would keep the image of it in my head in case I came across another stone that it
may be paired to during the next trip. I would later find out that this little stone would prove
big and was an invitation of sorts to go back and discover a larger one.
Before I departed for Morocco and Dr. Irving left for his field trip to Yellowstone National Park,
we agreed that once I had the 675-gram Martian meteorite in hand, I would call him and give him
the code phrase, “Spirit Lives!” in tribute to one of the Martian rovers currently roaming the
red planet. “Lives” in the phrase would indicate that the stone actually
existed and matched the
sample supplied to me.
The day was finally at hand for me to depart for the mysterious continent of Africa, where my
prize was waiting. It would turn out to be an adventure filled with intrigue, danger and near
After an arduous 19 hours of travel from Florida, including airport layovers and flight delays
due to inclement weather, I finally landed in Casablanca. Within one hour, luggage in hand, I
was able to meet my partners who were anxiously awaiting my arrival. After the traditional
greeting of a kiss to either side of the face and a hand shake followed by a touch to the heart,
they informed me that
Greg on top of the Atlas Mountains.
it was rumored that two dealers from Erfoud were driving to Laâyoune,
Western Sahara in hopes of trying to get the 675-gram stone before I did. We decided we would
drive as quickly as possible without resting to beat the phantom teams from acquiring the
On the road and heading south for Laâyoune, the journey would require a grueling 28 hours of
driving over flat farmlands, through dangerous mountain passes and then onto the rolling
dunes and scrub brush of the southern plains. My two partners did an amazing job of staying
awake for the most part, and navigating the treacherous route, most of which was under
construction. Salam, after several hours of driving, would start to drift off to near sleep
when the Land Rover would glide onto the dirt shoulder of the road and jar him back to
consciousness just in time to steer the vehicle back on track.
Deciding that Salam was no longer able to driver safely, Mustapha took over command of the
truck and proceeded to drive for many hours through the darkness of night while Salam slept.
There was a remarkable amount of traffic at 3:00 AM in the desolate mountains we were
traveling through. After passing many cars and large produce trucks, he must have also
been falling asleep at the wheel because he went to pass another truck and hit the corner
of the bumper. This must happen often as he just continued to pass without even a hand
signal to the driver of the truck indicating all was fine. The other driver didn’t take
notice of the situation that had just occurred behind him. Needless to say, Salam was
jolted awake by the metallic “clang” of metal meeting metal and insisted on driving once
he learned of the incident.
During our travels throughout the night and into the next day, I tried a couple times to
sleep since I was only able to get about one hour of sleep on the plane rides to Morocco.
I was completely exhausted but the white-knuckle ride kept me from doing so. We passed
into Western Sahara and through several small villages, all of which are considered
“military zones” due to the still-in-conflict status between Morocco and Algeria since
the 1970s. Each of these places had police checkpoints where we were questioned or
searched. One particular military village, Smara, had so many checkpoints that we were
stopped three times in ten minutes! During some of these time consuming stops, the officer
would make up some infraction and insist on some “bakchich” or “payoff” in order to let us
pass. One inventive
NWA 4468 - 675 gram mass.
cop, without wanting to ask for money directly, stated,
“I have not eaten lunch today”. Knowing this was his way of asking for money, Salam asked
the officer if he could buy him lunch and then handed over 100 Dirhams (roughly US$12.00).
With the approaching darkness of night, we finally rolled into Laâyoune, all of us fatigued
and sore from the “journey from hell”, as I would later refer to it. We drove directly to the
house of one of the seven partners and were greeted with a big smile and the typical
pleasantries. Mustapha asked if I wanted to get some sleep before seeing the 675-gram stone.
Not wanting to take a chance on someone else getting the stone out from under me while
sleeping I said,
“No thank you, I have traveled this far so I would like to see it now”.
With that, a skinny partner produced the stone. Mindful to keep a steady head, I reached out
and took position of the meteorite.
There it was, an unbelievably fresh 675-gram Martian meteorite in my hand. How could I look
up into my Moroccan partners eyes and not let them know I already knew what this stone was?
Over the years of dealing with Moroccans, I have developed great restraint when it comes to
playing “Moroccan Poker” (as I like to call it) when dealing with them. I simply glanced up
expressionless, looked them in the eyes and said, “It looks like the sample I took three
weeks ago during my last trip”.
We completed the deal and I had the prize safely tucked away in my large camera case. With
that part of our business finalized, we sealed the deal with
Greg Hupé (right) holding 675-gram NWA 4468 Martian shergottite – Deal Completed!
some mint tea loaded with as
much sugar as water it seemed like, because it was so sweet. Following was a heaping bowl
of tagine, which we all enjoyed by digging in with our hands using pieces of bread as
Upon finishing our meal, several nomads clad in traditional robes or jeans entered the room,
each holding a variety of bags containing stones for me to inspect. Some were terrestrial
rocks and others were just ordinary chondrites. The
NWA 4473 – 1173-gram unique Polymict Diogenite.
final nomad, who had a patch over one
eye, produced an interesting 1173-gram stone. As I inspected it through my 10x loop, I
nearly jumped out of my seat as I spotted the telltale whitish clasts that looked identical
in the dim light to ones in the 64.3-gram “lunar” I had discovered in my shop. It appeared
to have a greater concentration of clasts than the small one, making me think it looked a
little different. I had to keep my composure for the second time in an hour.
