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Meteor Crater, also called the Barringer Meteorite Crater is one of the best preserved sites of its kind on earth. To you and I, it's a mammoth bowl-shaped cavity into the earth. To scientists it's a dream come true.
The complete story of the Barringer Crater, located 35 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, is a story of scientific adventure and discovery. It's the tale of a stubborn outsider who stood up against the entire weight of scientific opinion of his time and was ultimately proven right. In the course of his twenty-seven year battle, Daniel Moreau Barringer saw
his theory about the impact origin of his crater vindicated, but failed to discover the fortune in meteoritic iron which he was convinced lay at the bottom. What Barringer didn't know was that the meteorite underwent total disintegration upon impact. Only about one-tenth of the material survived, some of it lying buried a thousand feet deep or more.
About 50,000 years ago, according to our modern day research, a fireball appeared in the northern sky, but it didn't pass by in a streak of glory. Instead with blinding light and deafening sound, the meteorite slammed into the earth. The impact blasted a crater more than 600 feet deep. Scientists theorize it was the speed of the object, rather than the
size that produced such a gigantic depression.
Over time the mega-hole has filled in somewhat, but even so, if you placed the 50-story Washington Monument in the bottom, it would not quite reach the rim! Guides also tell you twenty football games could be played simultaneously on the crater floor, while more than two million spectators could watch and cheer from it's sloping sides. Those mind boggling statistics really make you think!
There is evidence of the crater being referenced by Native Americans in the area, however the first written report was not made until about 1871, by a man named Franklin who served as a scout with General Custer. For years the crater was called Franklin's Hole. It was 1902 when Mr. Barringer, a mining engineer, became interested in the site as a potential source for mining iron.
Located on the rim is a museum where one can find a chunk of nickel-iron meteorite, part of the original mass of perhaps 300,000 tons in total. Its believed to be the largest piece ever found in the area. In the museum, you can tour the exhibits and a video presentation vividly portraying how the meteorite impacted, the devastation that resulted and the significant role the crater plays in the study of earth and space sciences. The section called the Astronaut Hall of Fame has artifacts related to the space program and is worth a look. From inside the museum, you can view the crater from four different observation points.
The topographical terrain of the crater so closely resembles that of the moon and other planets, NASA designated it as one of the official training sites for the Apollo astronauts. The word desolate immediately comes to mind when describing what the landscape looks like. A path leading to the crater floor is referred to as Astronauts Trail.
Visitors are no longer allowed to hike into the crater, but you can walk around the rim. Guided tours are offered hourly from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. weather permitting.
Mother Nature continues her process of slow but inescapable erosion by wind, water and heat. But unlike most similar craters, Meteor Crater has sustained relatively little erosion. In 1968, it was designated a Natural Landmark by the Department of the Interior. Meteor Crater is open year round and they offer longer hours in the summer. A snack bar and gift shop are available on site. Allow about 2 hours for a visit and rim tour.