Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sternberg Museum of Natural History

The Sternberg Museum of Natural History is worth the stop if you find yourself near Hays, Kansas. It is even worth a bit of a drive. Hays is located at the crossing of I-70 and Hwy. 183.

The museum is not a particularly large museum, but for me that was a bonus because I didn't get tired of looking before I got to the end of the exhibits. We started on the third floor where they had a great display of life-size automatons complete with sound effects. The T-Rex was most impressive to me, though the kids enjoyed the smaller dinosaur that was chewing grass.

They have a walk-through prehistoric sea diorama and a neat collection of flying reptiles (third best collection in the nation according to the literature). The literature also boasts that the museum houses some of the most complete mosasaurs and plesiosaurs in any museum.

The lower level consisted mostly of what I remember as a kid as being more typical natural history museum displays, fossils and educational displays. They were very clean and well put-together, however. The world-famous fish within a fish is on display there along with numerous other fossils discovered by George Sternberg and family.

They had a neat little film dedicated to the history of the museum which has been associated with Fort Hays State University since about 1902. Many of the displayed fossils were collected right here in Kansas which makes the museum especially interesting to a native.

Sternberg has the most impressive discovery room I have ever seen at a museum. When the museum guide led us through the door she said, "feel free to touch everything" and left us to explore on our own. There was plenty to keep us occupied. My kids enjoyed a series of shelves full of animal pelts that they could pull out and examine at their leisure. They were able to compare the softness of a skunk (minus the smell) and a beaver. They were able to get an idea of the size of a coyote vs. that of a bobcat. They also had a full size buffalo pelt out for examination.

I could have spent more time looking at the slides under the microscope that was set up to display on a computer screen if my kids had been more into that kind of thing. They had drawers full of fossils, insect and butterfly collections, as well as reference books for identifying just about anything you can imagine in nature. They even had an excellent display, near the window, for determining what types of cloud formations there are in the sky on the particular day you visit.

The discovery room also had some live animals in aquariums. Most of these were displayed at child-height with a ledge the shorter ones could stand on to get a better look. Some of the adults laughed at having a live crawfish on display, but it was the first time my kids had ever seen one. They also had some native Kansas spiders that were pretty impressive. One was set up in a unique cage so that you could clearly see her web and the way she maneuvered in it.

The Sternberg Museum is definitely worth a visit.

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