In a world where the great canyons and vast deserts seem to grab the headlines, there lies a scar on the face of Earth, a testament to the powers of the universe and the delicate balance of our existence.
This is the Meteor Crater, also known as Barringer Crater, a monument of a cataclysm from 50,000 years past.
Situated in the arid expanse of Arizona’s Colorado Plateau, between Flagstaff and Winslow, this well-preserved marvel stands as a symbol of nature’s occasional yet powerful interventions in the course of Earth’s history.
How did this enigmatic landmark come into existence?
Why has it managed to withstand the ravages of time so gracefully?
And, most importantly, why should you add it to your outdoors bucket list?
A Cataclysmic Encounter
On an ordinary day 50,000 years ago, the peace of the Colorado Plateau was shattered.
An iron-nickel asteroid, spanning about 150 feet, hurtled towards Earth, its fate sealed in a collision of epic proportions.
The aftermath of this fiery union left behind a colossal depression – at first 4,000 feet wide and 700 feet deep.
Though erosion has reduced its depth to 550 feet, the scars from that day remain, with layers of limestone and sandstone revealing their secrets beneath the rim.
The story of Meteor Crater intertwines with that of a visionary man named Daniel M. Barringer.
In 1903, this mining engineer and businessman postulated a radical idea: that the crater was the result of a massive iron meteorite impact.
With his company, the Standard Iron Company, Barringer staked a mining claim, acquiring 640 acres around the crater’s epicenter, a deed signed no less by President Theodore Roosevelt himself.
Having secured a significant fortune from the Commonwealth Mine in Arizona, Barringer saw another golden opportunity beneath the crater’s surface.
With an estimated meteorite mass of 100 million tons and the iron ore valued at $125/ton at the time, Barringer envisioned a treasure trove worth over a billion 1903 dollars.
By 1928, however, he had poured roughly $7 million (in today’s money) into this venture, tirelessly seeking the meteoric wealth beneath.
However, the prevailing scientific consensus at the turn of the century dismissed Barringer’s theory.
Lunar craters were believed to be of volcanic origin, and the concept of impact craters was foreign.
Undeterred, Barringer embarked on a 27-year journey, drilling up to 1,375 ft deep, in search of the buried meteorite.
Unfortunately, his dreams remained elusive, as most of the meteorite had vaporized upon impact.
A Portal to the Cosmos
Today, the Meteor Crater stands as a beacon for space enthusiasts, researchers, and tourists.
With roughly 270,000 annual visitors, this site, owned by the Barringer Crater Company, remains both an educational and research epicenter.
The legacy of Barringer lives on, as the crater was instrumental in training Apollo astronauts and continues as an active astronaut training ground.
The Meteor Crater Visitor Center, perched on the crater’s north rim, offers a comprehensive journey through space.
Here, visitors can engage with interactive displays exploring meteorites, asteroids, and the vastness of our Solar System.
Some of the cherished artifacts include an Apollo boilerplate command module, a 1,406 lb meteorite, and touchable meteorite specimens from the crater itself.
Formerly known as the Museum of Astrogeology, this Visitor Center encompasses a movie theater, a Discovery Center & Space Museum, a gift shop, and unique observation areas overlooking the crater.
There’s no shortage of breathtaking natural wonders for outdoor aficionados to explore, from towering mountain peaks to serene alpine lakes.
But why should Meteor Crater be on every outdoors enthusiast’s bucket list?
A Glimpse into Cosmic Drama
At Meteor Crater, you’re not just standing at the edge of an impressive hole in the ground.
You’re witnessing a site where the Earth met a wanderer from space in a dramatic clash.
The outcome? A gaping cavity, 550 feet deep and over 3000 feet wide.
Every glance into its depths is a reminder of the vast universe beyond our planet and the forces at play.
A Tour Unlike Any Other
Many outdoor experiences take you through terrains shaped over millennia, but how often do you walk the rim of a meteor impact site?
The guided rim tour, lasting a manageable 35-40 minutes, offers both an educational and awe-inspiring journey.
Knowledgeable guides share the crater’s history, its significance in the realm of planetary science, and fun anecdotes that bring the crater’s story to life.
Panoramic Views from Observation Platforms
As outdoor lovers, we thrive on sweeping views and vantage points, and Meteor Crater does not disappoint.
With three distinct observation platforms, visitors can marvel at the crater from varying angles.
Each platform provides a unique perspective of the crater’s vastness, the exposed layers of ancient rock, and the terrain shaped by the colossal impact.
With the expansive Arizona landscape as the backdrop, the views are nothing short of mesmerizing.
More Than Just a Geological Marvel
While the crater itself is undoubtedly the star attraction, the surrounding environment offers a rich tapestry of the Colorado Plateau’s flora and fauna.
The arid climate hosts a unique blend of desert-adapted life, making the site not only a geological exploration but also a biological one.
A Catalyst for Curiosity and Learning
Beyond its sheer visual splendor, Meteor Crater ignites curiosity.
