About 35 miles east of Flagstaff, AZ, and just south of Interstate 40, you’ll find the “best preserved meteorite crater on earth”. This crater is over 4,000 feet in diameter, 2.4 miles in circumference and about 550 feet deep. Although it is far from the largest meteorite crater on earth it has an interesting history in that it was the first to be recognized as a crater resulting from the impact of a meteor.
The first recorded human encounter with the crater occurred in the mid-1880’s. In 1906, an enterprising miner, hoping to extract iron from the crater was granted a mining claim. His efforts over the next 20 years yielded nothing so he abandoned the crater when his money ran out and his investors disappeared when the US entered the great depression.
In the mid-1960’s, a scientist who had been involved with early nuclear blast testing came to the site and recognized several similarities between the crater and the result of a bomb blast site. This and other evidence led to the conclusion that this crater was created from the impact of a meteor. In fact, this was the first recognized meteor crater. As a result of the work done here, other crater sites around the world were recognized as such.
To give a little perspective, in the photo below, you can see the visitor’s center and parking lot on the near rim of the crater. The parking lot is about the size of a football field. It is thought that the crater was created about 50,000 years ago. The size of the meteor that impacted here has been estimated at only about 150 feet in diameter, about half the size of the parking lot. Yet, due to the speed of the meteor upon impact, about 26,000 miles an hour, the resulting blast created this crater in only about 10 seconds.
This photo shows the guide with a fragment of the meteor that formed this crater. Possibly, it broke off from the meteor prior to impact or it could have been ejected from the blast crater. It was found over 2 miles from the crater. Due to its density it weighs over 1,400 pounds.