Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hike 2014.050A -- Meteor Crater, AZ

Hiked Saturday, September 27. First of a series of short walks and hikes that collec-tively compose my mere 50th hike of the year. Yes, I'm still annoyed by my lack of hiking opportunities!
Meteor Crater is located just a bit west of Winslow, AZ, and somewhat further east from Flagstaff, AZ, and a mere 6 miles or so south of I-40. Back in 2011, I drove both ways on I-40, but elected to visit nearby national parks (Petrified Forest) and national monuments (Wupatki and Sunset Volcano Crater). There were also sites in New Mexico I wanted to visit (El Malpais and Petroglyph, both going and coming), so I didn't feel I could spare yet another stop so close to all those others.
Still, the siren call of this scar from a 50,000 year old cosmic collision continued to sound, eventually drawing me back to Arizona. In this case, I combined it with a trip to Canyon de Chelly and Walnut Canyon. It was a lot of activity (and driving) to pack into a 3 1/2 day trip that started in the Los Angeles Area and detoured into Henderson, NV.
Just as a FYI, Meteor Crater is NOT a national park or national monument; it's not managed by any of the federal land management agencies, and your America the Beautiful Pass will not get you in free of charge. This place is privately owned, having been claimed and patented under the Mining Act of 1872. A guy named Daniel Barringer believed this crater was, in fact, created by a meteorite, and he believed he could acquire a tremendously large, very pure chunk of iron, by digging around inside the crater.
As it turns out, Barringer was right about this crater being meteoric in nature, but wrong about finding a large chunk of the impactor inside the crater. In fact, the parent body largely vaporized on impact, leaving the blast hole and the raised rim of the crater (that are very visible in some of the later, the later, departing shot, four pictures below.
Nonethe-less, you can acquire land under the Mining Act by working the claim, regardless of if you actually find anything. So it came to pass that Barringer gained clear fee title to the land around the crater that now bears his name.
Being a private facility, the entry fee is set by supply and demand. Currently, that balance is $18/person. Yes, comparatively speaking, that's quite a lot. But it is by far the best preserved meteor crater on earth.
There are several levels from which you can observe the crater, including one that is indoors. That means even foul weather will not keep you from getting a peek at the crater.
The crater is about one mile in diameter. That size is often lost in photos, because there's no sense of scale. So the sequence above gives you an idea: First, if you go up six shots, you're looking from the highest observation point, across the entire crater. Note the small white area near the center.
The next shot in the sequence was taken with my zoom set at 70mm, making it a modest telephoto. This is the same white area you sall in the previous picture. Now, go to the next shot. That one's with my zoom at 300mm. Finally, the fence surrounding the white area is visible.
On the fence is a cutout of an astronaut and a flag. The astronaut is six feet tall; the flag is 3x5 feet. And they're completely invisible in the wide angle shot, and not really visible with the short telephoto.
On-line reviews of Meteor Crater range from "It's awesome" to "It's a hole in the ground." Both are correct. Like a lot of science, you can't really appreciate what you're seeing until you can put this in context.

There's not a lot of hiking you can do here. I doubt I covered more than 1/2 mile, on the paved walking trails and stairs immediately adjacent to the visitor center. There are supposed to be short tours which I believe take you maybe a 1/4 mile away, but you're not allowed to circumnavigate the crater. That would speed erosion and destroy scientific evidence of the cosmic origins of this remarkable feature.

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