Around 50,000 years ago a meteorite came barreling through the air and crashed into Earth, hitting an area that is now part of Arizona. Around 100 years ago, Route 66, a famous road that connected Chicago to Los Angeles, was born. And, today, visitors can travel what is left of that famous road and visit what that meteorite left behind at Meteor Crater in Winslow, Arizona.
Meteor Crater, also known as Barringer Crater, is the world’s best-preserved meteorite impact site. Around 50,000 years ago an asteroid traveling 26,000 miles per hour jolted into the planet Earth with the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT. This impact left behind a crater that today is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference, and more than 550 feet deep.
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The crater was discovered in the early 19th century, and for years, it was thought to be a dead volcano. and in the early 1900s, Daniel Barringer first suggested that it was produced by a meteorite impact. The Barringer family claimed and purchased the site in the early 20th century and Daniel and Benjamin Chew Tilghman (a mathematician and physicist) conducted land surveys and collected documentation to support the theory. Still, despite their efforts, they were met with skepticism and disbelief.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that coesite and stishovite, minerals that are only produced when quartz-bearing rocks are put under extreme pressure, were found at the site. This helped from Barringer’s findings once and for all. Unfortunately, he had passed away in 1929 and Eugene M. Shoemaker, the man who discovered the minerals, was credited with the discovery.
Today the Barringer family still owns this giant hole in the ground and has built it out to be a full tourist attraction, complete with a coffee shop, theater, museum, and gift shop.
Meteor Crater is located in Winslow, Arizona, close to I-40 and Route 66, making it a perfect detour from your road trip. You can’t miss the highway billboards beckoning you to pull over to check it out.
There are plenty of things to do at Meteor Crater. Start your trip by watching an informational video at the 80-seat widescreen theater to learn more about the crater. Walk through the Visitor Center’s Discovery Center to see an extensive interactive display of Earth and space science and the history of this landmark. Step outside to explore the many vantage points, complete with built-in telescopes pointed at some of the most popular easter eggs, like a cardboard cutout of a man in a space suit.
There is also a 4D immersion-experience ride called the “Collision Experience” that lets you and your family attempt to save the planet (for an extra-cost ticket price). And an Apollo test capsule that makes a fun backdrop for Instagram selfies.
Make sure you leave time in your schedule for the Guided Rim Tour. This 45-minute to 1-hour tour takes visitors to the edge of the 550-foot-deep meteor while giving even more insight into the formation. Get a peak into details you might otherwise miss, like the wreckage from a 1964 plane crash that was left in the side wall.
Looking for more nearby Arizona Route 66 roadside attractions? While in Winslow be sure to visit Standin’ on The Corner Park and the World’s Smallest Church on Route 66. If you’re planning to spend the night, book a room at La Posada Hotel!
Address: Meteor Crater Rd, Winslow, AZ 86047
Cost: $29 (Adults ages 13 – 59), $27 (Seniors age 60+), $20 (Juniors ages 6 to 12, Non-Active Duty U.S. Military/Veterans), Free (Active Duty U.S. Military)
Hours: 8:00am – 5:00pm, Daily