Every time I’ve been on I-40, my traveling companions haven’t wanted to see Meteor Crater, voting me down. This time it was just Ernie and me, and we were in accord. About 50,000 years ago, a big iron meteor slammed into the sedimentary rocks of the floodplain/ancient ocean in Northeast Arizona and made a fascinating crater. A big trailing chunk that probably broke off when the meteor impacted the atmosphere was found in Canyon Diablo (the Devil’s Canyon we passed through on our first day?) and is on display in the Visitor’s Center. It’s a roughly egg-shaped chunk of 97% iron, maybe 2 1/2 feet from end to end, and weighs almost 1500 lbs.
We were planning to drive straight to Flagstaff, but when I saw the sign for Walnut Canyon, I said, “What the heck, you want to see it?” and Ernie said “Why not?” It’s one of those whimsical decisions that turns out to be good fortune. The canyon is close to Flagstaff, it's a hidden treasure that you find at the end of a little forest road. There, you can see the effect of the extensive volcanic fields in this part of Arizona. The Canyon is layered (from bottom to top) in cross-bedded sandstone that used to be sand dunes next to an ancient seashore, weathered by wind into rounded shapes with swirling lines, topped by layers of Kaibab limestone from when the sea extended farther inland. The creek has worn the canyon down several hundred feet, and the water carved deeper into the limestone and sandstone than the overlying lava, so it made a good place for cave dwellings.
We decided to drive to Sunset Crater because it was also close and it was only about 3:00 p.m. We took the Lava Field trail and were astonished -- lava that’s only about 1000 years old! It’s a massive flow of wild shapes, and the contrast with the snow is interesting. The volcanic cone sits above, partially collapsed, its ashy side still too sterile for most plants.
WEDNESDAY: If you want to Find Flagstaff, look for the volcanoes. But without Highways 89, 180, and 64, and the National Park Service, you wouldn’t find the Grand Canyon until you fell into it.
is going to require it’s own blog entry.