Our rented Buick rocked as the tractor trailers and rock haulers zipped past on the highway. I gripped the door handle, certain a homicidal maniac steered each truck rushing by, intent on racking up another victim on their way to the West Texas oil fields.
We had selected the Buick from a fleet of options. We assumed the larger car would be safer and more comfortable than my ten-year-old Honda. The rental car’s bucket seats fit anorexic teenagers, not late middle-aged women, and my butt had grown numb over the miles since we left Dallas. If not for the thrill of certain death in a fiery car crash, the rest of me would have fallen asleep staring at the flat scenery on our way to Carlsbad, New Mexico to tour the caverns.
One arm draped over the console, my husband Andrew stared through the windshield, judging how much room he needed before he could squeeze the Buick in between the cement truck and the oil tanker in the next lane.
“Would you like to stop and see the Odessa Meteor Crater?” Andrew asked.
Everything I know about meteors I learned from movies, television, and comic books. They don’t have a good reputation. Anything tied to the phrase “extinction event” is something to avoid. Another semi rocketed past, blowing sand and gravel across us. As Andrew steered the car back into our lane, I answered “Sure.”
I’m a big fan of bizarre roadside exhibits. I imagined a meteor crater would be a giant hole in the earth, similar to the Grand Canyon, but smaller, less grand. Maybe they would have a viewing station and tiny plastic meteorites for souvenirs. I got out my camera and checked the battery, to be sure I was ready to take pictures of the stunning vista.
Andrew turned off the main highway and bumped along a rough road paved in potholed asphalt. We arrived at a gated entrance in front of a metal-roofed, tan brick building. A sign on the side proclaimed we had reached the Meteor Crater Museum. The place could have been any other standard government building- a place to renew your driver’s license or pay your water bill.
I pulled myself from the tight embrace of the bucket seat and climbed from the car, camera at the ready. Leaning against the Buick, I turned around and searched for a glimpse of the crater. I didn’t want to fall into some crevice and break a hip right at the start of our vacation. The landscape stretched out to the horizon, broken only by scraggly desert plants and medium-sized chunks of limestone. In the distance, oil field pump jacks bobbed up and down like dinosaurs.
“How much further is the crater?” I asked. When I shielded my eyes and squinted through the swirling dust in the parking lot, the most interesting thing I noticed was a concrete picnic table.
“It’s right there,” Andrew answered, pointing. “That dip in the ground.”
The sandy soil past the parking lot sloped down in a shallow bowl. If I held my head just right, I could make out a circular shape to the area. We strolled along the little path that wound through the crater and read the educational signs that told about the history of the site, until I grew tired of the heat. Andrew stopped to admire an anthill, and I walked on ahead to the museum, hoping for a water fountain and air conditioning.
The exhibit area was slightly larger than my living room, and staffed with three people, two men and one woman, sitting on rolling chairs behind a glass counter. They all turned to greet me as I strolled in. I picked up a brochure explaining the history of the crater. It must have been larger when they discovered it in 1892. The crater was formed 63,000 years ago, so I forgave it for being filled in with West Texas silt. I know how fast dust can accumulate if you aren’t diligent. If only we had visited sooner.
I looked over the small pieces of meteorites on display and glanced at the scientific charts and graphs. At last I stopped in front of a framed photo of a woman reclining on a hospital bed. This was Ann Hodges, a woman struck by a meteor in 1954 when it crashed through the roof of her house. I imagined her stretched out on her couch, relaxing with a book maybe, or watching television, her face illuminated with the blue glow from the screen. Maybe the accident happened after a commercial for Geritol or the new RCA Victor Portable Radio, her peaceful night shattered by a huge rock falling through her ceiling. Did she know what hit her? Or did she suppose Fidel Castro had targeted her, a housewife in rural Alabama, with a missile meant for Miami?
I turned from the display as Andrew walked over to stand by my side.
“I found the t-shirts!” he said.
He held up a gray shirt with “Odessa Texas Meteor Crater” printed on the front. A yellow and red meteor streaked down toward an innocent cartoon superhero, or a reclining woman.
All three staff members assisted me as I purchased the shirt. We left the cool air conditioning and stepped out into the bright sunlight of a West Texas summer. The blue sky overhead held no threat of hail, lightening, or flaming rocks. As we strolled across the parking lot toward the Buick, I decided the risk of venturing out on the highway was worth the reward of finding new places to explore. I was just as likely to be struck by a meteor at home while I lounged on my couch.
Terrye is a native Texan who enjoys writing stories set in her home state and other strange places. In her free time Terrye enjoys exploring antique, junk, and thrift stores for inspiration and bargains. She’s had stories published in small print and online journals, and writes short, humorous essays for her blog — https://terryeturpin.com/. Sign up below to follow her.