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Berringer and Uplift Craters

Last month we made a trip to the Four Corners area. In addition to hiking and viewing magnificent scenery, I made it a point to visit meteor impact sites. I visited the world famous Berringer Crater is about a half dozen miles south of I-70 east of Flagstaff Arizona. If you haven't been there, it is certainly worth a visit. The site has a well designed museum, interactive displays that show you simulations of the various meteor impact and meteor fragments up to a ton or more. From the crater rim, you can see the entire impact area. While you can take a short guided walk on the rim, you are prohibited from entering the bowl or circling the rim.

The much less well known Uplift Crater in Islands in the Sky within Canyonlands National park west of Moab Utah really caught my attention. This Crater was once thought to be an extinct volcanic vent until it was carefully researched. When meteors strike the earth, they create several types of minerals which occur nowhere else [tektites (globules of molten glass like material) and shatter cones]. Tektites and shatter cones are created by sudden impacts and the accompanying quick temperature rise and fall. Volcanoes lack the violent sudden impacts with rapid temperatures changes.

Uplift Crater can only be reached by a walk that requires sturdy shoes and drinking water. There is a road which brings you quite near the area, but it is more than 36 miles to the nearest town Moab. Since Mob itself is fairly isolated, very few people disturb Uplift Crater. The National park Service still allows people to enter the Uplift Crater. There is an 8 mile trail around the entire crater (up and down, in and out), plus two shorter craters trails to outlooks of a couple of miles total. It is possible, though not very advisable to enter the crater due to the unforgiving terrain.

What makes Uplift Crater so spectacular is the "uplift" of the ground. In Berringer Crater, material from the hole was thrown back over surrounding land forming a gentle cone shape. The material on top came from the deepest part of the crater. The original top of the crater is sandwiched in the middle of the cone. In Uplift Crater, much less of the material was thrown back on itself, it simply tipped upright. What was on the bottom now are on the walls of the uplifted cylinder.

You can look into the crater and see layer after layer of sedimentary rock layer than make up the four state area. It is exposed in sharp relief. Since they layers are radically different in color, it makes for a spectacular sight. They are blue gray layers, orange layers, brick red layers and granite gray layers all torn open.

Berringer Crater is about 4000 feet across. Uplift crater is smaller, about half that size. Neither crater is the largest in the world, or even North America. The huge meteor which ended the age of dinosaurs at Chixalub ( Yucatan, Mexico) has been measured at about 115 miles across.

When these craters were first determined to be meteoric, people thought that the crater was the same size as the meteor. In fact, the craters are far larger than the meteor. A mining company was established to mine the iron from Berringer's Crater. Berringer expected to find a huge deposit, but in reality only a small amount of iron was obtained or located. Most of the hole is carved out by the blast when the kinetic energy of the falling meteor is converted to heat and blast energy. Even the huge Chixalub crater was probably caused by a meteor no more than six miles across.

The planets are currently playing hide and seek. The inner five planets are behind the Sun. The outer three planets don't rise until the wee hours of the morning. If you come to Frosty Drew, well be glad to show you galaxies and stars galore, but we'll all have to wait until Fall to see planets. Still, if we have to miss a season with the planets, summer with its short nights and long twilight this is probably the best season to lose. Still I'd rather see Mars, Jupiter or Saturn.

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
May 1, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Columns
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