An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine
by Jim Tobin

 

"What Kind of Animal. . ."

As I sit and write this article it is within a day or two of exactly one hundred years since D. M. Barringer first saw Meteor Crater. It had been a year since the trail had been cut into the crater. Even longer since the first meteorite fragments had been collected and the patents on the claims applied for. Finally, in Late March of 1904 he made the trip to the crater "to see what kind of animal we have caught in our trap." He loved to hunt and his statement May reflect that love. But, it certainly shows that there was a great amount of work to do and a vast frontier of ignorance to begin carving away at; as far as impact craters is concerned. None in fact had ever been investigated before he and his partners turned the first shovels of dirt.

Even in the first months before the visit by Barringer some significant discoveries had already been made. For example the lowest possible age of the crater had been determined from the trees growing on the rim. Of course we know today that the age of 6 to 7 hundred years of some trees is far from the true age of roughly 49,000. Still knowing one end of any bracket is very important.

I love the fact that it was on my birthday March 15th that the Standard Iron Company was chartered. That happened one hundred and one years ago. The wheels of the bureaucracy then were not a lot different then now. Things take time. The development work was completed by May of 1903, and yet it would be months before the patents on the claims would be signed. I find it hard to understand from my personal experience anyone committing to a venture like this without seeing the property. I think I would have felt it a requirement to go and look for myself. But, things were different then. One trusted the reports of those they hired, and rail travel made long trips something to think seriously about. It was a four and a half day trip from Philadelphia to Flagstaff. Then a trip of several days by wagon to the actual crater if you had to take anything there from the city. Or one might get off the train near Volz's trading post. There was a Canyon Diablo Station. But, Flagstaff was the nearest real town. In the next several years Barringer and Tilghman would make many trips to the crater despite the difficulties.

I wish that I could have been there to see the expression on his face as he climbed the slope for the first time; and saw as he reached its crest the gapping hole before him. Even after many trips to the crater I am always amazed at my physical gut response. For the first moments clinging to the railings I have a good shot of acrophobia. I do not doubt that Barringer had seen many photographs of the crater before that first real view. Gilbert took a large number and they would certainly have been available to Barringer. But, a picture does not reduce the effect of standing there, not at least for me. The trail into the crater had been cut some months before his first visit so access to the floor was not very different from today. The trail is an easy hike and it would have taken him only a few minute to reach the bottom. There on the floor he would have felt the profound silence. The stillness there that flows over a visitor.

Today, we know much about the kind of animal Barringer had. There are many on Earth. Craters far older and younger, many larger and many smaller. But, Meteor Crater remains probably the finest preserved of them all. Even a century later it is used as the type specimen for most characteristics of impact origin.

I will probably be thinking over the next few years about the many anniversaries like this that pass. One hundred years of discovery at my favorite place.