Fire from the Sky – Meteor Crater
About 15 miles west of Winslow, Arizona, you turn off at the aptly named Meteor Crater Road exit. Nothing is here, save a large and friendly service station, too big for something this close to a city, but otherwise out-in-the-middle of no where. Meteor Crater Rd is narrow and dusty, and it’s entirely possible you will need to stop for migrating cattle. As far as the eye can see, it’s a private ranch, but it’s hard-life in the high deserts and you’ve still got 5 miles to go, right into the heart-of-it.
One fateful day, about 50,000 years ago, life would have been even harder, impossible frankly, for residents of this remote part of the world. Although, not because of the ecology. At the time, this area was grassland with woods, roamed by mammoths, giant sloths and other inhabitants of ancient southwest America. But on that day, a meteorite, probably about 160 or more feet across, pierced the atmosphere and slammed to the ground, releasing an estimated 10 megatons of energy. The impact would have instantly killed everything for a minimum of 3 miles all around, and the blast wave would have been hot enough to have a near 100% probability of causing 3rd degree burns to anything as far as 20 miles away.
Unknown by European settlers until the 19th century, the crater was originally determined to be of volcanic origin. In 1903, Daniel M. Barringer, a miner, believed the crater to be a meteor impact, and staked a claim to the land to mine for iron. Science was skeptical of Barringer’s theory, and the mine failed to strike ore. Eugene Shoemaker discovered rare silicas at the site in 1960, silicas which are found only in rocks formed during instantaneous overpressure generated by meteor impacts. He confirmed Barringer’s theory, proveing that this was, indeed, Meteor Crater.
The thing is huge and deep. I think, in my mind I expected it to feel larger, but there’s something about the flatness of the surrounding landscape that muted that sense for me. Don’t get get me wrong, there is no mistaking the scale of the crater, and the knowledge that something just a bit bigger than half-a-football-field long created it. Looking out over the crater give one a sense of awe and wonder, and if you are in the area, you should definitely experience it yourself. The visitors center has a great staff, and a few interesting exhibits over-and-above the crater itself. It’s reasonably priced, $16 for adults and $8 for kids, Seniors don’t catch much of a break at $15 though. They must be on to the retired RV’ing crowd, I’d guess.