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On Walkabout At: Meteor Crater, Arizona

Basic Information

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

Narrative

The day after we visited Petrified Forest National Park we left our hotel in Holbrook, Arizona to make the hour drive to the Meteor Crater located outside of Winslow Arizona:


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The Meteor Crater is well known for its scientific significance as being one of the world’s best preserved meteorite impact sites.  Besides being well known within the scientific community the Meteor Crater has also become a hit with tourists which is evident by the ever growing visitor center located along the rim of the crater:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

When we visited the Meteor Crater the parking lot was packed to include a large group of motorcycle tourists from Australia who’s bike can be seen parked in the above picture.  There was also a lot of construction going on to expand the visitor center.  After paying the fees to go inside we found the place to be quite nice and offered plenty of information about not only the Meteor Crater, but meteorites in general:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

It is believed that the Meteor Crater was formed by a 150-foot meteorite traveling 26,000 miles per hour that impacted the Arizona desert 50,000 years ago.  You can learn much more about the Meteor Crater from not only the displays but the movie they show in their theater as well.  The thing I found most interesting on display was the Holsinger Meteorite which is the largest fragment of the meteorite that formed the Meteor Crater that was ever found:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

The meteorite weighs an incredible 1,406 pounds despite not being that big, but it is very dense.  Visitors are allowed to touch the meteorite and it feels like a very strong steel like metal.  Something else I found of interest was that the Meteor Crater is not a National Monument of any kind, but instead is privately owned by the Barringer family. The family patriarch geologist Daniel Barringer, after striking it rich with an Arizona silver mine bought the large crater and conducted excavations for iron ore from the meteorite he believed was buried deep underneath the crater.  He began his excavations in 1903 and spent 26 more years trying to find the iron ore.

Geologist Daniel Barringer via Wikipedia.

Barringer’s views about a meteorite impact was actually quite controversial in those days because some people thought the crater could have been from volcanic activity.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s when geologist Dr. Eugene Shoemaker was able to prove that the Meteor Crater was in fact made from a meteorite.  However, the reason Barringer found such little evidence of a meteorite was because it broke up when entering the atmosphere.  Though the Barringer Family still owns the crater it is managed in conjunction with the adjacent Bar T Bar Ranch who formed the Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc. in 1955 with the Barringer family to manage the crater.

The visitor center also has displays outside that pay homage to America’s space program:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

The displays outside were interesting, but my family and I were ready to go and checkout the crater.  From the visitor center there are two options to check out the crater.  The first one is the self guided trail on an improved sidewalk and the second option is a guided tour that features some dirt trail hiking.  We first decided to check out the self guided trail and thus walked outside of the visitor and was awed with the huge hole in the ground in front of us:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

This big hole in the ground is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep.  It is one of these places that has to be seen to really appreciate how big it is.  Here is a close up look at the center of the crater where the remains of past drilling by geologist Daniel Barringer to locate iron ore all those years ago can still be seen:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

Here is a picture of the crater’s rim:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

After impact the meteor actually pushed up the crater’s rim to where from a distance it looks like a hill.  This increase in elevation causes the crater to have sweeping views of the area to the visitor center down below as well as the highest point in Arizona, the 12,637 foot Humphreys Peak in the distance:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

Here is a closer look at the snowcapped Humphreys Peak:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

I actually had a day set aside to climb Humphreys Peak during my trip to Arizona, but as it turned out the weather did not cooperate on the day I wanted to go hiking.  I actually climbed this peak all the way back in 1999 when I was living in Arizona and the sweeping views from the summit are incredible.

After checking out the self-tour course my three-year old and I decided to go and do the guided-tour course as well that begins inside the visitor center at regularly scheduled times.  There is no cost for the guided-tour and I recommend it to those who have the time available while visiting to learn more about the crater.  The walk starts on paved trail along the rim of the crater:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

Of course there was great views looking into the Meteor Crater:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

The walk along the rim is two-miles round trip and takes about an hour to complete:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

As we walked around the crater the guide pointed out the remains of a wooden structure that was once built on the side of the crater opposite from us that was used in the past by Daniel Barringer to drill into the wall of the canyon in his effort to find iron ore:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

We then arrived at the remains of an old structure on our side of the crater as well that was an old visitor center and office site from long ago:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

From the old building we then followed a trail that descends a short ways into the crater:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

The trail actually continues down into the center of the crater, but only scientists are allowed to continue down the trail.  So we stopped at a rock outcropping that provided a nice look into the crater while the guide provided a good brief about the history of Meteor Crater:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

We learned such things that there was evidence of Native-American writings about the crater as well as the first western documentation of the crater happening in 1871 by a man named Franklin who was once a scout for General George Custer.  His documentation of the crater caused it to long be known as Franklin’s Hole.  Local settlers would then call the crater Coon Butte because they believe it was a volcano.  By 1886 grazers began to find iron-nickel fragments that were believed to be silver at the time.  However, they were later concluded to be meteorite fragments and this caused the first theories of a meteorite impact to develop and thus eventually Daniel Barringer’s interest in the crater.

Something else of interest the guide pointed out was the remains of a plane that crashed into the crater all the way back in 1964:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

Fortunately both people in the plane survived despite significant injuries.  After finishing up with the history lesson it was then a direct walk back to the visitor center.  Since I had my three-year old with me we brought up the end of the line.  She was pretty tired from the walk and I had to carry her the last short distance back to the visitor center.  Here is one last panorama photo I took of the crater before finishing our visit to the Meteor Crater:

Picture from Meteor Crater, Arizona

Conclusion

Overall my family and I found the Meteor Crater to be pretty interesting.  However, I think a visit here may not be for everyone because of the steep admission price of $16 for adults and $8 for kids.  So for a large family this would be a pretty expensive place to visit just to check out a gigantic hole in the ground.  So if you are someone who has an interest in geology and science I then definitely recommend making a visit to the Meteor Crater.  My family and I spent most of the day here checking out the museum, watching the movie, eating lunch, and doing all the walks along the crater.   We felt we learned a lot and got our money’s worth from the visit, but that may not be the case for everyone.

 

 

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