Want to know what Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were going through as they bounced around on the Moon in 1969? Well, in Nevada, you absolutely can and that sort of experience can be relished at Lunar Crater. Not far from the geographic center of Nevada, Lunar Crater’s nearest city is Tonopah, about 70 miles to the southwest.
At first glance, you might be thinking this is quite the appropriate welcome-landscape to the nearby ET Highway, it feels that otherworldly. We’ll task you with an attempt at eyeing down little green men, but can promise you this: this is one incredible NATURAL landscape. Regrettably, Lunar Crater wasn’t formed by a UFO or even a crater, but got its name because it looks so similar to craters found on the actual moon.
The infamous atomic blasts that happened at the Nevada National Test Site [think Nuclear Nevada] happened just to the south, and were man made. What you see at Lunar Crater is nothing short of a wondrous, natural landscape. As one of six, National Natural Landmarks in Nevada, Lunar Crater and the nearby backcountry byway was added to the National Natural Landmark register in 1973. The 430 foot-deep is impressive on its own, but the fact that it’s part of an enormous volcanic field loaded with other craters, cinder cones, basalt flows and ancient lava beds is what makes this area a must see.
Lunar Crater is what’s geographically defined as a “Maar”… otherwise known as a type of shallow, broad crater that was formed by explosive eruptions close to the ground level that then fills with groundwater. When the groundwater collides with hot magma, that’s when the crater forms.
Lunar Crater and its surrounding smaller craters is so much like the landscape found on the moon, that the area was classified as an official “Terrestrial Analogue Site.” What does that mean? That it was authentic enough for astronauts in the 1970s to train here in preparation for an actual lunar mission. Right in the middle of somewhere Nevada, astronauts practiced collecting rock samples and checklist procedures in full astronaut gear.
From Lunar Crater’s rim, expect to see 20 extinct volcanoes in the surrounding hills, and be sure to check out the Lava Beds just a little further down Highway 6 to the north.
Lunar Crater and the Lunar Crater Backcountry Byway can be most easily accessed from Tonopah or Ely on Nevada’s Highway 6. From Tonopah, travel 77 miles on Highway 6 until approaching the turnoff for Lunar Crater – it will be on your right. From Ely, head southwest on Highway 6 for 96 miles until reaching the turnoff for Lunar Crater – it will be on your left. High-clearance vehicles are strongly recommended on this unpaved to travel the entire Backcountry Byway – a 24-mile long dirt road.