Lunar Crater National Landmark 70 miles northeast of Tonopah, Nevada is not the same as Meteor Crater Natural Landmark in Northern Arizona. You will note the absence of the word “National” from the latter name, though the word “Natural” may or may not be there to trick you into thinking the landmark is part of the National Park system.
The difference is that most people can afford to take their family to a National Landmark. At $27 a ticket, however, Meteor Crater “Natural” Landmark is ridiculously overpriced, and once you’ve driven all the way out there you may feel trapped into paying those exorbitant entry fees because you came all that way and it would suck to turn back without seeing the crater. And it is a cool thing to see but I did feel pretty swindled when we did it a few years ago.
Lunar Crater National Landmark is free. Now, I’m not going to say that it’s more impressive. It doesn’t have a museum or a visitor’s center. Or a ticket booth. It does have a bench. But like Meteor Crater, it is a big hole in the ground.
The two places are geologically different, though. Meteor Crater is the site of an actual meteor impact. Lunar Crater is volcanic—it’s a “maar,” which is a crater that forms when hot magma encounters groundwater, causing an explosion.
Lunar Crater is around 6 million years old and is part of a larger 400-acre volcanic field. Besides being very big and very windy, it also played a minor part in the story of the American space program; NASA trained Apollo 16 and 17 astronauts there in 1972.
Lunar Crater is the place I meant to go to on our last trip, but then I found out that we overshot it by like 70 miles. And it’s a good thing, too, because I’m pretty sure we would have got stuck on that road in our very non-4-wheel-drive minivan.
The dirt road that leads to Lunar Crater is kind of deceptive at first because it just seems like an ordinary albeit bumpy-in-places dirt road. Then, the dirt starts to get kind of thick. Before you know it, you’re sliding around like you’re trying to cross Donner Summit during a snowstorm. I’m not super-experienced driving around on terrain like that, but I’m going to say you need 4-wheel-drive to get out to the Lunar Crater.
One more word of advice: It’s super windy on the rim. I have one kid who is kind of stick-like in stature and I was legitimately concerned he was going to blow away. You can actually hike down into the crater—where the wind is less terrifying—but I could not convince anyone to consider it. Also, the place is really remote and we didn’t see anyone else while we were there, so accessing emergency services in the case of a broken ankle would have been a problematic challenge. We took some photos and moved on.