I came on this trip to try to get a sense of perspective, in the hope that the world would settle down to being the right way up again. One good way to get a sense of perspective is to sit on a log, looking out over a scenic view – especially if that log happens to be 225 million years old. Contemplating quarter of a billion years really puts your own problems in proportion. Or at least that was the plan.
Today I visited the Petrified Forest National Park, mostly because I had to go past it anyway. I’ve seen petrified wood before, but only little fragments. I wasn’t expecting such vast quantities. It looked like a flood had recently brought down a mass of tree trunks and someone had been out with a chainsaw to tidy them up, leaving wood chippings all over the place. But these trees were washed down a very long time ago – in the early Triassic, when dinosaurs were just gettting started. Their cellulose and lignin have been replaced molecule by molecule with various forms of silica, including agate and even amethyst, making them quite jolly colours. The logs are situated in the Painted Desert, so there was a riot of colour everywhere (by rock standards, anyway).
After that I went to Meteor Crater, in Arizona, a place I’ve long wanted to see. It never occurred to me that it was near an interstate and had a visitors’ centre – I assumed it was out in the wilderness. Anyway, I paid my $15 and went to look. And it’s there alright. It’s kind of hard to describe. You know what it’s like when you’re walking down the street and you pass a famous actor? You can see them for real but you already knew what they looked like anyway, so there’s an odd mix of surprise and familiarity (and if you’re anything like me you find yourself greeting them like an old friend before you realise they don’t know you from Adam). Well it was a bit like that. It’s a big hole – you don’t need me to tell you what a hole looks like – but it was a very familiar hole. It’s hard to look at a hole for very long, though.
The crater was made about 50,000 years ago, by a nickel-iron meterorite the size of the parking lot outside the visitors’ centre. Apparently the blast was equivalent to about 20 megatons – a thousand times larger than the first atom bomb. A tiny fragment of the meteorite – about three feet across, weighing half a ton – is in the museum, and I wouldn’t want to be hit on the head by even that little bit, let alone a whole parking lot. The crater is 4,000 feet across and 550 feet deep. The thing that impressed me the most about it was the rim – the way the strata all round the edge had been lifted up above the surrounding plain by maybe 80 feet. It was all pretty impressive, although not nearly as impressive as it would have been if I’d thought to show up 50,000 years earlier.
So tonight I’m in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I’ve checked into a motel for two nights. After all that desert I need to spend some time among people.
Today’s sensations: No sense of time or place. The sadness of plans and hopes that won’t now be fulfilled. Scenery overload.