For those into rock collecting, Arizona is a fantastic place! But our state is also a wonderland of sorts with its jaw-dropping and beautiful geologic formations. As Earth Day nears (it’s always on April 22), why not celebrate by planning a family trip to see one or more of these spectacular spots?
Nothing Could Be Grander!
At more than 6,000 feet deep, 277 miles long and up to 18 miles across, the Grand Canyon is as big as it is breathtakingly beautiful.
From Phoenix, starting on I-17 north, it’s about 230 miles to the famous South Rim.
At the base of the canyon are igneous and metamorphic rock formations, which got their start around 2 billion years ago. On top of these formations are layers upon layers of sedimentary rock which were DEPOSITED by water much more recently.
Between 70 and 30 million years back, plate tectonics uplifted this whole layered cake to around 9,000 feet above sea level, creating what’s called the Colorado Plateau.
Around 5–6 million years ago, the mighty Colorado River began carving its way through the layers of sedimentary rock, slowly deepening and widening what we now know as the Grand Canyon!
A Real Arizona Hidden Treasure!
In some super special places, Arizona offers sensational underground spectacles! A few of these caves are a mile or longer, and you can safely tour them with your family. Please note that many underground places like abandoned mines are super dangerous and should NEVER be explored.
Just 15 minutes southeast of Tucson, Colossal Cave Mountain Park is home to three cave systems, but only Colossal Cave is open for visitors.
About 300 million years ago, this area was ocean, and the ancient sea life contributed to vast amounts of limestone. Eventually, the sea dried up, plates collided, thrusting limestone and granite together. Then EONS of water erosion formed 3.5 miles of crazy cave passageways!
The drips and trickles of water in the cave have dried up so the formations they created have stopped growing. But over the years, Colossal Cave has been used by a variety of people. The Hohokam may have used the cave as temporary shelter as early as A.D. 900. Archaeologists have also discovered evidence that Native tribes of Sobaipuri and Apache later utilized the cave. And back in the days of the Wild West, train robbers may have used the cave as a hideout and stashed bags of their stolen loot there!
Where the Wild Things Are!
Volcanoes have been erupting in Iceland, Indonesia and Italy lately, but did you know we have our own volcanic area here in Arizona that you can learn about and visit?
At 12,633 feet, San Francisco Mountain towers in the background of Flagstaff. In fact, it’s the highest point in the state. But did you know that it’s a stratovolcano and part of a large complex of relatively young volcanoes?
Over its 6-million year history, the San Francisco Volcanic Field has produced more than 600 volcanoes and covers around 1,800 square miles! Much of the activity has been fairly “recent” in the geological scope of things, like Merriam Crater and other volcanic vents, which last erupted around 20,000 years ago. It is still considered an active volcanic area with new eruptions likely to occur on its eastern side.
This Place Is Absolutely Petrified!
Petrified Forest National Park is famous for its fossilized trees that once stood upright and strong around 225 million years ago (the Late Triassic Epoch).
Covering 346 square miles, this magnificent park straddles Apache and Navajo counties in Northeastern Arizona, 26 miles east of Holbrook along I-40. With lots and lots of petrified logs and beautiful badlands, you won’t run out of things to explore and discover, and this is a perfect season to visit!
The earliest human inhabitants lived here 8,000 years ago. There’s a research center/museum, you can go on an hour-long drive, stopping at a few overlooks, or better yet, enjoy some of the short trails (you can even bring the family pooch). Spending a half-day there is recommended!
Taking the BIG Hit!!
Between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, a massive meteorite sped through space, lit up as it entered Earth’s atmosphere and smashed into what’s now Northern Arizona!
Scientists say that the meteorite was half a football field wide and crashed into the ground at around 28,000 mph. About 350 million tons of rock and dirt were ejected, leaving behind Meteor Crater, which is almost a mile across and 550 feet deep! Inside, the terrain is rocky and dusty—the perfect place for NASA to test its spacesuits and equipment for the moon.
Thirty-five miles east of Flagstaff, Meteor Crater has a visitor center with a 10-minute introductory movie, a 1,400-pound meteorite and all sorts of space stuff. You can even walk the rim of the crater on a guided tour!
Enjoy this year’s Virtual Earth Day Festival throughout April and watch Bear’s Science Night about studying desert wildlife! https://www.childrensmuseumtucson.org/ved2021/