Suspected Impact Crater at the Black Rock Desert, Nevada

by Ian Kluft
e-mail: i k (dash) b r c 
r a t e r -at- t h u n d e r [dot] s b a y {dot} o r g
These are updates about the study of the suspected impact crater site at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

We've found clues in the rocks and local geography to indicate an ancient eroded impact crater. It would be called an "impact structure" because there isn't enough of the crater left to clearly see it any more. It appears to be over 50 miles in diameter. Within the circular region, the geology is different from its surroundings. Various forms of erosion (presumably at least glacial, lake and stream) as well as faulting have erased most of it from view. It would explain part of the underlying geology and unique character of the Black Rock Desert.

Now the Black Rock playa runs through it. Among the remaining visible parts are 12 mountain ranges including the Black Rock Range, Calico Mountains, Kamma Mountains, Jackson Range, Granite Range, Selenite Range, Seven Troughs Range and others. So you have to look carefully - but we find more clues with every visit we make to the area.

January 16, 2011
Here's my annual summary of the current status of the suspected crater research project, "State of the Research 2011".

December 27, 2010
I posted pictures from my visit to Upheaval Dome impact site in Canyonlands National Park in eastern Utah.

December 26, 2010
I posted pictures from my visit to Meteor Crater (also known as Barringer Crater) in northern Arizona.

September 8, 2010
I posted photos from my trip to Tennessee and Kentucky on Sept 3-7, which included visits to the confirmed impact sites at Wells Creek (TN), Middlesboro (KY) and Flynn Creek (TN).

January 2, 2010
A New Years summary of the Black Rock crater research as of Jan 2010 was sent to the mail list.

October 11, 2009
Photos were posted from the Stratofox 6 trip to Black Rock on Oct 10-11, 2009. This was a Stratofox team training event and recreational exploration of the Black Rock Desert. We piggybacked some crater research exploration onto the trip.

The entry for the possible impact crater at Black Rock has been updated on the Impact Database maintained by David Rajmon for the Impact Field Studies Group (IFSG). The update includes the 87km diameter which we submitted to them this Summer.

April 27, 2009
Photos were posted from the Stratofox Crater Assault 4 trip to Black Rock on April 26, 2009 to continue investigating the impact crater theory.

January 22, 2009
A new "Updated candidate crater outline and diameter" has been posted. A circle has been fitted to a succession of terrain features around the area. This has expanded the estimated diameter up to 54 miles or 87 km.

January 3, 2009
It's a new year. Like I did last year, I'll summarize what we did and learned in the past year, and the current status of the research project. I'm calling this summary the State of the Research 2009.

November 10, 2008
The December issue of Discover Magazine mentions my amateur science research about the suspected impact crater at Black Rock. Of course, I have many friends to thank for help along the way.

September 30, 2008
Bob Verish wrote in his "Bob's Findings" column in Meteorite Times Magazine's September 2008 online issue about "Stratofox.Org's Crater Assault #3". He attended SCA3 and provided us with a lot of his useful knowledge and experience.

September 28, 2008
Photos were posted from the Stratofox 5 camping trip which was located at Upper High Dry lakebed.

September 15, 2008
For comparison, here are photos of shatter cones in New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe.

September 7, 2008
Photos were posted from the Stratofox Crater Assault 3 trip to Black Rock to continue investigating the impact crater theory. See the trip report e-mail.

April 20, 2008
"Breccia/fractured rock boundary at Upper High Dry" is an article I wrote to summarize significant findings from Summer 2007,

August 20, 2007
Photos were posted from the Stratofox 4 camping trip which was located at Upper High Dry lakebed.

August 17, 2007
"Southern Rings" view of Black Rock Desert suspected impact site

July 15, 2007
For comparison, here are photos from the Sierra Madera Crater south of Fort Stockton, Texas.

June 3, 2007
Photos were posted from the Crater Assault 2 trip to Black Rock held on June 2, 2007.

March 9, 2007
WikiNews posted a news article, "Rocketeers find possible impact crater in Nevada"

February 16, 2007
"Preview: Geological Map of Black Rock based on Satellite Imagery", showing preliminary geological map from satellite imagery by Brad Douglas

February 10, 2007
"Submitted for Study: Discovery of Possible Impact Crater at Nevada's Black Rock Desert" by Ian Kluft, the original article

Photos were posted from the Crater Assault 1 trip to Black Rock held on January 28, 2007. (In case it isn't obvious the event name was intended just to be fun.)

[Black Rock suspected impact structure outline]
Now you can see it on the map. In January 2009, after 2 years of finding clues of an impact in the rocks, an outline of the heavily-eroded circular formation was finally found. The estimated size and outline of the impact structure was updated to 54 miles or 87km as shown in the diagram above. Now that a circle can be fitted to it, the center of the structure has been estimated at 40.90 N 118.94 W.

The previous theory of a 30x40 mile ellipse came from visually recognizing arcs in mountains. But that apparently mixed up arcs of different sizes which now appear to be concentric when seen in the wider view. The smaller arc at the Kamma Mountains may be remnants of a possible inner uplift ring. The possible remnants of an outer rim appeared before in the Black Rock Range and Jackson Mountains, but now also extend around to the Antelope Range, Seven Troughs Range, Granite Range and Hog Range Mountains. The Calico Mountains appeared to be a rim before, which helped the eye connect the dots to make the old ellipse theory - but now appear as a straight line in comparison, which would be better explained as post-impact faulting.

The new circular outline fits the terrain so much better than the older elliptical outline that it immediately superseded it. The features that make up the 54 mile/87 km ring are extremely difficult to see when a map is zoomed out wide enough to see the entire structure. It comes into better view when zooming in on the parts.

Finding an outline on the map isn't proof. It's a big piece of the larger puzzle. And having something tangible to point to should go a long way toward getting understanding, patience and maybe even more assistance as the search continues for more information and scientifically-publishable results.

The original article "Submitted for Study: Discovery of Possible Impact Crater at Nevada's Black Rock Desert" from February 2007 is still available. It has some annotations to indicate things that my team of volunteers and I have learned in the process.

If you're interested, join the BR-Crater mail list See also the mail list archives.

For additional information, see Wikipedia articles about:

The best source we've found for learning about recognizing impact craters is the e-book "Traces of Catastrophe" by Dr Bevan M French of the Smithsonian Institution.

An excellent slide show and informative article is "Terrestrial Impact Craters" by Christian Koeberl and Virgil L. Sharpton of the Lunar and Planetary Institute