I couldn’t let on that I was excited by this
promising discovery, as I would never have had a chance to
acquire it. I simply stated that it looked interesting but the owner insisted that he thought it was
lunar, as do all nomads with their
“special” stones. I suggested that it could be
anything from a eucrite to lunar, or even an earth rock. Acting like I was not overly
interested in the rock, I asked how much he wanted for it and was not surprised by the
outrageous price he was asking.
I said I would think about it and asked if I could put
it with the 675-gram stone in order to discuss it later. He agreed and I secreted it
away with the Martian meteorite.
I asked if they could take me on a nighttime tour of Laâyoune since I had not been there
before. We all hopped into the Land Rover and proceeded to receive the grand tour.
I was convinced the Saharan winds were blowing my way after seeing the neon light of a shop
called “Café Luna”. One must always keep an open eye because when opportunity knocks you
want to be prepared to act quickly.
Thin Section image in partially cross-polarized light (pyroxene and olivine colors, maskelynite gray, glass veins and chromite black).
After a short tour, we went back to the house for some well-earned rest. Sleep did not
arrive easily. Not only did I have a confirmed 675-gram Martian meteorite in my possession,
I had what would be the world’s third largest lunar if the 1173-gram rock proved to be
from the moon, and I was going to find out the news on the 64.3-gram “lunar” the next
Café Luna in Laâyoune, Western Sahara. Sign of good things to come?
day. After thinking of the events from the last 48 hours with only one hour of sleep, I was
finally able to doze off. It wasn’t meant to last as I was awoken two hours later by the
strange noises of an unfamiliar city. I lay there awake thinking about how I would
negotiate for the 1173-gram stone once I received the results of the small stone from
The light of morning came relatively quickly. We got our possessions together and made an
agreement with the owner of the 1173-gram stone to
take it with us during the rest of our trip. This was only possible because Mustapha knew
the man and guaranteed him that if we could not agree on a price during my visit, that I
would just take a sample from the stone and negotiate over the phone and by emails once I
returned to the United States.
We decided that we would drive straight to M’hamid by way of Agadir, Ouarzazate and
Zagora. This would enable me to get back on track with my normal schedule and route I
like to take while in Morocco. Our travels would take us northward along the Atlantic
Ocean part of the way. It was a relaxing drive even though I was still extremely tired
from the lack of sleep and aching from sitting for so many hours. Another five hours and
I was able to call Dr. Kuehner, some 5000 miles away, to see if he had completed his
analysis of the
64.3-gram stone. We pulled over and stopped the truck alongside the
road on a cliff overlooking the crashing waves of the sea. I then made the call. He
answered the phone and after hearing my voice, he said, “Congratulations, you are the
proud owner of a lunar meteorite!” I was beside myself - another confirmed planetary in
just a few weeks. I was
now convinced the 1173-gram stone had to be paired to the small
lunar I had at home. After completing my phone call, I rejoined my partners and said
that all was good in the States.
I then called Dr. Irving who by now was traveling through Idaho and Washington to give
him the good news about receiving the 675-gram Martian meteorite and about the
laboratory-confirmed 64.3-gram lunar, along with the new, larger “lunar” hopeful.
Unfortunately I was only able to leave a voice mail and had to revise our pre-set code
phrase so as not to alert my partners of my knowledge of the classifications of both
planetary stones. At the beep I left the message, “Hello Tony, ‘Spirit Lives’ AND
Opportunity Knocks!” “Spirit” referred to the 675-gram Martian meteorite and
“Opportunity Knocks” to the
Over several sleepless days, route taken to acquire special meteorites.
1173-gram stone materializing. I then added another
appropriate statement, “These two stones are quite the Dynamic Duo” then hung up the phone.
We proceeded with our journey, which took us 24 hours to reach M’hamid. Salam and Mustapha
took turns driving throughout the day and night, Salam fell asleep once where I had to grab
the steering wheel just in time to turn us out of the path of a cement turnabout in Agadir.
Salam abruptly woke up and slammed on the brakes, waking Mustapha from his slumber. Fully
awake now, Salam exclaimed, “I was tired to the death!” They changed positions, and
Mustapha drove for as long as he could safely. During a 2-hour rest, I again tried to sleep
in the Land Rover but was only able to muster a one-hour catnap, as it was hot and very
uncomfortable. Up and running again, Mustapha eventually navigated us to our destination
and we immediately went to work going from one appointment to another examining stones from
different nomads and dealers.
