Natural History Museum of Utah: Because Dinosaurs, That’s Why

I love museums. I sort of have a museum situation, which is a way of saying that I have a museum problem without admitting that it’s a problem. I can spend the whole day in a museum and never get bored, and it’s more than just the exhibits. I cherish fine art museums and embrace my puzzlement at modern art museums and I even enjoy bizarre little local history museums and roadside attraction museums. I’m pretty sure I’d even enjoy that museum with the cavemen riding dinosaurs, if only to bask in our obvious mutual love for Dino-Riders. (I even had a good time with the “museum” section of that Dino-Riders fan site. That is how seriously I take this, you guys.)

I geek out over the brilliance of the exhibit design and how engaging some particular attraction must be for little children (ignoring of course the fact that I myself am usually behaving like a little child by this point) and the mix of kid-sized and grown-up attractions and the interactivity of the exhibits and the sheer mind-blowing majesty of the dinosaur bones and… I could go on, but I won’t. Frankly, when you get me into the proper museum frame of mind I tend to become a little sub-verbal and start gesticulating wildly rather than using my words.

So it’s probably obvious to you by now that one of the things I missed the most, when I was living the last handful of years in very small-town rural America, was having a proper museum at my disposal. When I moved back to Salt Lake last year, I was overwhelmingly delighted to learn that the Natural History Museum of Utah — easily my favorite kind of museum — was brand new and improved. I loved the old museum, which was kind of musty and dark and in my memory possessed nothing but endless halls of taxidermy and shelves full of pinned insects. But the new museum just about made me lose my shit with joy. My photos didn’t do the building’s architecture justice, but if you check out their website they’ve got some great pictures of what the building looks like. I have brought you instead a lot of pictures of dinosaurs. Because dinosaurs, that’s why.

If I were a Dino-Rider, I would use one of these things as my epic cavalry mount. With lasers.

One of my favorite technical pieces in the prehistoric section of the museum is this fake pond; you come to it “underwater” when you first enter and then as you ascend into the exhibit you get to see the view from the top, with a very clever construction of lights giving a fantastic illusion of water.

This is a life-size rubber skull that’s cast in fragments. Next to it is a metal casting of what the completed skull looks like; you get to figure out how to fit the pieces together. For an added challenge, pretend you’re surrounded by snakes like Indiana Jones. (I’m not going to admit how long it took me because my puzzle skills are bad and I should feel bad.)

SO. MUCH. LOVE. FOR THE WALL OF ENORMOUS SKULLS.

I am not kidding, this ancient crocodile was like 33 feet long. Just the sight of its lifeless remains almost made me pee myself in abject terror. Okay, not really. That’s hyperbole. I did kind of need to find the bathroom, but they’re conveniently marked because this really is a great museum.

These upright display cases are a fantastic way to show off some of the incomplete fragments of skeletons, like pieces of giant vertebrae and random skulls and whatnot. Be sure to bring your reading glasses because the labels can be a little hard to read if you’re old. Not that my mom is old or I had to read her all the labels or anything like that. I’m not saying that AT ALL.

This is a giant-ass sloth. (That is not its scientific name.) This museum has some seriously awesome full skeletons and reproductions but this guy right here? Most amazing of them all. If I were to find myself in the Ice Age Dino-Riders set, I would be riding one of these guys. Very slowly. Well, I mean, I’d be kind of riding around on its shoulders probably or just sitting on it while it took a nap.

You move through the museum from bottom to top, starting with dinosaurs and moving up in time to the ice age, where you’ll spot this giant sloth and some other sweet fossils like wooly mammoth, dire wolf, saber-toothed tiger and giant oxen. Behind the sloth you may have spotted some sweet pelicans, which are part of the next exhibit on local biomes, with particular attention paid to wetlands. There’s a simulator where you get to flood the Salt Lake valley (good times were had by all) and some other sweet interactive exhibits. Each floor basically has its own topic, including a great one on the area’s ancient people and their craftsmanship which I hardly got any worthwhile pictures of, and:

Exhibits like this one where you can walk in and explore a mock village dig site will help your budding young anthropologist to become the next Dr. Daniel Jackson, thereby eventually saving the world from alien invasion.

Don’t worry about the taxidermy: they found a place for it in on the life sciences floor.

This floor had sweet displays on geology, plate tectonics and local flora and fauna. It includes a large scratch-and-sniff component. I am not kidding you. Well, you don’t have to scratch anything, but you push a button and it puffs lovely plant-scents at your face. I LOVE YOU MUSEUM.

I was quite impressed with the Native Voices exhibit on the top floor, which was not merely a display of local tribal dress and artifacts but actually pointed out that these people still live here and still struggle with the results of the government’s early (and current) Indian policies. The emphasis was very much on modern life and how it ties into their heritage. Really really cool.

And in case all of that wasn’t awesome enough for you, there’s the green roof which is home to plants, solar panels, and a rain-water collection system. Sweet.

In short, what I’m trying to say here is that if you visit Salt Lake City and you don’t visit this museum, I feel very sorry for you. I know my photos aren’t the greatest advertisement ever, but I am not kidding you about how rad this museum is. Also, if you have museums at your disposal and you haven’t visited them lately, you should. And when you find something that particularly delights you, I hope you’ll have a little enthusiastic geek-out, just for me.

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3 thoughts on “Natural History Museum of Utah: Because Dinosaurs, That’s Why

  1. Love it! I too love museums and sadly have not visited one in a long time. The last one I can remember going to was the Natural History Museum in Newport News, Virginia. I was visiting my brother for a week and made him take me. There are quite a few museums and art galleries in my area, you’ve inspired me to start making the rounds!

  2. Very cool, I used to go to the field museum in Chicago as a kid, my dad taught science in high school and to this day I still dig( no pun intended) Dinos and Archeology..:-)

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