Meteor Crater, Arizona and Winslow, Arizona
You are hunting pronghorn antelope, and suddenly the herd freezes and bolts away frantically. Puzzled, you look up into the afternoon Arizona sky and see this incredibly bright light streaking across the sky heading right toward you! Every second the light gets bigger and brighter. It is moving toward you at an unfathomable speed. Suddenly, you hear an incredibly loud roar, louder than any thunder you’ve ever heard. The ground shakes. Now the light is so bright you cannot look at it, but the glimpse you had shows its really big now. Another tremendous roar with more shaking. You run away as fast as you possibly can! But it’s too late. For a brief second, there is a monumentous explosion. You are completely obliterated in a split second. The northern Arizona landscape is instantaneously changed forever.
That’s what it would have been like to experience the meteor that slammed into northern Arizona about 50,000 years ago near what is now Winslow. A nickel-iron core meteorite about 160 feet (about 49 meters) in diameter smashed into the earth at around 29,000 miles per hour (that’s about 12.96 kilometers per second)! The force of the impact has been estimated at 10 Megatons of TNT!
A megaton is 1 million tons. For comparison purposes the atomic bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945 released about 15 kilotons (a kiloton is 1000 tons) of TNT energy. So, the energy released when that meteorite slammed into the earth was 667 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb!
The impact vaporized nearly everything around it and dug a crater about 3900 feet (1200 meters) in diameter, and originally about 660 feet (201 meters) deep. The tremendous force of that meteorite turned the rock layers upside down as they were redeposited all around the crater. Today the Barringer Meteor Crater, as it is known, is about 560 feet deep, and the rim rises about 148 feet (45 meters) above the surrounding landscape.
There are very, very few visible meteor craters on earth today. Between erosion and the plate tectonics most of the impact craters have been wiped away. When viewed from high altitude the crater looks remarkably like what we see on our moon, or even on Mars.
The evening of my trip through the Petrified Forest, I had a hotel reservation in Holbrook, Arizona which is not too far west of the Park. Prior to the trip I found a place called the 66 Motel in Holbrook right on old Route 66. The photos looked pretty good, so I made the reservation for two nights thinking it would be cool to experience a bit of historic nostalgia.
I mean I knew it wasn’t going to be a 5 star hotel, but the photos made it look like it was clean and decent. Well, when I got there, boy did I get a nasty surprise! The place was a total dump; the room stunk like it hadn’t been aired out in 5 years. I really didn’t know what to do, so I decided to just go get some dinner and think about things. I found a really wonderful little restaurant on the other end of town called Bienvenidos. It is a family diner with really great food and service.
While at dinner I kept thinking about the dank motel and who would even stay there. I just didn’t feel comfortable about staying there at all. So, I found a room at the Best Western near the Bienvenidos Restaurant, and moved over there. That proved to be a great decision.
However, the next morning when I was getting ready to head to breakfast then off to the Meteor Crater about 45 miles away, I was thinking about returning my room key to the folks at the 66 Motel. I totally forgot my camera gear in my room at the Best Western. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until I was in the parking lot at the Meteor Crater!
After some choice words that I won’t repeat here, I just decided to use my phone. So, the photo quality in this post isn’t quite as good as those from my Nikon D500. My Samsung Galaxy just doesn’t handle the higher dynamic range situations nearly as well as the Nikon. That’s probably because I always shoot in raw files, and then convert them to JPG’s later while my phone just shoots in JPG files.
While the Barringer Meteor Crater is a US National Landmark, it is owned and administered by the Barringer family company. Back in the early 1900s, Daniel Barringer (the land owner) proposed that this crater was produced from an impact with a meteorite, not a volcano as was the prevailing thought at that time. He spent many years mining the bottom of the crater, thinking that there would be this huge meteorite underneath. There was not. The largest fragment that has been found is in the museum at the crater and is about 18 inches across, but very heavy due to its iron-nickel composition. Most of the meteorite was vaporized upon impact, and what wasn’t was turned into tiny little fragments that are scattered all over the area, as far as up to 12 miles away!
During the Apollo space program our astronauts trained at the crater for the lunar landings. Where else in the world would they find such a perfectly preserved meteor impact crater so similar to the lunar landscape?
The crater site houses a wonderful museum, a nice cafe and gift store, and they run several tours out to the crater rim several times a day. There are also multiple observation platforms on the north side where the buildings are located. No one is permitted to hike the crater rim or down into the crater without the express permission of the Barringer company. They want to limit foot traffic to keep erosion and human impact as small as possible at it is indeed a national landmark. In fact, if you magnify my crater photos, you may see the faint remains of the old trail on the southern side down to the Barringer mine from over 100 years ago.
For anyone who is a bit of a space or geology nerd, the place is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the crater, and was actually there for several hours. The weather was pretty good that day, especially for June in Arizona.
On the way back to Holbrook from the meteor crater, I took old Route 66 right through the heart of Winslow, Arizona – the closest town to the Barringer Meteor Crater. Well, if you are a classic rock music fan, you’re probably heard the Eagles song, “Take it Easy”. Here is the “flatbed Ford”. The girl wasn’t in the Ford. 😂
Winslow has really taken the Eagles song to heart and is doing a lot of business from the tourism from old Route 66 and the band. The old downtown is quite nice and looks like a fun place to hang out, shop and eat. I just got out and walked around taking a few photos as I was wanting to get back to my hotel in Holbrook hoping that my camera was there in the room where I remembered leaving it.
Winslow was a blast; I really need to come back here with my wife for a little vacation. I’m sure she would love to explore the shops and restaurants.
Well, when I returned to my room at the Best Western in Holbrook, there was my camera, sitting by the chair just where I left it. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but I really felt stupid for leaving my camera. However, later that evening a bit of a storm was rolling in, and I was able to capture this cool sunset image of Holbrook with my Nikon – yeah!
I have no idea where I stayed with my folks when I was a kid when we last visited this area. But I have wanted to return to the meteor crater since that day when I was small child. This trip has been a total blast, and my next post should give you all more interesting scenery. Stay tuned.
I really hope you are enjoying this series about the Route 66 trip. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog. Stay safe out there and stay positive; there are glimmers of normality.