Arizona is known for many things – the arid desert, beautiful sunsets, Saguaro cactus, world-class resorts, and huge holes in the ground. The Grand Canyon may be the more popular of earth’s cavities but a second one nearby is just as impressive.
Unlike the Grand Canyon, which was formed over five to six million years, the Meteor Crater was created in mere seconds. Extending 550 feet into the ground and nearly a mile across, the Crater is not only unique to Arizona; it is one of the best-preserved meteorite impact sites on earth.
Over 60,000 years ago, an iron-nickel meteorite, estimated at 150-feet long traveling 26,000 miles per hour, crashed into the earth. The impact tore up the forest-covered earth where mammoths, mastodons and giant ground sloths grazed. The crash leveled the forest and destroyed any life for miles around. The force of impact was 150 times greater than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and equal to 20 million tons of TNT, which caused the meteorite to mostly vaporize upon impact. Arizona’s dry climate has helped preserve this crater keeping it almost unchanged since its formation. Little of the rim’s crest has eroded unlike most craters on earth that are often erased by geological processes and natural erosion.
The impact site was originally thought to be a result of volcanic action. It was not until 1903 when a mining engineer and businessman, Daniel Barringer suggested a meteor was the cause. Barringer took claim of the land believing there was a huge amount of iron and nickel deposit in the earth. He formed the Standard Iron Company and spent the next 27 years and most of his fortune searching for iron ore. Barringer estimated there was billions of dollars’ worth of iron in the earth. Unfortunately, no significant amount was ever found.
The Barringer family, along with long-time Arizona ranching and business families, the Tremaines and Chilsons, own the site today, transforming it into one of Arizona’s greatest attractions and enduring an impressive family legacy.
Located in northern Arizona near Winslow just off Interstate 40 and the historic Route 66, several hundred thousand visitors flock to see the impressive site each year. Daily guided rim tours provide a fun, educational and interactive experience to learn about this unique location. There are several observation decks equipped with telescopes to give visitors the opportunity to study the rock walls within the crater and see the breathtaking desert landscape, along with an indoor deck that’s fully air-conditioned inside the Meteor Crater Visitor’s Center.
This world class attraction also features a museum and discovery center housing interactive displays containing information about meteorites, asteroids, impact cratering mechanics, and the formation of Meteor Crater. The whole family will enjoy seeing “IMPACT, The Mystery of Meteor Crater" movie shown in the 80 seat big screen theater and the brand new immersive 4D movie experience, “COLLISON! You Can Help Save Earth" giving viewers the chance to literally race the impact of the meteorite to help save the planet.
A trip to Meteor Crater isn't complete without spending time in the Gift & Mineral Shop where you can find all kinds of cool and unique keepsakes like minerals, jewelry, gems, American-Indian art, science-based kids games, toys, shirts, hats, mugs and a whole lot more.
The Meteor Crater also offers a chance to refuel at the Blasted Bistro, the on-site restaurant where you can fill your tank for lunch or a snack with freshly made sandwiches, salads, and sweets.
An RV park situated on the site is a beautiful place to camp and enjoy one of the finest star and sky shows in the southwest. Set up camp and take in the views at a unique and beautiful spot with majestic pines, kids playground, dog park, amenities, gas station, general store and Humphreys Peak in Flagstaff on the near horizon in the Western sky.
This awe-inspiring crater was the first impact site conclusively proven to have been caused by a meteor and it has changed the way we think about the planet and stars. It is a wonderful place to visit for the day or make a weekend out of it and see other attractions nearby, like The Grand Canyon, Havasupai Falls, Route 66, Snowbowl, Petrified Forest and many more.
The Meteor Crater is open daily from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Elevators and ADA accessibility are available for all guests with special needs. A free dog ramada is also on property to keep pets safe while guests visit the attraction. For more information, visit http://www.meteorcrater.com
By Claire Natale
Photos Courtesy of Meteor Crater