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Mon, Oct. 14

Johnson: The ‘hike’ at Meteor Crater
Hiking Arizona

What’s your story? We all have one, actually many.

This summer is the perfect time to share your story at your favorite library because the theme for the State’s summer reading program is a Universe of Stories.

Here at Spring Valley Public Library we are combining this astronomical and literary intersection by looking at meteors and meteor impact, illustrated in part, with information on the hike at Meteor Crater, AZ.

I classify this “hike” as “sissy, baby la-la.” Yes, there is a place for such civilized hikes on your bucket list. Isn’t there? And you will not be alone in this other-worldly adventure, since 1,000 people visit Meteor Crater every day through the summer.

The only hike currently possible at Meteor Crater is guided, lasting about one hour. Much of the path is paved, which means strollers are an option. So, along with encouraging reading this summer with young and old alike, you can introduce children to the amazing story of how the best preserved impact crater on planet earth was formed and explored.

The path is also relatively level, following the rim of the crater. Keeping this crater as the “best preserved” in the world means, minimizing wear and tear, to the extent possible.

In the context of geologic history, the age of this crater is relatively recent, a mere few thousand years. Scientific estimates of the size and the velocity of the meteor suggest it was 150 feet across, weighed several hundred thousand tons and raced through our atmosphere, striking the surface at 26,000 miles per hour.

The impact created a hole, initially named Franklin’s Hole, after a scout for General Custer reported it in 1871. The rim is about 150 feet above the surrounding plane, offering panoramic views of the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff. The crater is 550 feet deep. If the Washington Monument was placed in the center, the top of the monument would be at eye level with the rim.

Some 20 football stadiums could fit in the bottom of the crater and 20 million spectators could view those games from the sides of the crater. The circumference of the crater is almost 2.5 miles but the hike takes in only a fraction of this distance.

While taking in the vastness of the crater and the surrounding plane, it is easy to miss the details of the terrain as you hike along. Wildflowers dot the landscape among an assortment of rock types, principally sandstone and limestone.

On the tour, the guide pauses at different points to explain the geology, cosmology and human history of the Crater. Mining was the initial motivation behind human exploration. Astronauts have trained here and several movies have been made on site.

A fine visitor center, gift shop and RV park provide information, resources and accommodations. Hikers under such conditions vary widely in ability and interest. While I was examining the plant life, another hiker excitedly pointed out a small lizard. Others gathered around to view this wonder of nature, like they had never seen a lizard before. A walk on the wild side reminds us of the wonder in the small and the great. Both are on display here.

Things you won’t miss on this hike: wind and sun. There is no shade and no water along the trail. But there is a fee for entering this amazing, private, natural landmark and group tours can be arranged.

Next: Bear Encounter in Grapevine Canyon

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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