The golden age of touring Route 66 came to an end when Interstate Highway 40 bypassed nearly every historic town and scenic destination along this road in the Southwest. With no local vehicular traffic, businesses that once flourished boarded up their doors and many small towns were abandoned. Fortunately, the steadfast effort of many entrepreneurs has kept the Route 66 dream alive in modern times.
Public interest in touring old Route 66 has steadily increased during the last two decades and this has rekindled profitable business opportunities along the Mother Road. Now there is a steady flow of automobiles and tour buses running through the heavily promoted Route 66 destinations that have an infrastructure that is capable of meeting the demand. Other Route 66 towns that cannot rebuild or promote due to financial constraints still lag behind, but overall the trend of reviving Route 66 as America’s vacation land is making steady headway.
Small towns with stylish yet cheesy accommodations, weird tourist traps and one of a kind destinations is what Route 66 was famous for. There literally was a new adventure awaiting just a few miles further on down the road at any given moment. As far as the natural wonder destinations along Route 66 are concerned, they will withstand the test of time, as long as the crooks on capitol hill do not turn all of this picturesque country into gas fracking fields.
One of the most famous and most popular natural wonders that can be experienced when touring Route 66 in Arizona is the Meteor Crater. Meteor Crater is located on Interstate 40 about 20 minutes east of Flagstaff near Winslow, Arizona. The Meteor Crater Road is the exit ramp to look for and there is a big Route 66 style trading post where these these two old roads once met. The trading post offers fuel, food and drinks, so this is a good place to stretch the legs if spending the day at the crater is in the plans.
Meteor Crater Road runs south from I-40 for six miles to the Meteor Crater Visitors Center. The roadside signage for Meteor Crater along this road has the classic Route 66 taste and style! The crazy Meteor Crater signs are entertaining, as well as educational, so it is worth taking the time to slow down to read the messages along the way. The views from the road on the flat high desert plateau stretch out to the tall mountains on the horizon and there are plenty unique geological features along the way that indicate what lies ahead.
The Meteor Crater Visitor Center is a modern facility that offers plenty to see and do. The visitor center is basically a vast meteor museum that offers a wealth of information that visitors of all ages can learn a little something from. Plenty of information about the history of the bolide impact site can be found and there are many large meteorite exhibits on display. Interactive and theater exhibits also contribute to the learning experience. Group tours and staff guided educational tours can be booked inside the visitors center.
Outside of the visitors center there is a large picnic area and a NASA aerospace exhibit. The aerospace exhibit items are from the Apollo era and the American Astronaut Wall Of Fame is located here too. Food and beverages are available at a fast food joint inside the visitors center, so it is easy to stay hydrated in this arid climate. The building is air conditioned, so some relief from the extreme heat of summer can also be found. During the winter months the daytime temperatures are much more comfortable, so this is the best time of year to do an all day Meteor Crater excursion. There also is an RV park on site, so setting the land yacht up as a home base for exploring all that this region has to offer is an option.
Meteor Crater is the best preserved meteor impact site on earth! This gigantic crater shows very little erosion and the intrusive forces of mankind have been minimal. In other words, Meteor Crater looks almost as it did when the big chunk of metallic asteroid from outer space struck this piece of earth about 50,000 years ago. As far as bolide impact areas are concerned, the Meteor Crater in Arizona is as fresh as it gets!
After paying the reasonable price of admission, a short pathway leads from the visitors center to Meteor Crater. It is not till one stands on the rim of the crater that the realization occurs as to just how big this hole in the ground really is. The diameter of the crater rim is about three quarters of a mile wide and the depth is 560 feet. That is a tremendous volume of rock and dirt to displace and the extremely powerful impact must have been heard from thousands of miles away. Some of the displaced earth can be seen along Meteor Crater Road, so this explains the odd geological features that are seen on the way in.
Meteor Crater is so big, that is nearly impossible to fit the entire crater into a photo taken with an ordinary camera. I used a Nikon D90 with an 18x105mm lens and only about three quarters of the width of the crater could be captured. Then I tried a point & shoot pocket camera with a wide panoramic view setting and I still could not fit the entire crater into a photo. All that can be said is that a wide panoramic view specialty lens for a camera will be necessary if a photographer wishes to capture an image of the huge crater in its entirety. This goes to show just how gigantic this meteor impact site really is!
There are several trails that lead to good viewpoints on the crater rim. Most of the trails are paved, so the viewpoints can be accessed by those who have mobility challenges. Some of the viewing benches are shaded, so one can relax without getting fried like an egg by the hot Arizona desert sun. Needless to say, a wide brim hat and some good sunglasses do help to cut down the glare when viewing the features of this ancient crater.
The open air overlooks offer views of points of interest within the crater and there are many unique features to see. At some of the viewpoint decks there are marked spotting tubes that point directly to specific features within the crater. This is a nice convenience because all that one has to do is look through a tube to locate a point of interest, then use binoculars or a telephoto camera to zoom in. There also is a hilltop viewpoint station that offers unobstructed views of the entire crater and the surrounding landscape, which stretches out to the horizon.
No matter whether Route 66 in Arizona becomes a gold mine tourist industry once again or whether this stretch of the Mother Road turns back into a ghost town trail, there is one thing that is certain. Meteor Crater will be the one Route 66 tourist attraction that will always withstand the test of time. Economically, Meteor Crater is operated as a privately owned business that has never needed Federal Government oversight, so this destination does depend on visitors spending a few dollars.
Meteor Crater certainly belongs on the lifetime travel destination bucket list because of its sheer enormity and because of the valuable information that can be learned on site. As it is, an immense meteor impact in ancient times created this gigantic crater and a larger impact might just have resulted in vanquishing life on earth as we know it. Meteor Crater certainly is a natural wonder and it is a great place to ponder over just how fragile this world really is!
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