By Chris Fellows, Serenity Mobile Observatory
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.
The site lies 5,710 feet above sea level, is 560 feet deep, and is the result of a nickel–iron 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 [email protected]. 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.
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!
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!)