Meteor Crater: Impact site extraordinaire

April 18, 2014
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Meteor Crater photo Steve Davis

I recently visited one of the most extraordinary places on earth. Meteor Crater or Barringer Meteor Crater is located just west of Winslow, Arizona and east of Flagstaff off Interstate 40.

About 50,000 years ago this area was an unbroken plain. An asteroid streaking at 26,000 miles per hour was on an intercept course with the earth. It passed through the atmosphere with almost no loss of speed or mass. It was about 150 feet across and weighed several hundred thousand tons. Striking the plains it created a crater 700 feet deep and over 4000 feet across, all this in 10 seconds.

Today this is the best preserved and first proven meteorite impact site on earth. Relatively speaking this was a very small object that hit the earth. One can only imagine the result of a much larger asteroid strike. By the way when they are in space these objects are called asteroids, but once they enter the atmosphere or impact they become meteors or meteorites. Shooting stars that you see in the night sky are meteors burning up in our atmosphere, if they pass through the atmosphere and actually strike the earth they become meteorites.

Some comparisons to give you an idea of the size of the crater,

  • If a 60 story building was on the bottom of the crater the top would not extend above the rim.
  • Twenty football games could be played simultaneously on the crater floor, while more than two million fans watched from the sloping sides.
  • The Washington monument placed on the bottom would have its top at your eye level as you stood on the rim.

Native Americans spoke of the crater, but the first written account wasn’t until 1871 from one of General Custer’s scouts named Franklin. It was referred to as Franklin’s Hole for years. It was thought to be just another extinct volcano. In 1886 iron-nickel meteorites were found. These led to the belief that the crater might have been formed by a giant meteorite. It wasn’t until 1902 that a mining engineer named Daniel Barringer visited and was convinced it was the impact site of a meteorite.

The crater is located on private land, but in 1968 Meteor Crater was designated a Natural Landmark by the US Department of the Interior.

The visitor centre has fascinating exhibits concerning asteroid strikes all over the world including on-going attempts at early detection of those which may strike the earth. There is an film illustrating the strike of this particular asteroid. The largest piece recovered from the meteor is also on display. It’s about 4 feet in length and consists of iron. Most of the meteor disintegrated upon impact.

On-site is the Discovery Center, Gift & Rock Shop, rest rooms and a Subway outlet. At the intersection of I-40 and access road (exit 233)there is an RV park, country store and gas station. It is open year round including the RV park, but check the website for seasonal hours.

Admission charges when I visited in April 2014 were,

Adult: $16
Senior: $15 (age over 60)
Junior: $8 (ages 6 – 17)
5 & under Free

My son and I were in awe and fascinated by this natural attraction. It gave me lots to think about, like what happens if a huge asteroid or comet hits the earth. The one that streaked through Russian skies last year causing many injuries and extensive damage was not detected beforehand. That’s scary.

Contacts:

Meteor Crater Enterprises

928-289-2362

928-289-4002 RV Park

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeteorCraterEnterprises

Email: info@meteorcrater.com

 

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Great Sand Dunes National Park: An alien world

April 18, 2014
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Great Sand Dunes photo Steve Davis

I visited this park in March 2014. The park is located at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south-central Colorado. It is west of Interstate 25, north of US Highway 160, and east of Colorado 17. Access into the park is excellent, but is a little off the beaten track. It’s well worth the drive.

The huge dunes, North America’s tallest, are the focal point of this park. It was a surreal experience. One could almost visualize being in the Sahara Desert. Star Dune at 755 feet (230 metres) is the tallest in the park. At a close second is High Dune at 699 feet (213 metres).

Evidence shows that humans have lived in the area for 11,000 years. In historic times Southern Ute, Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, gold miners, homesteaders, ranchers, and farmers have lived here.

The dunes are a source of local pride and tourist income. By the 1920s valley residents petitioned for protection of the area. In 1932 it was designated national monument status under the Antiquities Act. Finally in 2000 the dunes and surrounding area became a national park and preserve.

The park facilities include a visitor/interpretive centre, hiking trails, picnic areas and campgrounds. When we visited it was still cool and jackets were a necessity. In summer though the temperature can reach into the 100s F (40s C).

Climbing the dunes is an experience not to be missed, even if you only go part of the way. Carry lots of water and a jacket. A good pair of athletic shoes is all you need, but be prepared to get sand in your shoes. From the visitor centre you have to walk a couple of hundred yards across a flat, beach-like area to get to the dunes.

Being on the dunes is like being in an alien world. As a photographer I was challenged to take the time to find new perspectives, it cries out for a picture every time you look around. It’s possible to slide down the dunes on boards similar to snow boards, these can be rented at a store a short distance outside the park entrance. The ranger told me that normal toboggans, snow boards, or saucers won’t work on the sand. Something about the consistency and make up of it. My son met some kids who let him try it and he was thrilled. They were from Colorado and told us they came here often to try out their skills. The dunes are steep, but forgiving if you fall, you’ll be filled with sand but not injuries.

If you’re looking for an unusual experience then this park is a must.

