That’s a big hole! – Visit Meteor Crater

By Chris Fellows, Serenity Mobile Observatory

Meteor Crater Visitor Center. Click any image to enlarge.

Will you be anywhere near Flagstaff, Arizona, this year? If so you have to make a stop at Meteor Crater, formerly known as the Canyon Diablo Crater, and only about 37 miles east of the city. Located just minutes from Interstate 40 and the old Route 66 in northern Arizona, this meteorite impact crater is privately owned and was designated a National Natural Landmark in November 1967. I visited the site last fall and it is very well maintained and has a lovely exhibit facility where you can learn all about this geological feature and even touch a large piece of the chunk of iron that created it more than 50,000 years ago.  

Fragment of the meteor that made the crater

The site lies 5,710 feet above sea level, is 560 feet deep, and is the result of a nickeliron meteorite about 160 feet across slamming into the earth at about 26,000 miles per hour. The crater is ringed by a rim that rises 148 feet above the surrounding desert, is about a mile across, and has a central rubble pile of about 800 feet deep on top of the bedrock. The air conditioned visitor center is well laid out and has many interesting exhibits including a small theater where they screen an informative movie every 30 minutes or so that was enjoyable to watch.

I stayed at the RV park just 5 miles from the crater and also owned by the company who runs the facility. The park was easy to access from I-40, is reasonably priced and offered a good discount for crater park entry for campers who stay at the park. This is a great base camp for visiting Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Sedona, Walnut Canyon and Sunset Crater, which are all within an hour or two from the RV park. For additional information and reservations you can call toll free 800-478-4002 or email them at rvpark@meteorcrater.com. This is a good dark sky location so bring your telescope or just your eyes and enjoy the spectacle of the heavens in all their glory.

Panoramic view of the crater from an observation deck

The crater itself is pretty amazing and the park offers guided as well as unguided walking tours over pretty easy pathways. The tour guides are very knowledgeable about all aspects of the event, the site geology and its history. The observation platforms are nicely constructed and maintained with plentiful guard rails and handholds to help you along some of the pathways that can be steep in places. Make sure you bring some water or other means to hydrate as the desert sun can be brutal. Even in November when I visited it was pretty hot and I was glad I had thought to bring some bottled water on the hike.

This is just another great astronomically related destination in our wonderful country that you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area. Make a stop here and let me know what you thought! 

Till next time!

Clear Skies,
Chris Fellows, Serenity Mobile Observatory

Find Chris on Facebook (or, if you’re lucky, at your campground). (Editor: Check out his amazing photos on his Facebook page!)

 

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9 Thoughts to “That’s a big hole! – Visit Meteor Crater”

  1. Jan K.

    My husband and I visited in the spring on our return home to Massachusetts from a camping trip on the Baja. It was a fantastic stop! It was SO windy we had to hold onto the railings walking. The walks along the rim were closed due to the high winds. We asked if they had an anemometer there because the winds were so fierce. The introductory video is a must do before going out to the walkways and platforms to see the crater. Can you just imagine how huge the meteor must have been and how fast it was traveling to create such a huge depression!?!

  2. Don Blehm

    Dozens of flights over several decades with my personal business aircraft between Colorado and Southern California took me and associates high over that fascinating “hole in the ground”. Always liked to clear with traffic control for enough flight path adjustment to track directly over it and to tell the story to anyone on board. Finally awhile back was able to RV CAMP at their lovely park and take in the site at ground level. THRILLING

  3. Vwilmom

    Visited this site this past October. Well worth it.

  4. Beth Holt

    In March we visited Meteor Crater with a school visitor, Flat Stanley. We were surprised to hear that if we’d had a travel kennel with us for our schnauzer, he could have stayed in the lobby at the Visitor center while we explored the museum and crater. It was cool enough and we were there earlier in the day that he did okay waiting for us in the car.
    So if you’re traveling with a pet and plan to visit, I suggest you check with them and see if this option is still allowed.

    1. Serenity Mobile Observatory

      It’s always nice to visit pet friendly locations while on the road. I didn’t know they offered this. Very cool.

  5. Glen Scofield

    A few years ago, my wife and I visited the Meteor Crater, staying at the same RV campground as Chris Fellows. Though my wife, Jeanne, considered the spot “just another hole in the ground” and essentially without merit, our visit was enhanced by my memories of my experience when I was a boy, as my father took my brother, Craig, his friend, Bill, and me around Arizona, where we grew up. In those days, one could walk down trails into the crater. I’ll never forget the thrill of being at the epicenter of such a cataclysmic event that produced that enormous hole. We walked around the bottom of the crater, exploring the buildings and other structures that were there then, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Now, nearly three-quarters of a century later (I’ll be 79 in July), I realize how valuable were those trips on which our single-parent father took us (we also walked among the ruins of Montezuma’s Castle) that enabled us to appreciate the astounding events and people who populated Arizona in the largely ignored past. Not long ago, one of my sons gave me a framed page from an old, old atlas. It showed Arizona with just ten counties! When I was growing up we memorized its fourteen counties, which blossomed to fifteen since I moved away. That is perhaps a lesson that even in the desert Southwest change happens in incredibly dynamic and surprising ways.

    1. Wolfe

      I’m a few decades younger than Glen, but have to agree changes are shocking even within my lifetime. I visited the crater in the early 90s, and got to walk down to the drill site (which I think they don’t do anymore?), and there was very little development for an hour around the crater area. I keep wanting to bring my own kids back someday, but it sounds like it will be a quite different experience now.

      When I visited in the 90s, our guide told a story of how the crater was originally bought/privatized for mineral drilling rights, and how the original purchaser went bankrupt because they never found much of the meteor — presumed to have been “burnt up” (well, 100% spheroids) on entry, and the crater just being an effect of the airburst (the same theory currently believed about the Tanguska blast). Maybe the Holsinger meteor (~15% estimated mass, found late 1800s) started the mining story instead of contradicting it? Since then, the smaller Camp Verde meteorite has also been chemically associated with the Diablo Canyon/MC site. How amazing that within my lifetime, we’re still learning about a 50,000 year old meteor site!

      1. Serenity Mobile Observatory

        I don’t think there are tours to the crater floor anymore (I didn’t specifically ask about it but didn’t notice any signage to that effect). There is a guided rim walk that gets you a very nice panoramic view of the entire site and surrounding plains. I did appreciate the effort that was put in place to increase access for folks that can’t make a difficult hike. Even if you’re in a wheelchair you can still take in this attraction.

    2. Serenity Mobile Observatory

      It may be just another big hole but it is part of what I consider the real history of our place here on Earth. It’s only 50,000 years old, an eye-blink in geological time, and a reminder that we live in a dynamic universe and that something like this will happen again. It’s just a matter of time.

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