Natural History Museum of Utah

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Off to Salt Lake this week to catch my favorite band on what will most likely be the last tour. It’s been a few years since I have seen Rush perform and thought since my bride has never seen them, we would do a special “anniversary” trip. While down here we thought it would be a great opportunity to expand some of our bush craft and survival knowledge. She found the Natural History Museum of Utah would be a great place to do some research.

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I can be a curmudgeon when it comes to Natural History and other educational attractions such as planetariums, aquariums, and museums. I’ve been all over the world and hit some of the most prestigious ones out there including the Smithsonian in D.C., Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Natural History Museum of London, etc.

The museum is definitely a recommend, especially if you have kids. I have never been to a museum that was so open and interactive for kids of all ages. Each of the five floors allows you to explore everything from Dinosaurs to early man. There are areas that specifically demonstrate how sand dunes are created, rivers are formed, and the cycle of the Earth recreating itself over and over.

We arrived shortly after the doors opened at 10 am and stayed just before closing at 5pm. For the explorer there really is that much to see and study however, the casual visitor can choose to spend only a few hours if they wish. We wove our way through huge displays of early monsters that roamed the earth and found many interactive displays. I was shy about walking across a display that allows you to walk on a glass floor so you can see the various levels of a mock excavation site.

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Throughout the museum you can get hands on with multiple displays. I’m a tactile learner and it was awesome to try my hand at putting together a skull of an ancient reptile, learn new techniques for making cordage, and putting a clay pot back together.

The museum went well beyond my expectations. There were a few things I would have liked to see in the exhibits and the staff, but this by no means downgrades my impression.

First, I was really hoping to see something on fire craft. Of all the advances in mankind and pushed our evolution. It changed the length of our day, it caused changes in the chemistry of our brains and reproductive cycles, it made certain foods edible, chased away large game while attracting small game, and advanced our tool making. I went in search of answers and really thought there would be some great information on the creation and use of fire as well as fire making implements. Sadly there was not any. The museum was gracious enough to respond to my tweet and I agree, “You can’t cover everything”. They are absolutly correct. I spent so much time on the third floor in the mankind section I had to sit to process everything.

Second, was the knowledge of the staff on the floor areas. I asked only a few times and realized my questions were not going to get answered. Most questions were around general clarification on a display or if they knew if a certain style object was displayed, and the staff knew next to nothing. I also asked one employee if there were any large Yucca in the area like what would have been used for cordage in the displays, only to find that they did not know about the large Banana Yucca at the Botanical Gardens a few hundred yards away.

Last, I was really hoping for special tours. On the website there seems to be a common theme of “coming soon” or “rescheduled”. I was willing to spend the extra cash for more knowledge on early or aboriginal man.

Other than these few small areas, it was an awesome experience for the day and I plan on going back again the next time we are in town. The museum is well laid out for self-directed tours and even has an option to use your smart-device as a tour guide. All videos are well produced, the displays are the best I have ever seen, and everyone in the place is friendly. Even the glass on the displays is clean, which with as many kids that were in there in the afternoon has to be a full time position. There are many places to sit and process all you are taking in.

The museum also has a great café with a wonderful menu. Since I spend allot of time on the road, a good menu was a welcome relief. Also, this is not one of those museums that has a focus on huge green things that roamed the planet eons ago. Its well thought out and covers all aspects of natural history of the Utah area. Melissa took a ton of pictures of the Dino-types since she is in to that, but I spent several hours in the mankind area on the third floor with both my camera and journal. My knowledge on tools of early man in this region grew today. In addition, they are doing a special showing of “Mammals” right now that is a must-see exhibit.

The Natural History Museum of Utah is a museum located at the Rio Tinto Center on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City so just plug the address into your GPS device (301 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108). We went on Sunday and the crowd was pretty tame until 2pm. Mondays are free so I’m sure it will be a zoo. For more information, give them a call at (801) 581-6927.

This is a “Highly Recommend” and I would put it at a 5/5 on all my ratings.

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