Friday, June 24, 2016

Arizona May 2016 Westward Ho! 17 Meteor Crater Winslow AZ

Driving west from Holbrook headed toward our next stop - Cottonwood and the Dead Horse Ranch State Park campground and Sedona to see friends - we start seeing signs for Meteor Crater.  Hey, that's the place I wanted to go in 2006 when we were planning the trip to Grand Canyon! (that never materialized because Don's work intervened) Wanna go?  Sure. We did. It's a 13 mile detour outside Flagstaff, in Winslow AZ and we had plenty of time.

OK I am not THAT familiar with the size of a football field but I know they are pretty big and at the base of this crater you could fit 9 of them.  The sides of the crater, if fitted with bleachers, could seat 2 million people.  This thing is HUGE!  I could not even fit it all on the screen of my phone camera which has a pretty wide lens, so forget my wide angle lens. And deep: a 60 story building sitting at the base would not reach the rim.  And windy?  Yes, it can be (snicker): they have clocked gusts at 185 mph/297 kmh/12 on the Beaufort Scale.  The rim tour was closed because they were 35 mph/56 kmh with gusts to 55 mph/88.5 kmh.  So, yeah, windy.

Meteor Crater is the best preserved meteor crater in the world and its story is interesting.  50,000 years ago a meteor 150 ft/45 m in diameter, traveling at 26,000 mph/ 11623.04 m/sec hit this spot. (It would take many years to prove it was, in fact, a meteor and much was learned about meteors in the process.)   But to give you an idea of how fast it was traveling: if you got on a plane in NY flying to Los Angeles, you'd arrive in 5 minutes, London, England to Cape Town SA or Cairo, Egypt to Tokyo, Japan in about 20 min...or around the earth, at the equator, in just under and hour. Fast.

The guy whose family actually owns this land now, was a mining engineer, a Mr Barringer, in Philadelphia who filed a claim to dig because he believed a meteor had struck.  Unhappily he also believed that it would be an intact object buried under millennia of desert rock and sand.  He dug for 25 years (when time allowed) and never discovered the meteor.  Then the Crash of 1929 happened, his funding dried up, he gave up and returned to Philadelphia for good and died soon afterwards. However, because he had held the land for so long it was considered his and after his death the family rented it out to ranchers.  One day a cowboy found a rather large chunk of what he believed was part of what he believed was part of the meteor.  At over 1400 lbs/635Kg he couldn't just lift it and carry it back with him so he got 4 friends and a truck to go fetch it.  They STILL couldn't lift it and finally moved it using planks and boards.  Then they put it in the tack room and used it for hanging saddles and other gear.  It now sits in the museum, where for many years guides would strike it with a hammer to demonstrate that it is metal, as the largest piece that has been found to date.  Pieces have been found as far as 300 mi /480 Km away.

The commercial part of the operation has its own story. Through the 30s and 40s many people would come to look at the crater and finally one of the enterprising members of the family started charging 25 cents to see it.  From there the operation grew and a building was erected in 1961 with huge windows for viewing but within 2 years they learned why this was a bad design...the winds.  The entire building was destroyed in a storm and so the one there now, far bigger and housing a museum and gift shop, as well as an auditorium, is built according to exacting standards. 

The really interesting part is the science though.  Even though Barringer was sure the crater was caused by a meteor, his lack of discovery of some huge piece of matter and the lack of knowledge about them led many scientists to insist that this was a volcanic steam vent.  The absence of volcanic rock did not sway them from this opinion and it was only in 1960 while Gene Shoemaker was working on his PhD at Princeton University that it was proven.  Shoemaker studied the affects of impact craters formed by nuclear bomb testing in Yucca Flats, Nevada and discovered coesite or shocked quartz which forms when high pressure is applied.  He also found that the strata of the rock layers was reversed.   Later, Shoemaker would lead the NASA astronauts into the crater to simulate craters of the moon, especially encountering the rim.  The exercise was helpful, even to the point of showing that the astronauts suits needs to be made of stronger material when one of them ripped his suit while scrambling down the side. 

The various meteors moving around "out there"

As you walk back out to the parking area, the San Francisco Peaks are framed by a window in the brick wall.  Sacred mountains to many of the Native Nations, including the Navajo Dook'o'oosłííd the western component of the 4 sacred mountains
After 2 hours and lunch we got back on the road to Cottonwood...

MAP of our Travels in AZ

Previous Stop: Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook AZ

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