It prompts questions about our place in the universe, the forces that shape our world, and the boundless mysteries of space.
For those outdoor enthusiasts who love coupling their adventures with learning, Meteor Crater is a goldmine.
A Convenient Detour on Your Arizona Adventure
Located just 43 miles from Flagstaff and 26 miles from Winslow, adding Meteor Crater to your itinerary is a breeze.
It’s a detour that promises unparalleled wonder without straying far from the beaten path.
There are many impressive landmarks across the United States, each boasting its own charm and historical significance.
However, when it comes to Meteor Crater, its singularity stands unmatched.
It’s the best-preserved meteorite impact site on Earth, and there’s truly nothing like it in the USA.
What You Can’t Do at Meteor Crater
For those planning an expedition to Barringer Crater, the allure of descending into the heart of this celestial landmark is undeniably tempting.
However, visitors should be aware that, for safety reasons, the journey to the Meteor Crater’s depths remains off-limits.
The crater isn’t just a tourist destination; it’s an active site of scientific discovery, with research being conducted throughout the year, necessitating the restrictions.
How Meteor Crater Compares to the Grand Canyon
While the Grand Canyon stretches over 277 miles in length and reaches depths of over a mile, Meteor Crater’s charm lies in its concentrated impact — both literally and figuratively.
Measuring about a mile across and 550 feet deep, it’s a more contained experience.
Visitors can take in the entirety of the crater from several observation points, something impossible with the Grand Canyon’s expansive views.
A trip to the Grand Canyon often involves days of exploration, whether it’s hiking down to the Colorado River, mule trips, or simply hopping between countless viewpoints.
The vastness requires time to truly appreciate.
Meteor Crater, on the other hand, provides a more concise experience.
With a 35-40 minute guided tour, visitors can learn about the science behind the impact, witness the force of the collision in the uplifted layers of rock, and even touch fragments of the very meteor that caused it all.
Accessibility and Crowds
The Grand Canyon, particularly the South Rim, often grapples with large crowds, especially during peak seasons.
Meteor Crater, while popular, tends to be less crowded, offering a more intimate experience.
Comparing the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater is akin to contrasting an epic novel with a powerful short story.
Both have their merits, and both offer profound experiences.
While Meteor Crater can’t match the Grand Canyon’s vastness and variety of activities, it delivers a concentrated dose of wonder, science, and cosmic intrigue.
Best Time to Visit Meteor Crater
The Climate Factor
Nestled at an elevation of about 5,709 feet, Meteor Crater experiences a semi-arid climate.
This means that while summers can get warm, they’re typically more temperate than the scorching heats of lower-altitude regions in Arizona.
Winter, on the other hand, can be chilly, with occasional snowfall.
As with many popular tourist spots, the summer months — particularly June through August — tend to draw larger crowds.
This is thanks in part to school vacations.
If a quieter, more introspective visit is on your agenda, consider the shoulder seasons: late spring (April to early June) and early fall (September to October).
During these times, the weather remains pleasant, and the throngs are thinner.
For those hoping to blend their crater visit with a bit of stargazing, the clear desert skies of late spring and early fall are ideal.
The lack of light pollution in the area provides a fantastic backdrop for observing the Milky Way and various celestial events.
Activities in the Vicinity
Petrified Forest National Park
About a 90-minute drive from Meteor Crater, this national park is a treasure trove of ancient, fossilized trees turned to multicolored stone.
It’s a vivid testament to the transformative power of time.
The Painted Desert, a section of the park, offers breathtaking landscapes of layered rock formations in a spectrum of colors.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Situated roughly 50 miles northwest of Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater offers a completely different kind of geological experience.
This cinder cone volcano, which last erupted around 1000 AD, presents unique red and orange hues – a stark contrast to the surrounding verdant ponderosa pines.
Just 26 miles east of Meteor Crater, this quaint town is famed for its mention in the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy.”
You can literally stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, beside a life-sized statue and a mural commemorating the song.
The town also boasts historic Route 66 landmarks, adding a touch of Americana to your cosmic journey.
Located in Flagstaff, about 43 miles from the crater, this observatory is where Pluto was discovered in 1930.
It offers nightly viewing sessions, allowing visitors to peek through telescopes and learn about various celestial wonders from knowledgeable guides.
The terrain surrounding Meteor Crater is perfect for those seeking a bit of adrenaline.
Consider mountain biking, off-roading, or hiking in the nearby Coconino National Forest.
In the vast landscape of outdoor destinations, there are those spots that beckon with their pristine beauty and others with their historical resonance.
And then, there’s Meteor Crater — a site that compellingly intertwines Earth’s geology with the mysteries of the cosmos.
As wanderlust drives us to explore uncharted terrains and untold stories, it’s such unconventional sites that rekindle our wonder and challenge our understanding of our place in the universe.
For those yearning for an outdoor experience that transcends the usual, this cosmic marvel awaits, promising both awe and enlightenment.