The Odessa Meteor Crater


Shower of Meteorites plunged to earth some 20,000 years ago, shattering limestone bedrock and leaving explosion pit some 500 feet in diameter; other smaller adjacent pits. Over the centuries, desert winds silted crater almost level with surrounding plains, and site was not identified as Meteor crater until the 1920s. Today a marked nature trail winds through crater and a free brochure interprets the unusual feature. Just west of Odessa exit I-20 at F.M. 1936 (south), drive west on frontage road 3.4 mi. to sign indicating crater site to south.

By Patrick Dearen

It blazed across the Ice-Age sky above West Texas 25,000 years ago, a scantillating fireball which exploded in mid-air and crashed into the Permian Basin 10 miles southwest of present day Odessa.

The impact shook the land and terrified its denizens, sent thunder rolling into the horizon, gouged out earth and flung strata in all directions. In an instant, it was over, and at least one major crater -- 100 feet deep, 550 feet wide -- and two lesser ones yawned immense to testify to the collision between cosmic traveller and the third planet from the sun.

The wind blew; ice receded; rain fell. And slowly, the craters succumbed, the ages swallowing them. They still may have been awe-inspiring when the first Indians drifted southward into Texas 11,000 years ago; no one can say for certain. But by the time pioneer Odessan Julius Henderson stumbled onto the rim in only mild curiosity -- as "blowouts," common topographic features in free-drifting sands of the area. Only when pilots of the twentieth century noticed the lunar-like features painted against the prairie did West Texas finally yield its millennia-old secret: of all such Meteorite craters in the nation, only the Barringer in Arizona loomed more immense.

Their lifeblood stirred by realization that a desolate stretch of Ector County held evidence of a voyager from the reaches of the solar system, geologists converged on what became known as Odessa Meteor Crater in 1939 and spent two years trying to decipher its mysteries. The primary crater still measured more than 500 feet in diameter, all right, but the elements had reduced its depth to only twenty feet at its greatest. But a surprise awaited nearby when geologists undertook tests with a magnetometer: a second crater 17 feet deep and 70 feet wide lay filled by erosion. During its excavation, they unearthed approximately six tons of Meteorite particles.

But the main crater was the one which held them under the greatest spell. Deep in its bowels, they believed, lay a single, huge Meteorite. And so they drilled, sinking an 8'x12' shaft deep enough to swallow a 20-story building.

(This was dug by help provided by the University of Texas I believe [Bill B.] )

And still it eluded them.

Finally, project supervisor Glen L. Evans sighed deeply and conceded the main body had vaporized upon collision, just as had the Meteorite which wreaked havoc in TonguJka, Russia in 1908.

"A vast incongruity exists regarding Meteors," the geologist reflected almost half a century after excavation. "The biggest Meteorites, when they're found in the ground, are in the smallest craters, and in the largest craters you don't find any Meteorites at all."

He came to believe, however, that the mass of the object which slammed into the Permian Basin was "somewhere in excess of 500 tons, although it may have been three times that."

As he walked the belly of the enigmatic crater for 24 months, studying and gathering data, Evans became the foremost authority of perhaps the foremost crater on the planet.

"The art of documenting craters as being the result of Meteorite falls is quite a new science," he said. "Even as recently as 1960 geologists were arguing that the vast Arizona Meteor crater -- a half-mile wide, 500 feet deep -- is the result of a gas explosion and that the thousands of Meteorite fragments in the vicinity are coincidence. This is just another example of how hard it is for people to accept something. The Odessa craters, on the other hand, are the best-documented craters in the world."

He explained that the site contains most of the classic astroblemes - structural features -- associated with impact craters, including strongly tilted rocks on the periphery and a central mound of boulders, evidence of which was discovered within the 165-foot shaft.

"When we sank the shaft, we found fossils of Pleistocene horses and elephant teeth, and the bedrock was still fragmented beneath," he noted. "This gives us some idea of the age, but what we really need to find is fossilized vegetation in the original soil to get a carbon dating."

Evans, who went on to study Meteorite craters throughout the world, even explored the possibility that the Odessa Crater may be associated with the Barringer Crater in Arizona.

