Most of Canyonlands National Park (an hour’s drive from Moab) is filled with lovely canyon vistas as you’d expect, but there is one other major geological feature there that surprised be because I so totally did not expect it. The feature is known as Upheval Dome, a dome of rocks surrounded by a jumble of others in a wall known as a synhline. For decades scientists theorized that Upheval Dome was created by the world’s largest salt dome, where a bubble of salt under pressure deforms the surrounding rock, but that was back in the days when people assumed no traces of asteroids hitting the Earth really existed. These days, however, we know better: Upheval Dome is, very very likely, a meteor crater.
The story here is that around 60 million years ago, around the time of the first primates on Earth, an asteroid about a third of a mile in diameter slammed into this area and created an unstable crater that partially collapsed (and the middle dome is from underground rocks pushing up after impact). Erosion did the rest and washed away the meteorite debris, but shocked quartz which is created under extreme pressure (such as in a nuclear bomb blast, or a giant meteor) has been discovered on the site. I’ve got to hand it to geologists: what they do is pretty cool!
Upheval Dome is a pretty easy hike from the parking lot, but Canyonlands was so very empty in early January that during my 20 minutes of sitting and pondering the crater I never saw a soul. And it is quite something to sit on the edge of a giant meteor crater all alone and ponder creation.