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The Odessa Meteor Crater–A Depressing Depression

What do you call a 600-foot-wide hole filled with dirt? The National Park Service calls it a National Natural Landmark.

While the Odessa Meteor Crater may be one of the most significant astrogeological finds of our time, it lacks the majesty one would naturally associate with an explosive meteoric impact. Thanks to time and erosion, the hole that was created by an explosion comparable to those that ended World War II now dips below ground only about six feet.

Oddly, it's suspected to be part of the same event that formed the magnificent Barringer Crater in Arizona, a 3,800-foot-wide, 570-foot-deep, crater-shaped crater that makes the one in Texas look less like a pit and more like a pit stain. You could say Odessa's crater is to Arizona's what Deep Impact was to Armageddon.

Though it was once 100 feet deep, today it hardly looks out of place from the surrounding terrain. If somebody hadn't put up a big sign that said "Crater" with an arrow on it, you might think you were just looking at a good place to dump an old couch.

Locals have been aware of the crater's existence since the 1890s, but due to its deficiency of depth, nobody realized what it was. At most, it was considered to be the result of an ordinary natural-gas eruption. It wasn't until 1922 that a geologist gave the feature more consideration and realized what it really was, though his discovery went mostly unnoticed.

Several years later, however, interest swelled after a theory was put forth that the meteor responsible for the impact was more than 500 feet wide and was very likely buried beneath the surface. In 1939, the state, the county, the University of Texas and the Works Progress Administration combined forces to locate the specimen. They thought if they could find it, they might be able to turn the site into a national park; a subterranean elevator could take visitors below ground to view the meteorite up-close.

Once drillers believed they had pinpointed their target, engineers went about digging a 165-foot shaft to get to it.

Unfortunately, after all their effort, they realized the drillers had come across nothing more than a particularly tenacious layer of limestone. Their valuable space rock was nowhere to be found. Scientists would later come to understand that the meteor would have destroyed itself on impact.
After such a monumental disappointment, the Odessa Meteor Crater was virtually abandoned and quickly became the victim of neglect. Trash piled up and the county began taking limestone from the site to use as roadbed material. An effort was made in the 1960s to clean the place up and to erect a small museum, but vandals robbed and defaced the site a few years later and the area once again fell into disrepair.

Recently, officials have made a more serious attempt at preserving the crater, adding new facilities and erecting informative signage for self-guided tours. It still takes quite a bit of imagination to understand what really went on here, but the trail makes for a nice place to stretch your legs on a long drive.

And with any luck, the county may continue their improvements and get really serious by turning the place into an awesome disaster-themed mini-golf course.

Weird Texas


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