Odessa Meteor Crater

By Carlton Stower
published by Texas Co-op Power, October 2005

Often on summer afternoons, long after the temperature has climbed into triple digits, when even the West Texas dust devils seem to weave and dance across the horizon lethargically, 74-year-old Tom Rodman arrives to visit with traveling vacationers. And, as he's done for a lifetime, he imagines how things once were.
      Standing amid the parched mesquites and the rhythmic nodding of the nearby mechanical hobbyhorses that pump oil from deep beneath the Permian Basin, he
of years of sand and silt have left the crater itself no deeper than many of the man-made gravel pits that now dot the oil-rich region.
      According to local legend, a rancher found a fist-sized metallic rock in the area of the crater in 1920 and, thinking it an interesting oddity, gave it to his banker. It sat on the banker's desk for several years until a visiting geologist suggested sending it to museum authorities for analysis. It turned out that
still finds it hard to believe this arid landscape was once verdant swampland instead of hot, blowing sand and scrub brush. It seems impossible that prehistoric mammoths and three-toed horses once roamed the area now crossed by jackrabbits and pickup trucks.
      Equally hard
Cartoon By Robin Kachantones the stone included particles of iron, nickel, cobalt, copper, carbon, phosphorus and sulfur-all components of a meteorite.
      In time, geologists and mining engineers would explore the area, convinced that the giant celestial stone that had created the hole was buried beneath the layers of silt.
      A shaft was dug 164 feet deep into the heart of the crater, and long trenches were jackhammered across the
to imagine is that 50,000 years ago a meteor weighing as much as 300 tons
flamed through the atmosphere and
collided here with a force that scientists estimate surpassed the combined energy created by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. None-the-less, just seven miles outside the city limits is the Odessa Meteor Crater.
      Travelers who detour off Interstate 20 to view the crater and visit its new, modern visitors' center and museum can thank Rodman. Had he not spent much of his adult life promoting the historic importance of the crater and lobbying officials to recognize its value as a tourist attraction, it might have languished as the ignored landfill it once was.
      When I was a boy, says Rodman, my father owned the ranchland that bordered the area where the crater is located. I spent a lot of time playing there. I always saw it as a magical place. Back then, a large tree had grown down in the middle [of the crater], and I'd sit in its shade and try to imagine what this part of the world might have looked like when the meteor hit.
      It was not until 1926 that scientists determined that the 600-foot-wide scar in Ector County cwas, in fact, a spot where 100,000 cubic pounds of limestone had been displaced by a meteor's impact. The site, estimated to have once been 100 feet deep, has altered over time. Although the crater's rim is still distinctive, thousands
      Workers did unearth the fossilized remains of a mammoth and found meteorite fragments weighing more than 100 pounds each. But scientists determined that the meteorite had shattered into millions of small pieces on impact.
      Today, visitors can view many of those fragments, collected from as far as two miles from the impact site, when they visit the free museum that opened in 2002 on the edge of the crater. They can hike along a winding path where excavation scars are still visible, and read scientific information about the site.
      State Representative George Buddy West of Odessa, who visited the crater as a 12-year-old Boy Scout, got a $500,000 appropriation from the state to improve and maintain the historic site. His success, West says, would never have been possible without the life-long commitment of Tom Rodman. This had been his dream for a long time. He had the vision. It just took the rest of us awhile to catch up to him.

The Odessa Meteor Crater is located west of Odessa, at exit 108 off 1-20.
     Carlton Stowers wrote "Before Six Flags" in the August 2005 issue of Texas Co-op Power.

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This page was last updated October 1, 2005.