Visiting the Meteor Crater in Arizona was part of our Road trip through the states of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The first leg of our journey started from San Francisco and ended at Las Vegas, via Yosemite National Park and Anaheim, Los Angeles . The second leg started from Las Vegas and covered the areas of North and South rims of the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon in between and then the Meteor Crater in Arizona and ended in Phoenix. The previous travelogues speaks about our trip through the Grand Canyon and you can read it here.
This Meteor Crater was created when a meteorite approximately 43 miles (69 km) fell down at a location east of Flagstaff ,Arizona, near Winslow in the northern Arizona desert of the United States. Meteor Crater is a slight detour from Flagstaff towards Phoenix and the scenic beauty on the way is mind-boggling. Arizona turned out to be one state where you can see pine trees, palm trees and cactus plants in one day. Even the colors of the rocks and soil change from red to green to yellow to white to grey and to red again.
After all this changing scenery we hit a vast arid stretch of land …of course it was the Arizona desert.
The more we came closer to the Crater the more arid the landscape turned out to be. Soon we saw the sign leading to the crater, and the parking lot –which was also marked-was visible from a distance but the crater itself was not at all visible from outside.
After parking the car and getting out you are enticed by a number of signs in the form of Dinosaur Footprints preparing us to be ready for the ‘IMPACT’ guiding us towards the entrance of the visitor centre. This strategy was enough to arouse ones curiosity and on top of that you could see tiny human forms at a distance strolling on an elevated ridge.
On entering we first came to an open, well maintained patio which was picture-pretty. On one side of the patio there was a long brick wall with a huge window through which you could see the vast desert and the vaster blue sky with beautiful floating clouds …the perfect backdrop to take a photo .There was also an Astronaut Wall of Fame and an Apollo boilerplate command module -all these gave a feeling of experiencing something extra-terrestrial – arousing the curiosity of anybody willing to know about life beyond the mundane and those of stars and skies and meteors and meteorites.
It was hot outside and the Visitor Centre gave us respite from the heat .The inside was rather informative with a small museum consisting of display boards giving information on astrology ,astronomy , geography and history all combined in one. It also gave me time to ponder on what actually a meteor and a crater were. A METEOROID is a small rock or particle of debris in our solar system. A meteoroid that burns up as it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere is known as a METEOR. A METEORITE ,on the other hand, is a portion of a meteoroid or asteroid that survives its passage through the earth’s atmosphere and hits the ground without being destroyed. From a movie shown at the theatre inside what we came to know about an IMPACT CRATER is that it’s somewhat like a scar on the earth’s surface left by the hypervelocity crash of a meteorite.
Meteor Crater actually gives you the impression that you are observing a crater made by a meteorite –a huge hole too big to be man -made but just the right size to see in its entirety.
Meteor Crater is perhaps the best-known example of a small impact crater on the Earth. The crater was created about 50,000 years ago when the local climate on the Colorado Plateau was much cooler and damper. At the time, the area was an open grassland dotted with woodlands inhabited by woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths.
I went to the observation deck to see the Crater. There was an exit on the left which lead to the deck and to the three viewing posts on the rim. One was a little up to the north and the one a little below was shaded so I went to the middle one which protruded over the Crater and saw the Crater for the first time .Not only was it huge-almost the size of twenty football fields according to the information given- but it was very neatly preserved .
The rim was covered with boulders ,all smashed ,shattered ,jumbled, and cluttered, some of them resembling huddled up elephant calves, and it rose 150 feet above the level of the surrounding plain. The crater itself was nearly a mile wide, and 570 feet deep but it wasn’t possible to go down into the crater or walk along the rim except for the limited access through a door on the right side of the visitor’s center. According to the info given the rim was about 2.5 miles around so anybody could easily have walked around it to fully understand its magnitude but that was not allowed and people had to take in whatever they could from the areas chosen for them.
To compensate for that , I guess , quite a few telescopes were put up on the deck through which you could see different parts of the crater with various exhibits and objects placed inside the crater to give the viewers a sense of size and perspective. A lot of plaques had been put up at strategic positions to give as much information as possible.
There was a cave somewhere on one side, a huge rock, a fenced area, a broken airplane ,an astronaut figure holding the US flag –all at the bottom of the crater, and other such displays which looked like tiny dots and blurs through the naked eye but which were visible only when we looked through the telescopes.
Our guide was funny and did give a detailed history of the crater and how it was created but what made the tour enjoyable were the interesting morsels of crater gossip he provided. In a nutshell, he aroused our curiosity with the human side of the story.
In 1903 Daniel M. Barringer, a mining engineer and businessman was the person who suggested that the crater had been produced by the impact of a large iron-metallic meteorite. He was the reason behind the popularity of the Meteor Crater. The crater is privately owned by the Barringer family through their Barringer Crater Company, which proclaims it to be the “best preserved meteorite crater on Earth”. Here is a YouTube Video on the Meteor Crater, Arizona.
Our guide went on explaining how the Crater reached our planet-it came at a speed of …well …the time it takes to reach Los Angeles to New York in 5 minutes. . The explosion created by its impact was equal to 2.5 megatons of TNT, or about 150 times the force of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
Standing there with the guide and other visitors the experience was slightly different. On this side of the rim there was no barrier to keep us from looking down or sliding down or even jumping down. One jump and that would be the end of dear life.
After returning to the Visitor Centre just to pass time we fooled around with a big chunk of crater ..the only piece found intact from the blast- which looked like a big ,black ,shiny piece of porous rock ,posing in front of it, pretending to pick it up and making faces not being able to .
While leaving I had to stop in front of the picturesque brick wall again and look out into the vast expanse in front of me questioning the purpose of the window…. I guess the picture perfect view complemented the aberration created on the surface of earth by a foreign body.