Meteor Crater Natural Landmark
Meteor Crater Road, Winslow, AZ
Overall Score: B
- Open daily 8 am – 5 pm
- Closed on Christmas Day, open Thanksgiving Day 8 am – 1 pm
- Located off Exit 233 on Interstate 40
- Free parking
- Schools and group tours welcome
- Adults: $18
- Seniors 60+: $16
- Children 6-17: $9
- Veterans: $9
- Active Duty Military: Free
- Regular admission does not include the 4D Experience Room admission. This costs an additional $5 for adults and children ages 6 and up.
About 40 miles outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, where the ground is dry and mostly barren, you can visit a giant meteor crater, the result of an iron nickel meteor crashing into Earth. This crater, called Meteor Crater, is known to be the best preserved meteorite impact site on the planet. It is also the first proven meteorite impact site on Earth. Understandably, this is not necessarily a destination for everyone, but it is definitely a unique and educational experience for those who decide to check it out.
Adjacent to the impact site, is the visitor center, complete with a museum, movie, a 4D experience, guided tours around the rim, gift shop, and cafe. Despite there not being much here other than a massive crater in the ground, I found the museum in the visitor center was very educational. I was also impressed with the amount of things to do here and the quality of the attractions in general.
Here’s a more detailed look at this unique attraction:
About 50,000 years ago, an iron nickel meteor that was 150 feet in diameter, hurdled towards Earth. Its several hundred-thousand tons of mass traveled at speeds around 26,000 miles per hour, crushing into Earth and creating a crater 3/4 mile across (3,900 feet) and 700 feet deep. The destruction spread for hundreds of miles. Yet thousands of years later, this same crater still is still intact. In fact, this impact site is considered the best preserved meteorite crater in the world because of the relatively young age of the crater and due to the dry, warm climate of Arizona.
Meteor Crater, which can hold 20 football fields, is around three miles in circumference and is currently around 560 feet deep. The crater was once 700 feet deep, but now it’s not as deep due to erosion. Although it seems hard to believe, a 60 story building could sit in the crater and its top would reach the rim.
In the early 1900’s, a mining engineer by the name of Daniel Barringer, purchased the land around and including the crater, and drew up plans to start mining for iron at the impact site. He believed that the crater was created from the impact of a large iron meteorite, which opposed others’ theories that the crater was volcanic in origin. Barringer got to work mining the crater, looking for the meteorite. He spent 26 years digging within the crater, looking for the main mass of the meteorite, but it was never found. Because of the speed and force to which the meteor crashed into Earth, it is believed that most of the iron and rock within the meteorite vaporized and melted during the impact. The remaining part of the meteor that did not vaporize or melt either shattered into tiny pieces that were scattered around rim or is in microscopic particles buried as far as 3,000 feet beneath the ground.
Barringer died shortly after the scientific community started to accept his theory on the crater’s origin. Further research and study has proven his theory correct. The family of Daniel Barringer still owns the crater, the surrounding land, and the tourist operation today.
Observing the Crater
The rim of Meteor Crater is approximately 150 feet above the surface of the surrounding area – the result of the meteorite’s impact. If you follow the signs in the visitor center to the rim, you can step outside and look upon this preserved crater from decks that overlook it. There are several platforms to gaze down upon the impact site, some allowing a little different view. You can only stand on the ground next to the crater if you sign up for a guided tour at the visitor center.
In my opinion, the most interesting views of Meteor Crater are those through the permanent telescopes. On one platform overlooking the crater, there are telescopes pointed in certain directions, with names next to the telescopes, stating what you should look for. When you look through the telescopes, you get a better sense of how far away certain landmarks are within the crater. Some old mining equipment still sits in the middle of the depression; seeing it so small in the telescope gives one a better reference to how far away you actually are. The crater is big, but it’s hard to judge just how big it is when standing at the rim. I really appreciated the size of the impact site much more after these views within the telescopes.
The Visitor Center
The Meteor Crater Visitor Center is located just off the rim of the crater and includes a movie theater, gift shop, restaurant, a 4D Experience Room, rim observation areas, as well as a museum. This new and large building seems able to accommodate large groups and special needs guests quite well.
Inside the visitor’s center, you can participate in a guided tour around the crater’s rim; this is included in the price of admission. No one is allowed access to the crater without a guide. These tours are offered several times daily, as long as weather permits.
Although I did not visit the movie theater and 4D Experience Room, I spent almost an hour in the museum, learning all about the history of the crater. The museum was well done, with comprehensive exhibits explaining how the impact occurred, the history of mining in the crater, as well as scientific techniques involved in the crater’s exploration.
The visitor center has a large gift and rock shop as well as a small cafe.
Interesting Facts about Meteor Crater
- Its name, the “Meteor Crater” originally comes from the nearby post office with the name “Meteor, Arizona.” The US Board on Geographic Names gives names to natural features based on the name of the nearest post office. Other names the crater is known by include Canyon Diablo Crater and Barringer Crater.
- The Meteor Crater was designated a Natural Landmark in 1967, as the world’s first identified meteor crater.
- The square-like appearance of the crater is believed to be caused by cracks that already existed in the earth’s layers.
- During the 1960’s and 70’s, NASA astronauts performed training maneuvers in the crater for the Apollo moon missions.
- There is an RV park on the property with room for 71 Rvs.
- There are also dog kennels available at the visitor center if you are traveling with your dog. This is a great service for those traveling with animals, especially during the summer.
Overall, I did enjoy my visit to the Meteor Crater. I, however, am geology fanatic. I do think the attraction is entertaining enough to be an interesting stop along the road for those traveling in and around Flagstaff. The Meteor Crater is definitely a unique place to visit and is likely the only meteorite impact site you’ll ever see! That alone makes the experience worth it, at least in my opinion. In addition, this is a family-friendly environment with the educational museum, the movie theater, and 4D Experience Room. Obviously if you have children under 6, they most likely won’t enjoy much at the crater. Kids ages 10 and up would like the Meteor Crater much more. With plenty of room to walk around, places to sit, and a cafe, a family with older children would be comfortable, and could spend about 1-2 hours here.
Have you been to the Meteor Crater? What did you think of the site? Let me know in the comments.