Friday, November 18, 2011

Natural History Museum of Utah - Opens Today!

Walking up to the new museum

If you are a fan of the Natural History Museum of Utah, it has been a long wait for the museum to move its collections from President's Circle at the University of Utah to a new facility on Wakara Way.  Today is the official opening day of the museum.  We were fortunate enough to schedule a time slot and free tickets to explore the museum.  It is much larger than the previous facility, and although we spent about two hours there, we did not see and do everything.

Wall in the Canyon Lobby

When you enter the museum, you are greeted by this wall in the lobby.  It displays everything from fossils to clothing and blankets.  When you are on an upper floor, you can see parts of this wall up close from the other side.  From the lobby, you may also enter the gift shop and museum cafe.

Shoshone dance regalia

We were advised to begin our exploration of the museum at the top level (5th floor) and to work our way down.  The upper floor has displays of Utah's five native cultures:  Navajo, Ute, Goshute, Paiute, and Shoshone.  

View from a patio at the museum.

We stepped outside to look at a weather station and to see the Salt Lake Valley. This museum is located in a beautiful setting.


Of course, one of the main attractions of the museum has always been the dinosaur fossils. More fossils than ever are now on display in this new expansive space.  A puzzle of a fossil allosaurus skull made its way from the old museum to the new one.  At the museum, kids can participate in mock paleontology and archeaology digs.

Ceratopsian skull

One wall holds a display of various ceratopsian fossil skulls.  There are several familiar fossil mounts here, but conspicuously missing was one of my favorites:  the stegosaurus.  If I somehow missed it, please let me know, but I couldn't see a stegosaur anywhere!

Dinosaurs galore!

We saw some beautiful birds and mammals on the biology floor, and also watched amazing animations of cells, including cell division, osteoblasts making bone, red and white blood cells and more.  It was fascinating.

This beaver is one of the mammals on display.

The earth science area still has a seismograph, and you can still jump and make it move.  The shake table wasn't working when we were there.  This trial day was to help the museum staff work out the glitches.  There was a repair man there fixing some of the interactive displays while we walked around.

Assemble a cell!

There are ample interactive opportunities for children of all ages.  There is an erosion table, a shake table for earthquakes, this cell puzzle, and many visual and audio displays.  We even found an area where you can smell a decaying dinosaur era forest!  Many of the displays are stunning, and I greatly enjoyed our afternoon at the museum.

Mineral on display

We needed the map to find the geology specimans, but enjoyed the display area.  There are minerals under uv lights so you can see them glow in astonishing colors.  Who doesn't enjoy seeing a relatively plain rock glow neon red and green?  Overall, I give the new museum a gold star.  Although there were many people there on the day we went, the design of the floor plan and exhibits flows well, and it did not feel crowded. 

Butterfly in the display wall in the Canyon lobby area.

As a family, we are mourning the loss of some of our favorite things which did not make the transition to the new space.  We did not find the stegosaurus, the geiger counter display where you could measure the radioactive output of different rocks, or the old mine that fourth graders have been climbing into on field trips for generations. I am glad I have memories of these favorites, as well as wonderful ramblings through the cramped warrens of the old museum building during "What's in the Basement?" days.  However, we are amazed at all the planning, donations and hard work that went into creating this beautiful new building and exhibits.  

If you go:  The museum is located at 301Wakara Way, near Red Butte Gardens.  It is open daily from 10am to 5pm, with extended hours (until 9pm) on Wednesdays.  The building is large, and while the floor plan flows smoothly, we had to consult a map a few times to locate specific sections we wanted to see.  Happy exploring!

(Areas normally closed to the public were open today...stay tuned for a look at the museum behind the scenes!)

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