If you or someone in your family loves science, you might want to take a day trip to Meteor Crater, a privately owned tourist attraction in the northern desert of Arizona. To get the most out of the Meteor Crater experience, you should probably already have a strong interest in science. Many visitors who don’t have called this place a tourist trap for its steep ticket price and relatively modest attractions as compared to, say, the Grand Canyon. Hikers and bicyclists may be disappointed because pets are prohibited and no one is allowed to descend into the crater itself – even though an entire film crew was allowed in once to film the 1984 Jeff Bridges movie Starman. In addition, visitors are not allowed to hike the perimeter of the crater, but must stick to the limited walkways. Meanwhile, the average kid or teenager who has already seen the wonders of the world via the internet might roll his or her eyes at what appears to be a small, boring museum adjacent to a big, dusty hole in the ground.
But to the right person, Meteor Crater can be worth seeing. From the upper deck, it is a breathtakingly huge sight at one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep. It seriously looks like another planet. Like the surface of Mars, maybe. It is so stark and dry that it looks like it has no oxygen, let alone water. In fact, the astronauts of the 1960s trained within the crater itself to prepare for whatever they might encounter on the Apollo missions to the moon. Look out over this unearthly sight and try to imagine the catastrophic impact as an asteroid traveling at 26,000 miles per hour smashed into our planet approximately 50,000 years ago, obliterating the giant slugs and wooly mammoths that wandered what once was a temperate and tropical paradise. If you can’t quite picture this, go see the movie Impact that plays in the refreshingly cool, air-conditioned Visitors’ Center.
Amateur geologists will get even more out of the Meteor Crater experience than amateur astronomers because the gift shop is filled with different minerals and crystals. There is also a “Interactive Discovery Center” museum next to the movie theater in which you can handle samples of the meteorite taken from the crater. Out on the walkways, you can look through telescopes to get close-up views of the crater itself. There is Subway restaurant located in the Visitors’ Center for a convenient and healthy lunch.
METEOR CRATER (http://www.meteorcrater.com/)
Location: On Interstate Highway 40, Meteor Crater is located about 37 miles / 60 kilometers east of Flagstaff, Arizona with its population of 65,870 and about 18 miles / 29 kilometers west of Winslow, Arizona with its population of 9,655.
Buy your tickets at the Visitors’ Center, which is open every day as follows:
- Memorial Day to September 15th 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM
- Rest of the year 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
- Thanksgiving Day open from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM
- Closed Christmas Day
Ticket prices are as follows:
- Adults ages 18 through 59 pay $18.00
- Seniors aged 60 and older pay $16.00
- Juniors ages 6 through 17 pay $9.00
- Kids 5 years old and younger are free
- The family rate for five or more is $2.00 off per admission
- There are also special rates for active military, veterans, and tour groups of at least 15 people. Check the website for details.
- Pets are not allowed at Meteor Crater
Try to go during fall, spring, or winter because summertime in Arizona involves extreme dry heat and blazing sunshine. No matter what time of year you go, bring sturdy hiking shoes, a hat to keep off the sun, sunblock, and bottles of water to keep you hydrated.
What if you want to see the Grand Canyon, too? I would advise scheduling an entirely separate trip for that. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon (which is the more picturesque area that everybody wants to see) is about 80 miles northwest of Flagstaff, Arizona and Meteor Crater is 35 miles east of Flagstaff. That’s too long a drive to get them both in a daytrip and see everything you want to see.
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