There was no room at the inn at the Grand Canyon, so after spending the day there I headed for Flagstaff, which had a youth hostel. I figured I could relive my youth as well as be down only $20 for the night, as opposed to 50. I got to bed around midnight, entering into a room with – what else – three snoring Germans. They snored loudly and distressingly all night – at times they would stop snoring and it would sound like they were choking to death, then resume their snoring. The room stank too, a small room improperly ventilated for four sleepers. I would have opened the window, but it was in the 20s that night and I always presume (and am basically always correct) that other people do not like it to be 50 degrees and breezy in their bedrooms, as I do.
I called the sleeping efforts quits at 5 a.m., grabbed my backpack and headed out of Flagstaff. The place looked grimy and bleak, but it was 5 a.m. after all. I failed to find a place to eat breakfast, and by 6 a.m. I was at my next stop, Meteor Crater. Surprisingly this was privately owned and the site did not open until 8 a.m. I drove to the locked gate, where there was no parking, then headed back down the road to find a suitable pull-off. I walked to the barbed wire which surrounded the crater but found no break in it. So I returned to my truck and dozed off a few times over the next two hours.
My sleep would occasionally be interrupted by cars going to the site and then returning disappointed from its locked gates. This struck me as bad business, especially since 1) the site is not that far from I-40 traffic from New Mexico, where Daylight Savings Time is observed and it is 9 a.m., not 8 a.m. 2) it is an exposed, sunny site which is best to visit (and photograph) early in the morning. Nor did they at least keep their parking lot open to give visitors like me a place to wait.
This is one of the places that looks exactly like the pictures, neither better nor worse. There’s not much to see there – they don’t let you into the crater and they only let you walk the rim with a guide, which I saw no reason to do. It is undeniably an impressive sight, though the lack of anything to do makes a visit likely to be brief. As an unusual topographic feature of the earth – there are not very many meteor craters – it is surprising that the crater is privately owned, though beyond the incompetence there doesn’t seem to be any problem with this arrangement.
It was apparently difficult to determine that the crater was the result of a meteor impact, for the simple reason that no meteorite was ever found that could at all correspond to the size of the crater. (The largest fragment was about two feet across and found not in the crater but a slight distance away – certainly not sufficient to explain a crater a mile across. Very few fragments, in general, were found). Information in the museum on meteor impacts convinced me that their physics may not be very well understood, or perhaps the speeds and forces are too great for human common sense, which is all I had to rely on, to work effectively. Large meteorites have been found without impact craters, and large impact craters have been found without meteorites. The Tunguska Event in Siberia is an example of a massive explosion which leveled forests but produced no crater.
I remember studying Inyo Crater on a geology field trip trying to determine precisely this question, whether the explosion that produced the crater was volcanic or meteoritic. The absence here of any typical traces of vulcanism is the best evidence, and the rock at the site is limestone and sandstone, the same stuff as the Grand Canyon, with no traces of volcanic rock anywhere.
Cars give us this power, to string together a series of disconnected desiderata and call it a trip. My next stop was Petrified Forest National Park.