Come explore ancient cliff dwellings tucked along the sides of a beautiful canyon and the best-preserved meteorite impact site on earth!
We will begin our tour at Walnut Canyon. The beautiful location was once the home of numerous Native American Indians who made their dwellings up and down the sheer sides of this canyon. Start in the visitor center interpretive room for a glimpse of the lifestyle of these people and their neighbors throughout the Southwest. You will learn what they ate, what they farmed, and how they lived. Then we will head down the Island Loop trail to see these ancient stone dwellings up close, and even be able to step inside the homes of this once-thriving community.
By taking advantage of the natural overhangs and outcroppings of the Kaibab Limestone they built up walls and rooms to provide shelter and living space for a whole village. It’s thought that people arrived here during the eruptions of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano and found their new home provided good protection from the elements and the desert sun. At the bottom of Walnut Canyon there used to be a flowing creek that provided an ample water source, even if getting it meant a precarious climb down vertical rock walls. While on the Island Loop trail we will see the lower lying rocks of the Coconino Sandstone, with beautiful cross-bedded dune features.
While walking around this “island in the sky” we will explore the 800-year-old ruins and rooms that circle this trail. Can you imagine what winters must have been like for the people living here? We will discuss the ingenious building techniques that enabled fires to burn inside the homes, while also providing fresh air and ventilation. Along the trail, you will see various native cactus, yucca, and even get up close and personal to smell a Ponderosa pine tree. Many say they smell like butterscotch or vanilla!
After our time at Walnut Canyon we will head along I-40 to experience the awe and wonder of Meteor Crater, one of the largest and best-preserved meteorite impact sites on our planet. This huge bowl in the middle of the high desert is filled with history and mystery. Once an official NASA testing site for the Apollo missions, this environment was used to train astronauts for future walks on the moon. Meteor Crater, also known as Berringer Crater was once the site of numerous attempts to mine for pure iron, nickel, and cobalt. We will learn about Daniel Barringer, the Pennsylvania mining engineer who developed this area and convinced numerous geologists that this was in fact an impact site and not a volcanic feature.
There is a great museum at the visitor center, featuring large pieces of the Canyon Diablo meteor that hit here and showcasing research about other meteor impact sites around the globe. Also featured in the visitor center is a short film we will watch which talks about various theories on what happened here as the meteor flew in at 26,000 mph to crash in the Arizona desert, exploding with the force of 2.5 million tons of TNT. Meteor Crater has been featured in various films and movies over the decades, due to its otherworldly appearance and location. We will step out on the rim of this huge bowl which is over 3/4 of a mile wide and 750 feet deep. From there we will see long-abandoned mining equipment still left at the bottom of the crater.
During our time here we will have a guided tour by Meteor Crater staff, who will share various insights about the history and people that have been part of this place for well over 100 years. On our way back to Flagstaff we will see one of the best views of the San Francisco peaks anywhere around, as they rise above the desert plain to 12,633 feet in elevation. During our drive back we’ll talk about some of the rough-and-tumble characters that once lived in this area, and why nearby Canyon Diablo and the settlement of Two Guns was known as the “Worst of the West”. Over the years many astronomers, astronauts, and geologists have come to study Meteor Crater, and it’s sure to leave an impact with you as well!
Walnut Canyon – Moderate
The steps leading down to the Island Loop trail are steep, but are well-built with railings and walls along most of it. The 185′ climb back up is challenging for some, but there are benches and rest stops along the way.
Meteor Crater – Easy
Museum and film are inside the air-conditioned visitor center. The outdoor overlook and rim path are paved and easily accessible.
Tour departs Flagstaff, AZ at 8:00 am. With pick-up at your hotel or location. Tour duration is typically 5-6 hours.
Bottled water will be provided. Feel free to bring your own water bottle or camelback if desired.
Sturdy walking shoes are recommended for the Walnut Canyon Island Loop trail. We don’t recommend flip-flops.
Meteor Crater area can be quite hot in the summer months. Sunscreen and protective clothing are suggested.
Flat group rate is for 1-4 people in our tour SUV. Additional guests (up to 7 total) may be added at $25 per person.
Flat group rate remains the same for unlimited group size with guide in your vehicle(s).
Groups with their own vehicles will be responsible for entry fees into Walnut Canyon and Meteor Crater. Group discounts available at Meteor Crater.
You may bring your own food for lunch, or have us provide box lunches for an additional fee of $8 per person.
There is also a Subway and a great gift shop at Meteor Crater