Contacts:

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
11999 Highway 150
Mosca, CO 81146-9798
USA

719-378-6300
http://www.nps.gov/grsa

 


Haiti – Please Help!

January 15, 2010

Father with dead daughter

As a father of four daughters this news photo touched me deeply. We need to help these people.

Check your local agencies, make sure you pick a reputable one, and then give what you can.


Grand Canyon National Monument 1908

January 11, 2010

Grand Canyon

On this day in history President Theodore Roosvelt designated the Grand Canyon a “National Monument” giving it partial protection. Later on February 26, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signed a law making it a National Park.

I have personally visited the park on three occasions. I consider it one of nature’s greatest marvels. It never ceases to amaze me. I especially like it at sunset with the various shadows and angles of sunlight falling on the rock formations.

Ancient Native Grannaries within the Canyon

The Native peoples considered the canyon sacred. They lived and worked in and around the canyon. There are still several Native reserves close to and in the Canyon.


Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump – Alberta, Canada

September 25, 2009
Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump

Just south of Calgary, where I live, there is a significant historic site.

It’s called Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump and it’s a World Heritage Site as designated by UNESCO.

The site was in use for over 10,000 years by Native Americans.

The bison (buffalo) herds were driven into a chute by the Natives on the top of the cliff and forced over the cliff. When they hit the bottom they died or were severely wounded. Natives at the bottom finished off the survivors and then butchered them. The tribe had food to last the long hard winter. Every part of the bison was used. Nothing was wasted.

At the site there is a great interpretative centre manned by First Nations people who convey their heritage and history to visitors.

The illustration is a Canadian stamp issued a few years ago to draw attention to it and other historic sites in Canada.


It’s a Small, Small World!

March 10, 2008

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Photo of Earth and its Moon from deep space. NASA Johnson Space Center Image ID. S92-52043.

When you look at this picture taken by the Galileo spacecraft on its way to Jupiter, remember that this is also a photo of you, your family and friends, and all that you know in this life. This photo was taken at a distance of 62 million kilometres from Earth. Earth’s moon is in the foreground of the photo.

Galileo was launched by NASA from the Space Shuttle on October 18, 1989 to explore Jupiter and its moons. It arrived at Jupiter December 7, 1995 just less than six years later. After its mission was complete in 2003, it was intentionally crashed into Jupiter making sure it didn’t contaminate any of the moons. Jupiter’s hostile environment destroyed the probe completely.

The Earth is truly a lifeboat in space. Our blue planet is insignificant against the backdrop of our galaxy and our universe. It contains the only life that we know as of this date. An educated guess based on the number of stars in the universe tells us the mathematical odds of other life are high, but to date we earthlings have no hard-evidence to support this.


Total Eclipse of the Moon, Feb. 20, 2008

February 21, 2008

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Above: Chart of the eclipse from NASA.  

Last evening I was treated to an incredible natural event, a total lunar eclipse.  I have seen these before, but not under the ideal conditions of last night; clear sky, no wind and an unusually bright full moon displaying itself for its admirers to gaze on.

Here in Calgary, Alberta the full moon rose in the northeast and first appeared low just above the horizon. Gradually it became higher above the horizon as total darkness fell and by this time was sparkling clear. The night sky filled with stars that shone even through the city lights. At about 6:40 pm local time (Mountain Daylight Time) the lower left edge of the moon began darkening. Over the next sixty minutes the darkness gradually veiled the full moon. By 8:00 pm the sky was completely dark and the moon was entirely obscured with the shadow of the Earth. Above the moon appeared the bright star Regulus and to the lower left Saturn shown brightly. Using high-power binoculars I was able to see the eclipse in all its magnificence. Before the moon was covered the mountains and plains of the moon were able to be seen in amazing clarity. The total eclipse lasted almost an hour.

2008-lunar-eclipse.jpgAs I continued to watch in awe, the veil slowly lifted until the full moon was shining brightly in the crystal clear sky once again. I am sure I will see more lunar eclipses in my lifetime, but this one will be hard to beat. Conditions were just perfect, even with city lights interfering to some extent. I live in the extreme northeast quadrant of my city so lights were not a major factor. (Above: NASA photo of last night’s eclipse at totality.)

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes into Earth’s shadow is blocked from receiving all of the sun’s rays. Because it still receives indirect sunlight through Earth’s atmosphere it doesn’t go totally black. Usually the veiled moon appears slightly reddish or brown depending on how much dust and cloud cover are in the atmosphere. Last evening it had a reddish hue from my vantage point. This was the last total lunar eclipse until 2010. In 2007 there were two, but only one was visible here and cloudy conditions prevented ideal viewing.

The other treat for stargazers was the appearance of the second brightest star in the night sky, Regulus from the constellation Leo.

This star is about 77.5 light-years from the Earth and is 33 times larger than the Sun, our star. The light my eyes saw last evening had taken that long to reach me. That is simply incredible. If that wasn’t enough Saturn appeared to the left of the moon. It too was shining brightly, but of course not blinking since it is a reflective object. Regulus being a star was blinking.

Today reflecting on this event I feel honored to have been able to see nature’s grandeur displayed for us here on Earth. Many take this for granted, but by doing so they are missing a grand show.


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