Around 50,000 years ago, the climate of Arizona was much different. Much cooler and damper, the area around what is now modern-day Winslow, was open grasslands and with wooded areas. The land was inhabited by wooly mammoth and giant sloths. Into this idyllic setting, an nickel-iron object 54 yards across plunged from the sky at 26,000 miles per hour and slammed into the earth. It unleashed energy equivalent to 20 million tons of TNT blasting a deep crater in the earth. The crater is 4,000 feet in diameter, 570 feet deep, and is surrounded by a rim that rises 150 feet above the surrounding plains. Most of the meteorite was vaporized on impact, but it blew millions of tons of debris and rocks all over the surrounding countryside.
When early settlers came into the area, they mistook the crater and the debris as remnants of an old volcano. This diagnosis wasn’t surprising since the San Francisco Peaks volcanic fields lie only 40 miles to the east. They called it Canyon Diablo Crater, named after the nearest town Canyon Diablo.
However, in 1903, a mining engineer by the name of Daniel M. Barringer felt the crater was the result of a meteor impact. He staked a mining claim on the area, estimating from the size of the crater than the meteorite had a mass of 100 million tons. Iron ore of the type found at the crater was valued at $125 dollars a ton in those days, so Barringer was searching for a load of metal he believe to be worth more than a billion dollars in 1903 dollars. Barringer spent the next 30 years trying looking for the iron and trying to prove his impact theory, including digging 1,300 feet into the depths of the crater to find the iron mass he felt must be buried there. Although he never found the iron, he’s theories of a meteor impact were finally vindicated.
Today, Meteor Crater, also called Barringer Crater in honor of its founder, is one of the best preserved meteorite impact sites in the world. It is still privately owned by the Barringer family and they are dedicated to preservation and promotion of the Crater as a memorial to the pioneering scientific work of its founder. Visitors may choose the view the crater via the air-conditioned indoor viewing area or venture out on the crater’s rim on one of several self-guiding observation trails. The trails include interpretive signs plus observation telescopes for a closer look at the details of the huge crater and artifacts left from human exploration. The visitor’s center on the north rim features interactive exhibits and displays about meteorites, asteroids, space, comets and the solar system, as well as a terrific gift shop.
There is an RV park on the premises, however, Flagstaff is your best bet for great resorts, hotels, motels, shopping and dining.
Other attractions in the area include:
Petrified Forest National Park
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Wupatki National Monument
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc.
Interstate 40, Exit 233
Winslow, AZ 86047 USA