With our business finished in M’hamid, Tagounite and Zagora, we decided to head for Rissani
and Erfoud without resting. This portion of the expedition would prove to be the most
hair-raising of all and required about eight hours of driving at night over hairpin turns
on roads in need of serious repair.
At this point Mustapha was driving and appeared to be doing a fine job of staying awake. I
took this as a good opportunity to start negotiating the price of the 1173-gram potential
lunar. I stated my opinions of the rock, dismissing what the owner hoped it would be and
made my counter offer. Mustapha called the man, and after much discussion he said my offer
was accepted. I was pleased it did not take long to come to an agreement, as I was worn out
and would not have the energy for a prolonged negotiation.
I found myself getting tired and almost falling asleep when the Land Rover would hit a pot
hole or skim the rocky shoulder of the road, jolting me awake again. Each time this would
occur I would tightly grasp a handle or dashboard expecting a collision. I decided I would
not allow myself to fall asleep and requested that we stop for some Cokes for the caffeine
to stay awake. This accomplished, we settled in for the remainder of the long drive. After
a while, and still about three hours away from our destination, I noticed Mustapha start
to cross the divider line separating the oncoming lane from us. He did this a couple times
so I started to talk to him even though he could not understand what I was saying. This did
not work and on a curve in a mountainous region, he crossed into the other lane and was
headed straight for the other side of the road. Heart pounding, I had just enough time to
start yelling, “Mustapha, Mustapha!!” while grabbing the steering wheel and jerking it to
the right. This put the Land Rover in a wild fish tail motion, which Mustapha was able to
correct after he woke up. He punched the brakes, bringing us to a screeching halt, which
woke Salam who was sleeping in the back seat. Mustapha exclaimed, “Hamdoullah!”
(Thanks God!), and vowed to never drive at night again.
Salam took control of the vehicle and I asked him to go back to where we almost drove off
the road to see what we would have run into. The headlights glaring into the darkness,
revealed that we would have driven off a small cliff into several large boulders and
continued down hill from there. This sight really scared Mustapha as I could see by the
petrified look on his face. Through Salam’s translation I tried to cheer up Mustapha by
saying, “Don’t worry, it only hurts when you hit the first rock!” He said he understood
what I meant and thanked me profusely for saving all our lives. He would continue to
express his gratitude throughout the remainder of the trip.
Three hours of driving and we found ourselves at a hotel in Erfoud. The time was 3:00 AM.
We retired to our rooms and I took a much-needed shower. It had been five days traveling
by plane and riding in a hot and dusty truck without bathing. I am sure I would have
offended even the most hardy of camels if I had been close to one. Feeling clean and
Greg (upper back) and Mustapha during a much needed rest stop.
somewhat refreshed, I lay down on the soft bed in the air-conditioned room realizing I
had not slept more than five hours in the last five days. I slipped into a deep sleep
and did not awaken for 10 hours!
I woke up at 2:30 PM, quickly dressed and joined my patient friends who had been waiting
six hours for me to emerge from my room. I apologized for sleeping so long but Salam
reassured me that it was fine. He said Mustapha told him earlier, “Greg can sleep as
long as he wants, he saved our lives!” We spent the remainder of the day checking out
a few stones and purchasing some eucritic material I had been negotiating for over the
last several months. It was one of those “Moroccan Poker” deals, which took patience on
my part in
order to obtain the material at a decent rate. This concluded our business
and we then drove six hours at night to Ouarzazate where we stayed in a friend’s apartment.
The next day’s travels would take us five hours to reach our final destination, Marrakech.
We stayed at Salam’s uncle’s home where, once again, I could only sleep for a couple of
hours due to the noisy gathering of young people below the open window. At 4:30 AM we
awoke and departed for the airport.
The flight home was uneventful and very relaxing. It all started to sink in, I had
realized an incredible achievement most collectors only dream of. In just four weeks and
two trips to Morocco and Western Sahara, I was fortunate enough to discover and possess
two confirmed planetary meteorites (675-gram Martian and 64.3-gram lunar) and one large
stone that I was confident was lunar.
Once home I sent a sample of the 1173-gram rock to Dr. Irving for analysis. I received
the results in a phone call directly from the microprobe lab a week
Rest stop in middle of Sahara Desert.
later, and the news
was not what I expected. The 1173-gram “lunar” turned out to be a unique polymict
diogenite! It was not strictly planetary but just as thrilling. This experience just
goes to show the critical role scientists play in identifying these celestial messengers.
I attribute my good fortune to the sands of time. I have taken many trips to Northwest
Africa over the last few years and have acquired several museums-worth of rare and
beautiful meteorites. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of the Sahara in order
to be ready when the good ones turn up. It seems that to get the best meteorites, one
must endure and survive the hardships involved.
It all started with a sample of an unknown stone and ended with “Spirit and Opportunity”.
Spirit proved to be a reality and Opportunity knocked so I answered the door!
Click here to see video of the complete 675 gram mass of NWA 4468