This post is going back. Way, way back. 83 million years back, by some estimates. You may have already guessed from the title of the post, but if not I'm going to go ahead and spill the beans. There's a huge crater just east of downtown Wetumpka. It's really, really big. The crater is almost five miles across, it was created in the late Cretaceous period, and best estimates put the object that crashed at about 1000 feet wide. Don't believe me? Check out these maps.
First, we have a normal topographical map of the area. Can you make out the crater?
If your imagination needs a little nudge, here's another view, with the ridges around the crater highlighted.
People have noticed that something weird was happening in Wetumpka, geologically speaking, for nearly 150 years. In 1891, University of Alabama professor Eugene Allen Smith was the first to note the abnormalities.
It would be almost a century before anyone even considered the possibility that the abnormalities near Wetumpka could be explained by an impact event. H.J. Melosh wrote the first major work on impact cratering in 1989, and the following excerpt from the preface helps explain why that was the case.
A team of geologists, led by Thornton L. Neatherly, visited the site in 1969, and they were the first to hypothesize that the structure was the result of a meteorite impact. They published a paper in 1976 where they dubbed it the "Wetumpka Astrobleme", astrobleme being Greek for "star wound". Another team led by Neatherly finally had the opportunity to prove the hypothesis in 1998, when they drilled 630 feet into the center of the crater. Their findings were published in 1999, and the report showed that the samples of iridium and shocked quartz proved the impact theory. The historical marker was erected three years later.
Unfortunately, I spent several hours on two separate occasions looking for a spot to take a photo that really conveyed the size and existence of the crater, but I came away empty handed. The crater is huge, and the entire structure is covered by trees on all sides, so it really just looks like hills. I suspect that there are a few backyards up on those ridges that might have excellent vistas where you can get a real sense of the circular feature, but I wasn't willing to trespass to find out. If you know anyone who owns property with that kind of view, let me know and we'll re-visit the topic.