Fifty-Thousand Years Ago
Back when the Colorado Plateau was a damp and grassy woodland, something spectacular happened. The only witnesses were lumbering mammoths and curious sloths. The aftermath of this spectacular event is still visible today.We call it Meteor Crater.
Unlike other impact sites on earth, Meteor Crater is unique. The climate and conditions were just right to preserve the evidence of a meteorite strike. It’s huge. The crater is nearly a mile in diameter and a hundred and fifty feet deep. Even though the crater looks fresh, nearly fifty feet has eroded away from the rim. Over a hundred feet of sediment has been deposited in the crater’s basin. Still, the site is spectacular, and I feel lucky to live in Arizona. There’s more interesting geology in this state than any other place I’ve lived.
Early History of the Crater
Although Meteor Crater has been a scar on the Colorado Plateau for thousands of years, it didn’t receive serious attention until 1891. Grove Karl Gilbert, chief geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, published a paper proposing that an impact and not a volcano formed Meteor Crater.
His theory was largely ignored. However, businessman Daniel Barringer believed Gilbert’s theory. In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt granted Barringer Meteor Crater and the surrounding six-hundred forty acres. Although Barringer never found his mother lode of meteoric iron, his legacy lives on. The Barringer family owns and operates Meteor Crater today. They continue to protect the site for future generations.
Astronaut Training Ground and Movie Set
From 1960-1970 astronauts used Meteor Crater as a training ground for the Apollo missions to the moon. The 1984 movie Starman was also filmed at Meteor Crater. If you look through the telescope on the observation deck, you might be able to see evidence from the astronaut training. Also, wreckage from a 1964 plane crash is still at the bottom of the crater.
Visiting Meteor Crater Today
Meteor Crater is privately owned by the Barringer Corporation. Visitors are not allowed to walk out to the crater on their own. Admission is an eye-popping $18.00, but totally worth it in my opinion. Active Duty military receive free admission. Veterans can visit for $9.00. Guided rim tours leave the upper deck every half-hour. A film plays every hour. There’s also an information exhibit, museum, and fairly large gift shop.
Location: 37 miles East of Flagstaff, AZ on I-40
Operating Hours: Memorial Day through Labor Day: Open Daily 7am-7pm Non-Summer Hours: Open Daily 8am-5pm
Contact Info: 800-289-5898, firstname.lastname@example.org, RV Park 800.478.4002, RV Park Email: email@example.com
Tips for a Fun Visit
Meteor Crater is hot. Yeah, Yeah you say, everywhere in Arizona is hot. True, but it’s really hot out on the rim of the crater. I went in October and it didn’t take long to start peeling off layers. It’s very dry with nothing but the sun, sand and wind whipping in your face.
- Bring LOTS of water, sunscreen, comfortable shoes & a hat
- If you’re visiting from Flagstaff, allow at least a half-day to tour the rim, explore the museum, watch the film and browse the gift shop, otherwise you’re going to feel rushed.
- If you want to eat, bring food or else be ready to eat at a mediocre Subway (that’s all they have).
- Pets are not allowed on the crater or in the buildings. In Arizona it’s illegal to leave a pet unattended in a vehicle.
Don’t Forget About Two Gun
About twelve miles before the exit to Meteor Crater (from Flagstaff), you’ll see a curious exit to nowhere called “Two Guns.” Take this exit and you’ll discover an abandoned ghost town. The town’s history dates to the prehistoric era, and is full of legends and local lore. Diablo Canyon sits directly below the town.
Diablo Canyon is the site of an infamous Navajo massacre of Apache Indians. In 1879 the town hosted Billy the Kid while he evaded the law. In 1889 four men robbed a train and hid at Two Guns, thus cementing its reputation as a lawless wild west town. Several bank robbers from nearby Winslow also used Two Guns as a hideout.
Once a famous Route 66 tourist stop, the construction of Interstate 40 signed the death warrant for Two Guns. Today, the town is completely abandoned. I’ve stopped there several times without seeing another person. Take some time to wander the ruins, hunt for interesting geologic specimens, search for lost outlaw treasure, and explore the canyon. Who knows what you’ll find?