It is a good thing the meteor didn't hit during modern times, located less than 40 miles east of Flagstaff, the energy released during the impact is estimated to be equal to 200 megatons, more than enough to level the city and surrounding area. Today the crater is a major tourist attraction. Located off of Interstate 40, the Barringer Crater sits almost directly between the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park.
If you have a keen geological eye evidence of the impact is all around you as you approach the crater. Boulders and stones litter the landscape like glacier erratics on the edge of the terminal moraine. Although you may be tempted to stop and search for fragments, the area around the crater is protected. On the northern rim, an excellent visitor center has been built, and the ground that was uplifted almost 150 feet towers over you to the south.
Although the area may feel like a bit of a tourist trap, the visitor center and museum is very impressive. Open 365 days a year; there are a number of displays and features outlining the incredible astronomical and geological events that happened. Also on display is a three-quarter ton fragment of the meteor that struck the high desert, fifty thousand years ago. A new 80 seat theater has been added in the last year and movies run every half hour.
The real attraction is on the southern side of the visitor center. Outside a series of catwalks, stairs and platforms allows you to explore the northern rim of the crater itself. Several high-powered telescopes allow you to examine the terrain of the crater, and it is breathtaking to see. Several times a day the visitor center runs a rim walk tour where visitors can even closer on a 45 minute hike along the western edge of the crater.
Unfortunately access to the interior of the crater itself is restricted. Souvenir hunters scouring the area for meteorite fragments and a number of accidents closed off the bottom of the crater forever.
The scale of the crater is absolutely incredible and photos do not do it justice. The small white objects at the center of the image are actually buildings, and the small dark object to the left is a large steam generator. The tiny dark protrusions on the edge of crater rim are house-sized boulders, placed there after the meteorite struck the ground.
While visiting the area you can stay at the Meteor Crater RV Park. The park has 71 pull through sites. The campsites offer little privacy with hand planted trees struggling to make a living in the hot Arizona sun. The RV park has showers, dump station, grocery store, full service gas station, laundry services and a recreation room. Nearby, the remains of old Highway 66 can be explored and many visitors enjoy hiking down it to watch a sunset or sunrise.
Located just two hours from the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest, and less than an hour from Flagstaff. The Barringer Meteor Crater is a wonder to see. Whether you gaze at it from the air conditioned comfort of the visitor center, or take a hiking tour along the western rim, you will be in awe of the sheer size of the crater, and marvel at the explosive forces that formed it. For more information you can contact Meteor Crater Enterprises, PO BOX 70, Flagstaff, Arizona 86002, (800) 289-5898.