Unknown to many, northern Arizona is home to a meteor crater near Route 66. Just off the Interstate 40, east of Flagstaff and west of Winslow, you can visit the protected meteorite impact crater that was created about 50,000 years ago. Formally known as the Canyon Diablo Crater, it is not protected as a national monument as it is still privately owned by Barringer Crater Company. This geological site is well worth a stop on your road trip vacation through America as you will be amazed by the sheer size of it and history.
Called by scientists as the Barringer Crater in honor of Daniel Barringer, who was first to suggest that it was produced by meteorite impact.
How large do you expect a meteor crater to be? The width or height. Or how deep? In the middle of nowhere it was very hard to guess. Arriving by car along the 2 mile stretch of road from the motorway, we got closer to the car park and still couldn’t imagine the size! The visitor building is positioned on the side of the crater, and from the outside it doesn’t look to wide. Especially after our hiking adventures in Zion National Park and the Horseshoe Bend we were trying to compare the distance.
Paying $18 per person we headed straight upstairs as we were lucky to join the last free tour given. This was a 30 minute tour that allowed you to walk along a private path at the top of the crater, hearing information and the history given by a well-spoken guide.
The size of the crater is in total 1,200 m (3,900 ft) in diameter and most accurately 170 m (560 ft) deep. Our photos do no justice to showing off the size!
Throughout the history of the first discovery, many had assumed it was a volcano, but with mining engineers, geologists and researchers combined to investigate the crater, it was proven to be a caused by a meteor. In 1960 Eugene M. Shoemaker was the one to finally confirm all recent investigations done by Daniel Barringer, by focusing on the minerals stishovite and coesite, found only where quartz-bearing rocks that have been severly shocked by an instant pressure. A volcano simply couldn’t perform the high pressure needed to create such an impact to the rocks.
From Eugine Shoemaker’s findings, this Meteor Crater was the first proven extraterrestrial impact found on the Earth’s surface. Ever since this has been proven, there has been numerous others identified in the world previously unknown as meteor craters. However this Meteor Crater in Arizona remains one of the most visually impressive based on the total size, the age and history, and the lack of vegetative cover.
In the 1960s and 1970s, NASA astronauts were trained in the crater to prepare for the Apollo missions to the Moon.
From the tour we also learnt of a small aeroplane which had crashed within the crater who, out of curiosity, flew too low inside and got sucked into the warm dense air at the bottom. Luckily they survived and was rescued, but what was humorous was that it was too costly to retrieve the whole plane from the inside. The owners in charge at the time decided to throw the plane parts down one of the main mining shafts (from previous research) which would never be used again. Left behind is just the wing of the plane, which is only just visible to see from the path of the tour & better visible with one of the telescopes.
After the tour we visited the museum section, where you can interact with the exhibitions and look at the history timeline in depth. You can also learn the geographical aspects better, like the type of rock and see fragments of meteorite that has been found shattered in the whole area.
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- Join a free tour if you can – you learn so much more and can ask questions!
- Very family orientated – fun for children!
- Worth a stop along Route 66
- Wheelchair friendly
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Have you visited the Meteor Crater before? What did you think? We’d love to hear in the comments!