Monday, October 24, 2011

Meteor Crater & Petrified Forest

Our goal for the day was to visit the Meteor Crater and then drive further on I-40 to see the Petrified Forest and some of the Painted Desert.

Here is a fragment of the meteorite that hit the ground near Winslow, Arizona about 50,000 years ago. It went into the ground and then exploded, killing everything within a 14 mile radius, and leaving a large crater. The blast was 20 megatons, or 1000 times the blast of the Hiroshima bomb.

As meteorites go, it wasn't that large but it was dense (made of nickel and iron) and is estimated to have been traveling about 26,000 miles per hour when it hit.

Based on the shape of the crater, which is round but has four distinct corners, the angle of entry could have been anything from 30 degrees to 90 degrees. An angle of less than 30 degrees produces an oblong crater.

Our guide on the walk on the rim told us that initially the crater was believed to be the result of a volcanic steam explosion. But mining engineer and property owner Daniel Barringer believed it was an impact crater. He invested many years and a lot of money mining the area at the center searching for the buried meteor to prove his theory.

It turns out he should have been searching the area outside the crater, where the explosion had thrown the fragments.

It was Eugene Shoemaker, the first geologist scheduled to walk on the moon, who finally proved that this was an impact crater. One hint was the inverted layers at top, along the rim. The oldest rock now rests at the top.

Shoemaker was disqualified from the Apollo astronaut program when he was diagnosed with Addison's disease. Instead, he trained future astronauts--bringing them to the Meteor Crater and to Sunset Crater (the volcanic area we visited on Day 7). Both areas are similar to terrain the astronauts would experience on the moon.

Meanwhile, Shoemaker continued to look for scientific verification that this was an impact crater. He found it on a visit to the atomic bomb test site in Nevada. At the test site, he found shocked quartz--created by the blast. The same shocked quartz is present in the soil at Meteor Crater. Since then, scientists have found shocked quartz at other meteorite impact sites around the world. There are about 150 known meteorite impact sites worldwide.

The property is still privately owned by the Barringer family. We paid $14 each to get in. There are viewing platforms as well as the walking tour on the rim with the guide. Only a few people get permission to take the primitive path to the bottom.

The rocks in this area contain many fossils. Here are a couple of examples the guide showed us.

The movie Starman with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen was filmed at the crater.

Back on the I-40 we decided to stop for lunch in Winslow at the Turquoise Room in the La Posada Hotel, another railroad hotel designed by Mary Colton. This one is the site of the Winslow Amtrak stop. You can sit outside in a rocking chair while you wait for your train to arrive. The inside is similar to La Fonda in Santa Fe, NM, which she also designed.

The food was outstanding. I ordered the Lamb Churro Posole.

The free range heritage breed lamb comes from a ranch in Newcombe, NM. It was tender and the broth intensely flavorful.

Dave ordered the Barbequed Bison Short Rib Sandwich.

The chef used a blackberry barbecue sauce on the pulled meat and topped it with a chipotle slaw. The bun was a La Brea Telme roll, slightly crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The sweet potato fries were lightly crisp.

All entrees are served with Mesquite glazed cornbread.

I'm guessing the glaze is made with a mesquite tea that is made into a glaze.

After lunch we continued east to Holbrook and then took the road to the Petrified Forest National Park. I noticed that as we got closer, the landscape still looked like a desert, with no large trees.

Uhh, there is no forest. Well, there was a forest here 225 million years ago, but that was when Arizona was close to equator.

These trees died along the waterways, floated downstream, formed log jams, and became buried under layers of sediment.

Silica from volcano ash gradually replaced the organic wood. Iron, manganese, and carbon also replaced the wood, adding to the range of colors as the trees hardened into petrified wood.

The park is trying to preserve these specimens but theft is ongoing. They are truly beautiful.

They do sell petrified wood at the National Park gift shop, but it's from private property, not the National Forest property. Fines for picking up "free" samples are $350.

If you continue on the road through the forest back to I-40, you go through Painted Desert. We were leaving after 5 pm so we weren't allowed to stop to take photos. These are photos taken from the car window.

No comments: