Why would a top notch aerospace science and history museum end up in Hutchinson KS, an hour northwest of Wichita? Apparently because the founder wanted it there. And the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center seems to enjoy Smithsonian Institute’s respect too, as one of only two museums entitled to restore used spacecraft.
We had a little help from our friends. We wouldn’t have stumbled onto this or another of the town’s major attractions, the underground salt mine, without a direction from our Slater IA friends Janet and John, and our NOMADS friend Nedra. Janet and John, during our Slater visit two months ago, strongly recommended the Cosmosphere. Hey, they’re teachers and we figured they have to recommend these educational things. While working at Camp Horizon we learned from a Hutch local, Nedra, we should purchase the “double discount” ticket for both attractions.
Our campground, Melody Acres, was on the prison side of town. Each time we went anywhere we drove by one side or the other of a great huge Kansas prison.We later learned this is the Hutchinson Correctional Facility, a Kansas state prison, and was built from 1885 to 1895. The construction was pretty surprising until we learned the vintage — the twin towers and limestone walls formed from huge blocks are unusual-looking. Things were built differently back then, eh?
Great leads on the Cosmosphere and Salt Mine, thanks to Janet, John, and Nedra. We had a great two-day visit to Hutchinson. Hutchinson sports a vital and attractive downtown, nice grocery stores, and is easy to navigate. We played tennis in strong winds at their really nice tennis facility near the fairgrounds.
We spent all day Saturday at the Cosmosphere and still didn’t quite finish it. And we went way way down 650 feet below ground level to the salt mine.
The Cosmosphere is almost too awesome to describe — better you should read about it at the wiki page here. We were fascinated by the rockets and space travel history exhibits and surprised by the wide array and great detail in the exhibits ranging from V1 and V2 rockets to the Liberty Bell and Vostok capsules, lunar rovers and astronaut’s pee bags.
Two of our favorite exhibits were the Apollo lunar missions and the German war missile history. And we enjoyed the lengthy treatment on the Cold War and the race to the moon. We liked the iMax presentation on tornados and would probably elect to skip the planetarium and Goddard physics lab unless we were with young children. The Cosmosphere has so many excellent exhibits we would, next time, spend more time browsing these. Maybe we could find our way through all of them.
The Hutchinson underground salt mine is simpler for us to describe — really really deep and old. Carey discovered salt under Hutchinson in 1922, dug this incredibly deep (650 feet) well and started mining salt. In the ensuing years table salt, medical salts, road salt, and other types have all been mined from this same location.
The Hutchinson salt mine is active and productive, and the only publicly open salt mine in the western hemisphere. We spent several hours way down there and found it intriguing and surprisingly comfortable. The ticket reservations folks warned us to dress warmly because the temperature would be 68 degrees. The humidity was 45 percent and the temperature was very comfortable without jackets.
The scariest thing about the mine is how very dark it is without artificial lights. They have mined fifty feet wide bays between forty feet by forty feet columns of salt seven to eleven feet tall throughout almost four square miles. During the “dark train” ride throughout parts of the old mine areas (not the active mine face) our guide extinguished the cart’s headlight and we were in absolute and total darkness.
One of the lessons they taught us is about disposition of surplus and waste in a deep mine. Time is money, every trip up (and down) is expensive. There appears never to have been any waste brought back up from below, including old cars and paper cups and everything in between.
We just never gave it much thought, but do they really leave it all down there?
Jim and Debbie