"They're very similar in age and content (both nickel iron) and it makes me wonder if they could have been part of the same fall," he mused. "Sometimes Meteors come in clusters. If you look for other series of craters, there's only central Australia with a group of 13, the largest about the size of our number two crater here, a cluster of four in Argentina, much smaller than ours, seven in Russia and another in Arabia. An additional series of craters, all smaller than the main Odessa crater, were formed during a witnessed fall in 1947 in Siksote-Alin, Russia."

The onetime associate director of University of Texas Memorial Museum in Austin also noted that the Sierra Madera, 18 miles south of Fort Stockton, holds astrobleme features, "one of 30 or 40 authenticated ones in the world."

Evans and his excavation crew departed Odessa Meteor Crater in 1941, but in their wake came scavengers and vandals, digging and breaking and looting this registered national historic landmark. The craters had stood the test of 25,000 years of erosion, yet suddenly their very existence became threatened at the hand of uncaring man.

Finally, Odessa Chamber of Commerce took up the fight, commissioning overseers, designing pathways, providing explanatory signs. Ultimately, a committee known as Odessa Meteor Crater Task Force was formed to consider the best ways to develop and oversee the site. However that task force has been inactive for some time now, according to former committee member Richard Galle of Plainview.

For years, well-meaning individuals viewed the crater as a potential drawing card for tourists, especially since Interstate 20 lies only two miles north. But Evens, who developed a kinship with the site, did not want to misrepresent it -- the primary crater is broad, all right, but nevertheless sinks only six to twenty feet into the mesquite prairie.

"I think it should be treated as an important historic site -- not as a tourist attraction," he said. "I don't think anybody should try to make it into a tourist attraction because it won't ever make it. People want something extraordinary, like a Grand Canyon, and this just isn't what they're looking for."

Rather, he said, the crater should be regarded for its scientific potential.

"It's a rare land feature, but it is one that, several years down the road, may be wanted by people who desperately want to look down into the ground and inspect qualities that may have been overlooked. There will be new matters coming up in the scientific field to be studied. Even I would search for additional features if I were excavating the site today. You can learn a good deal from a good impact model, and we've got the best, the most accessible there is. I believe there are other craters there that are totally filled. I wouldn't be surprised but what there aren't large Meteorites still buried out there."

Only the mesquite plain, mute but for the howling wind, holds the answer.

Recent photos of the "Odessa Meteor Crater" taken 4/18/98.....


The Odessa Crater, and four smaller craters were formed in prehistoric time when a great shower of nickel-iron Meteorites collided with the earth. It is estimated the event occurred some 24000 to 25000 years ago.

The shower was composed of many thousand of individual Meteorites of various sizes which fell over an area of about 2 square miles. The smaller Meteorites, which were by far the most numerous, either came to rest on the earths surface or at the bottom of shallow impact pits within the soil. There were several very large Meteoritic masses in the shower, however, and these struck the earth with such enormous energy that they penetrated deeply into bedrock producing craters in the earth at the places of impact.

When freshly formed, the craters were funnel-shaped depressions, the largest about 550 feet in diameter and 1OO feet in depth. More than 100,000 cubic yards of crushed rock was ejected from this crater by the energy released from the impacting Meteoritic mass. Smaller craters in the vicinity of the main crater range from 15 feet to 70 feet in diameter and from 7 feet to 18 feet in depth.

In the ages following their formation the craters gradually accumulated sediments deposited hy wind and water. The main crater was eventually filled within 6 feet of the level of the surrounding plain. It now appears a shallow, nearly circular depression surrounded by a low rock-buttressed rim. The several smaller associated craters were so completly buried that their existance was not suspected until they were exposed in excavations made by the University of Texas, in the early 1940's.

Meteor craters are among the rarest and most interesting of land features. Astrophysicists have observed the source of Meteoritic bodies which strike our earth originate within our Solar System, probably from the asteroidal belt located between the planets Mars and Jupiter.


A 165 foot shaft was sunk in the center of the main crater primarily to locate the main mass of the Meteor which was believed still buried. However, the shaft revealed that there was no huge mass buried. it is now known that the main mass, of an estimated 70 tons, which formed the main crater, was traveling at such a high rate of speed that it exploded and vaporized upon contact with the earth. Therefore, the main crater is an "explosion crater.

