In the high plateaus of Northern Arizona, about halfway between Flagstaff and Winslow, lies Meteor Crater. This classic impact crater came to the forefront in the 1980s, when Hollywood chose it as the setting for the climax of the movie Starman. That was appropriate, because the crater looks so much like the surface of the moon that NASA made it one of the official training sites for the Apollo astronauts in the 1960s.
The arid setting of Meteor Crater has helped to preserve a crater that is 550 feet deep, nearly a mile across and almost 2.5 miles around the rim. It has been determined that about 50,000 years ago (relatively recent in geologic time), a 300,000 ton chunk of iron and nickel slammed into the earth. Traveling over 40,000 miles per hour, the meteorite’s impact resulted in a natural phenomenon that is large enough to hold twenty football fields. It hit the ground about 50,000 years ago.
This is a commercial enterprise and its owners do an excellent job of educating visitors and ensuring the crater remains in its well-preserved state. You can’t descend into the crater itself, but standing on the rim is well worth the admission fee. Observation viewing scopes give you a view of the abandoned mining operation in the crater's center. where engineers tried to find remains of the actual meteor. Most of it vaporized on contact.
The Visitor Center has many interactive displays as well as an Apollo Space Capsule, a 1400 lb fragment from the meteorite and a theater. Guided trail tours leave hourly beginning at 9:15 am. The 1/3 mile hike lasts about an hour.
Meteor City, the garish trading post featured in Starman, still operates along Route 66. It was transformed into a restaurant for the movie, where Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen stopped for cherry pie and peach cobbler before meeting his outer space rescuers. The geodesic dome, six colorful teepees and 100 foot long map of Route 66 were recently renovated.