THE HUMAN SIDE OF THE STORY : A Family Road Trip
This time our guide turned out to be better than the previous person. The guide Samit had gone with was a grumpy, unapproachable sort but the second guide was a tall, reedy fellow with a pleasant twang and had a candid languor in him which for some reason made him very likeable. He took a couple of tourists- which included me – on a short walk to another part of the rim ,this time through a glass door on the right side of the visitor’s center at the Meteor Crater, Arizona. It was hot and sunny outside so he advised us to take a cap and drinking water to protect ourselves.
He 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.
This is the 7th installment of the travelogue on Meteor Crater Arizona, part of our family road trip through the states of Arizona, Texas Utah and Nevada in western USA … You can read it from the beginning. Click Here …
The history of the discovery of the crater turned out to be pretty interesting. It was first discovered by European settlers in the 19th century. It was popular enough to have a change of name from time to time. In the beginning it was called the Canyon Diablo crater named after the closest community Canyon Diablo in Arizona, which unfortunately now is a ghost town – it was initially thought that it was created by a volcano since the San Francisco volcanic field lied near to it. In 1891, Grove Karl Gilbert, chief geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, investigated the crater and concluded that it was the result of a volcanic steam explosion.
Soon the crater got a new name. Since the United States Board on Geographic Names commonly recognizes names of natural phenomena derived from the post office nearest to it, the crater acquired the name Meteor Crater from the nearby post office named Meteor. Now why the post office got this name the guide didn’t mention.
In 1903, mining engineer and businessman Daniel M. Barringer suggested that the crater had been produced by the impact of a large iron-metallic meteorite. Barringer’s company, the Standard Iron Company, staked a mining claim to the land and received a land patent signed by Theodore Roosevelt. Scientists now refer to the crater as Barringer Crater in honor of Daniel Barringer. 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”.
Though given such honor later in life , Barringer’s arguments were met with skepticism at that time. . Not to be bogged down the poor fellow tried hard to prove his theory by locating the remains of the meteorite. At the time of the first discovery, the surrounding plains were covered with large oxidized iron meteorite fragments. This led Barringer to believe that pieces of the crater could still be found under the crater floor. There was still very little knowledge on impact craters at the time and Barringer was unaware that most of the meteorite had vaporized on impact. He spent twenty seven years trying to locate a large deposit of meteoric iron, and drilled as much as he could to the bottom but nothing was ever found. Poor fellow thought he’d be rich digging out all that ore but alas !that was not to be!!
Scientists were skeptical way through the 20th century and it was only in the 1950s when planetary science gained in maturity and understanding of cratering processes increased that people’s notions changed.
In 1960 research by Eugene Merle Shoemaker confirmed Barringer’s hypothesis. He discovered the presence of rare forms of silica called coesite and stishovite which are not only absent on earth but also found only where quartz-bearing rocks have been severely shocked either by a nuclear explosion or an extra-terrestrial impact and never by volcanic action.