The four smaller craters was formed by smaller masses of Meteoric material. These were slowed down by the earth's atmosphere to below explosion velocity. The craters were formed by the impact of the Meteor and much of the Meteoric material was buried at the bottom of the smaller craters. These smaller craters are, therefore, "impact craters". The smaller craters have been completely covered by wind blown dirt and was located by metal detection equipment. In addition to the Meteoric material recovered from he smaller craters, many tons of Meteorite fragments was scattered over the surrounding plain. The fragments, upon impact, buried themselves at depths from a few inches to a few feet, depending on their size.

The largest piece of the Odessa Meteorite ever found weighs approximately 300 pounds. The Odessa Meteorite is an iron metallic Meteorite. Only about 10% of all the Meteorites striking the earth are metallic. The remaining 90% are classified as stoney Meteorites and resemble rocks found on earth. Because they so closely resemble rocks, stoney Meteorites are much harder to find and are more valuable than metallic Meteorites.

These contain about 9O% iron. 7
Pictured is 12" ruler for scale.

Originally the 165 foot shaft was completely walled up with heavy timbers and divided into 10 different floor levels, with ladders connecting each floor. However, in the early 1950's someone set fire to the timbers in the shaft, completely destroying them. The shaft in now covered with concrete slabs.

The Odessa Crater is the second largest crater recognized in the United states. The largest is he Arizona Crater. The Odessa Crater is approximately 500 feet across and was originally 100 feet deep. Wind and rain have filled it up over the centuries until it is now only about 15 feet deep The Arizona Crater is 4,000 feet across and 500 feet deep.


The earliest known discovery of the crater was made in 1892 by Julius Henderson, a nearby rancher. For many years it was believed to be a "blow-out hole", caused by gas trapped below the surface erupting due to pressure. Iin the 1920's D. Moreau Barringer, whose father identified and owned the famous Barringer Meteorite Crater in Arizona and Dr. E H. Sellards of the University of Texas recognized the depression as a Meteorite crater. From 1939 thru 1941 Dr. Sellards and Mr. Gien Evans, also In the University of Texas directed scientific studies end extensive excavation of the crater, which is very evident today This work ceased with the outbreak of World War II. The crater was located on lands given by the State of Texas to the Texas & Pacific Railroad for building the rail line through West Texas in the 1890's. In 1979 the crater site was donated by the Texas Pacific Land Trust to Ector County.

Meteors, Meteorites and Impacts
Rocks from Space

Read all about a June 1984 Epic Journey into the depths of the "Odessa Meteor Crater"
Odessa American Story 5/03

All About Meteorites

Crater Chasers

Meteorite crashes in Monahans!

Water from space found in Meteorite

Water from Heaven

Cities within approximately 50 miles of Odessa:
Kermit Midland Monahans Stanton

City Page Attractions Events Map Lodging

----- Original Message -----
From: Clay Fry
Sent: Sunday, October 05, 2003 1:55 PM
Subject: Odessa Meteor Crater
Hi Bill,
Would you like some information on the following?

"Originally the 165 foot shaft was completely walled up with heavy timbers and divided into 10 different floor levels, with ladders connecting each floor. However, in the early 1950's someone set fire to the timbers in the shaft, completely destroying them. The shaft in now covered with concrete slabs."

It was more like 1948 if my memory is correct. There were three guys and two went to the bottom. The first two sets of stairs were gone and they climbed down about 20 feet to the first landing holding on to a old piece of "drilling line" about 1 1/4" diameter and with lots of wickers sticking out that would grab your hand. The other two guys were skinny and wiry and I didn't want to risk having to pull my self up the cable. We hollered back and forth as they went down to the bottom. They said there were dead rabbits and snakes and junk and trash down there. They used matches to see and both smoked a Camel while they were down there. On the way up they smelled smoke. I guess that they pitched the match down and it ignited some trash paper on the bottom. Well when they got to the top we got out of there fast in a 37 Ford. We read in the Odessa American about a mysterious fire at the Meteor Crater the next day. They have both passed away now .

It is possible that it only partially burned or just the trash on the bottom caught fire and another fire was started in later years. All we knew then was that smoke was coming out of the shaft.

Clay Fry
Tulsa Oklahoma
----- Original Message -----
From: "Greg F Lopatka"
Sent: Sunday, January 18, 2004 12:18 AM
Subject: Odessa Meteor Crater

My wife and I just visited the Crater on News Years Eve as we drove from Chicago to El Paso.
click for larger image Greg Lopatka
"Lead us not into temptation," she prayed, "but deliver us some E-mail. Amen."
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