Meteor Crater

High on my sketch list is a landform 30 miles east on Highway 40 from Flagstaff, Arizona. This is, as writer Bill Bryson says, “the most famous impact site on Earth and a popular tourist attraction”. It is known simply as Meteor Crater.

I left my digs in West Sedona at a quarter to eight for the 90 minute journey to the big depression in the middle of nowhere.

As I headed up Highway 17, from Sedona at 4,350 feet to Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet, the temperature dropped. As I neared Flagstaff the temps hovered just above freezing. This journey was the reason I packed my puffy jacket, gloves, and beanie. It was cold up here with plenty of snow and ice on the ground.

I grazed the outskirts of Flagstaff and then turned east on Highway 40 toward Winslow and New Mexico. Within half an hour I turned south, towards the Meteor Crater.

As you approach the crater, the road is lined with witty signs. Others say, “Four Miles Until Impact”.

Once at the crater I had to find the crater through a maze of admissions, stairs, a gift shop, two theaters, a museum, more stairs, and a corridor or two. But finally I found the observation deck on the rim of the 4,000 foot in diameter crater. It was breathtaking (or maybe just out of breath with all the exertion finding the crater).

What caused this massive 560 foot deep crater? Well scientists surmise that about 50,000 years ago in the Pleistocene Epoch, the Earth was struck by a meteor traveling at about 26,000 miles an hour! The iron-nickel meteorite was about 150 feet wide and weighed several thousand tons. The impact generated a force greater than 20 million tons of TNT. That’s 20,000 kilotons. As a comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was about 15 kilotons of TNT. Most of the meteorite vaporized during the impact, but a few pieces of the meteor have been recovered.

It’s not everyday that you get to touch a meteor!

At the museum it is noted on the crater’s vastness and size: “The Crater is large enough for 20 football games to be played simultaneously on its floor, while more than 2 million people could watch from the side slopes.” If there were sporting events occurring in the crater, you would need some good optics to see what was happening down below. And I found some:

Reading about the crater in Bill Bryson’s excellent book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” was the impetus for my Spring Break Arizona trip and it rekindled my interest in Astronomy.

A pen brush sketch from the upper observation deck.

Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff

For my one week spring break I decided to keep it close and sketch, bird, and nature loaf in the Grand Canyon State (without visiting the Grand Canyon). And also see one of the best meteor crater strikes on planet earth along with the observatory where Pluto was discovered.

The Southwest is a landscape of red-rust rocks, olive greens, and blue skies. I would need a slightly different palette to capture the landscapes around Sedona, a different palette than I use in coastal California.

I added some more paints such as quinacridone burnt orange by Daniel Smith to add to the desert colors I would be using in attempting to render the Arizona landscapes before me.

The beginning of any adventure is creating a map. I may or may not stick to the route but it provides the framework for miracles and wonder (featured sketch).

From my digs in Sedona I would be heading north to the colder climes of Flagstaff and then 37 miles east to the Meteor Crater near Winslow. I want to field sketch the crater from its rim. It will be cold, with a high of 45 so I am bringing my October Yellowstone jacket beanie, and gloves.

Once I get the meteor crater in my sketchbook I will head back to Flagstaff to the Lowell Observatory, my sketching target: the Pluto Discovery Dome where the search for Planet X ended as Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on February 18, 1930.

I return to Phoenix and chose to stay west of downtown. The location is near Skyharbor but also about 40 minutes to the famous “Thrasher Spot”. This legendary birding destination is the best place to see the elusive Le Conte’s thrasher (and three other thrasher species). Good thing I have this desert wraith on my life list already. This nemesis bird took a lot of time and legwork to see, but I finally saw a Le Conte’s on January 4, 2019 just west of the landfill at Borrego Springs. But I do not have Bendire’s thrasher and if I see this bird, I will close out all North American thrashers!