Every time I take a road trip, I imagine that I’ll see a sign for something interesting and pull off the road to explore. I never do it. Or at least, I never had until we were speeding through the barren expanse of Arizona.
A road sign caught our attention: METEOR CRATER SITE
We had nowhere to be, so we thought, why not? and followed the signs off the exit. After a few miles of nothing, we saw a hill coming up on the horizon. But we didn’t see any craters in the earth. Was there really anything worth seeing?
We kept driving and a couple miles later, my daughter and I realized that the ridge ahead was the lip of the crater where the earth had been forced up during impact. And it was huge! We pointed it out to my mother, but she couldn’t see what we were seeing.
“There it is!”
“Straight ahead. That ridge. That’s the rim of the crater.”
She kept looking for a big hole in the ground and we gave up on trying to explain that the crater would be on the other side of the hill we were approaching. We figured we’d just let it be a surprise. Because it was huge. Much bigger than we’d anticipated. We thought we were veering off the highway to see a hole in the ground, or maybe a grassy concave piece of land where a meteor once hit. But now we realized that it was much more than that. This was a tourist attraction with a parking lot big enough for buses and RV’s. This wasn’t just a quick stop along the highway.
We bought our tickets ($18!) and started out watching a short film in the visitor’s center. It was fascinating. It portrayed the speed and impact of the explosion. When the crater hit Earth at the end, we were all as taken aback as if it were actually happening. Things like that are phenomenal to us.
The Meteor Crater site describes the impact this way: The approaching meteor lit the area with the light of hundreds of suns; its roar was defeaning; and it’s impact shook the earth for miles around as it released the energy of more than 20 million tons of TNT.
The meteor struck what is now Northern Arizona at speeds nearing 40,000 miles per hour; at that speed, it could have traveled from New York to Los Angeles in just four minutes!
We were able to walk around most of the rim of the crater, but weren’t allowed very far down into it. We almost blew down into it, though. The whipping winds were painfully strong and hard to walk against. We marveled at the sight for a minute outside, then hurried back into the Visitor’s Center to view it from the window. If we need to see it again, we’ve got pictures. 😉
The crater in Arizona is the largest and most-well preserved on Earth. The bottom floor of it is large enough to hold 20 American football stadiums at one time with two million fans in attendance. It boggles the mind. We were so glad we’d pulled off the highway to see this. We had yet to see the Grand Canyon, but felt prepared to marvel at natural wonders again. So much to see in Arizona!
What kind of natural phenomena awes you?
I also was there, and was very impressed, maybe more because I’m an astrophysicist 🙂
An astrophysicist? How neat! We’re fascinated (especially my mom) by the night sky and galaxies and stars. We were thrilled to find this since our star-gazing excursion in the desert got cancelled every night due to the weather. This was as close as got to anything astronomical. 🙂
Observing the night sky is always a great experience 🙂
Awesome!! This is right up my alley to see and recreate the moment of impact in my mind. Thanks for this fascinating stop-off in AZ
It is mind-boggling for me to imagine. And that the impression it made in the earth is still so intact after 50,000 years. I should have included that little fact in my blog.
That really is phenomenal! What a good thing you decided to go and have a look.
I know. It definitely convinced me to veer off the highway more often.
Hold on, $18 to look at a hole in the ground? Ok it’s big but… I suppose the most I’ve been awed is, despite being terrified of flying, seeing the Alps from above when flying out of Geneva.
I know, Roy. Expensive to me, too, but we were there and wanted to see it, so… We actually ended up spending hours there.
I can’t imagine not being awed by the Alps. So spectacular!
I don’t know how many times I had driven by the crater before we finally stopped in March, Juliann. And you are right! What a sight. What a hole in the ground! Definitely worth stopping to see, even paying the $18. Let’s just hope nothing similar is headed our way for a very long time.:) –Curt
It’s funny. They don’t seem to advertise it much. In all my planning, I didn’t come across it, though I was more focused on researching the Painted Desert and Grand Canyon. I’m so glad we stopped to explore.
Did you stop by the Petrified Wood National Park? –Curt
Oh, yes. Of course! I appreciated it so much more this time than when I was younger and we rushed through it.
Petrified wood has always been one of my favorite rocks, going all the way back to when I had a rock collection as a child. Once we discovered a petrified log near our home. It was the highlight of my rock collecting career. 🙂 –Curt
It’s a place I’d love to visit. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a natural phenomenon as interesting as that one. Diamond Head in Hawaii was pretty cool, though. 🙂
I have yet to see Diamond Head, but am sure it’s spectacular. I really need to get to Hawaii!
It’s a fairly easy climb and you get a great view of Waikiki. I hope you get the chance to try it sometime. 🙂