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Letter to the editor about the Decorah meteor strike

Posted: Thu, 07 Mar 2013 19:08:41 CST 8:45 AM
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Richard Sand, a former Winneshiek County resident now living in Whittier, California, has e-mailed this letter to the editor about the meteor that hit Decorah:

Darn! I wanted to contribute to the discovery that a meteor hit the site of modern-day Decorah a very long time ago.  I had a pretty good idea that this was the case.
 
I was visiting in Decorah several years ago. I had previously watched a History Channel documentary on meteor craters in the western world. Among the stories in the documentary is of a valley in Germany 50 miles wide that geologists determined was formed by a meteor strike. While visiting the valley, the geologists found a medieval church built entirely of "shocked quartz".  "Shocked quartz" is the signature mineral created by a meteor strike.
 
That program took me back to my childhood days walking home from Ossian Public School on the limestone gravel road now known as the Sand Road (in honor of my father, Nanfred Sand). While walking the road I saw many small examples of what I now believe was "shocked quartz" tiny slivers of rock that sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight 30 or 40 feet ahead. They'd only sparkle for a moment, but with careful focus I could often find these little scraps of rock, about the size of a BB but rectangular in shape and with tiny fracture lines. It was mostly likely shocked quartz that had been driven into the limestone bluffs by the enormous impact of the meteor, quarried 450 million years later to build our local roads.

I knew about those quarries and the role they played in local road construction since my father was a Winneshiek County Supervisor. He used to take me along in the summer as he visited the limestone quarries that provided the raw materials for the county's secondary roads. I loved to watch the dynamite explosions in the quarry faces. These limestone hills could well be enormous hills of limestone thrown out by the meteor impact. Perhaps further research will show how far the limestone rubble could have been thrown. If my assumptions about shocked quartz on an Ossian road are correct, then sampling of various limestone cored hills could determine the radius of thrown debris. Some budding young geologist could do his dissertation on just that.

Years later, while attending Luther in 1953, I watched in equal fascination as work progressed on "The Cut," clearly visible from campus. It was the biggest local road construction effort I'd ever seen, and a copy of Mary Ann Gloe's painting of "The Cut" hangs in my home -- a daily reminder of this huge construction project.
 
I live in California now, but over the years I've paid many visits back to Decorah, mainly to visit my brother, the late Robert Sand, his wife Verna, sons Dan and Dr. Kevin Sand and my sister Helen Sand Schaffer. On my last few visits, I've looked at the Decorah Valley in a whole new light. The famous limestone bluffs, especially Pulpit Rock, now look like the remains of the biggest explosion ever seen -- God's own quarrying job.
 
Viewing "The Cut" nearly six decades later, I've wondered why it came to be built, and how this valley came to be. The county must have spent a huge sum of money to make that massive slice in the hillside.  Was this the least expensive route into Decorah? If so, there must be a rim almost all around the valley -- the classic sign of a meteor crater.
 
To find out, on one of my recent visits to Decorah I called the airport to see if I could arrange a sightseeing flight over the valley. I planned to take some pictures to establish the extent of the rim, and then give them to a local reporter to see what he could find out. Unfortunately, it was too windy to fly that day, and since I'd be leaving soon, I figured I'd just wait till next time. After all, the valley's origins had been a secret for 450 million years, so I thought my next visit would be soon enough. Little did I know.
 
However, I did tell my sisters, Janet Pinch and Marjorie Golden who were visiting our sister Helen Sand Schaffer of my theory about the origins of the valley. I only mention this lest you think this is the fevered dream of a "fame-seeker." Oh well, a nickel late and a dime short.

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