Field Trip: Natural History Museum of Utah

Natural History Museum of UtahIn the middle of a brutal heat wave, a visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah, perched in the foothills above Salt Lake City sounded like a good respite from the 102F day outside. And my timing was good: it was a weekday afternoon and while there were a number of school or summer camp groups present, they didn’t completely overrun the place and I had a chance to explore the five levels and multiple connected exhibits.

There’s also a special exhibit on Extreme Mammals that was quite interesting, looking at both living mammals and extinct mammals and proto-mammals from fossil records to offer a fun display of biggest, smallest, fastest, slowest and much more. Turns out that Usain Bolt is not, in fact, the fastest mammal on Earth. 🙂

In addition to the gorgeous architecture and beautiful displays, NHMU also has something that’s rare in museums, an overall theme and layout that offers a great scientific narrative as you travel from display to display. From cellular and DNA building blocks to dinosaurs, the geology of the state of Utah to the evolving life of Native Americans from the region, there’s an overarching theme.

As a working museum, I also really appreciated the chance to peek at the collections room and watch lab coat wearing volunteers clean fossil remains within a clean room in the Paleo Prep Lab. Makes me want to help out, because, well, science. And dinosaurs. Need I say more?

I bought my ticket online and saved a few bucks — it was $11 and the e-ticket is a QR code sent directly to your smartphone — and going through by myself it was about 90 minutes. If I had a child or two in tow I can easily see that taking twice the time, if not longer. Lots of hands-on, live spiders, ants, turtles, and more to examine, and cool dinosaur bones!

Without further ado, here are some of the best photos I took, with commentary, starting with the stunning exterior view:

exterior, natural history museum of utah

Apparently this is a new home for the Museum, which shows. It’s modern and the architecture really is breathtaking. Here’s a view of the main interior atrium, shot from the top of the building:

interior, natural history museum of utah

Step outside and the view is quite stunning:

view from the top of the museum

Still on the top floor, the “Native Voices” exhibit was a modest but very well presented brief history of the various Native American tribes local to the region:

native american exhibit, nhmu

It wasn’t as popular as the dinosaurs with the kids, but the audio-visual presentation did have a few children and at least one grandparent enthralled.

The collections room looked like it would be really interesting to explore, but it’s off limits to the public:

collections room, nhmu

On display, the dinosaurs offered up all sorts of fun and interesting exhibits:

lythronax argestes

This handsome guy is a Lythronax argestes, and measures 24 feet long and an Earth-shaking 5500 pounds. That’s a lot of dinosaur, no question about it.

Look closely at the photo above too: the illuminated room on the left in the background is the Paleo Prep Lab. Not sure that Lythronax is too thrilled about that, though!

I’m a bit of a museum rebel, actually, thinking that they should be living spaces not hallowed halls to walk through without touching, whispering so as not to bother anyone. My friends get anxious when we’re at an art museum and I refuse to whisper, actually, but there’s a lot of thought behind that decision on my part.

As a result, I was delighted to see children from one of the school groups climbing on one of the hands-on exhibits and experiencing it, not just looking at it:

children enjoying the museum

Just behind them was a nice example of the thoughtful displays at the Natural History Museum:

how rocks are created exhibit display

A nice display of the cycle of rocks, with lots of kinesthetic feedback for the younger ones (and yeah, I admit, I felt a few of the rock samples too).

And then there was the Extreme Mammals exhibit:

extreme mammals exhibit

Inside the exhibit, as I said earlier, lots of really interesting displays, including this rather creepy looking fellow:

prehistoric alligator from extreme mammals exhibit

Next time you’re swimming in a pool where the bottom is murky, just try to imagine this fellow slowly floating up from the bottom. Yikes!

I really enjoyed my afternoon visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah, and recommend it if you’re a local or just passing through Salt Lake City. My only regret was that I didn’t have any of my children with me for the visit.


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