Strataca – Kansas Underground Salt Museum

The double deckered elevator door shuts and takes you 650 feet below the surface of the earth. On the 90 second journey through the $6 million elevator shaft, you realize it’s a bit more disconcerting than you thought it would be to be descending deep into the earth in near complete darkness, but you’ve just watched a safety video and are wearing a hard hat and an emergency breathing device, so you take a deep breath and know that you’re safe. And as the doors open, you get to see what life is like beneath the surface in the Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson. May 1, 2013 will mark the 6th year since the museum opened, and it’s the only salt museum in the United Sates.

275 million years ago, salt deposits formed, and the first part of the museum includes exhibits and information on the formation of the salt during the Permian Era. This includes one of the world’s oldest living creatures – living bacteria trapped in a salt crystal from 250 million years ago. That kind of time and history is mind-stretchingly old and amazing (older than dinosaurs!), and it can’t be seen anywhere else.

From there, you can check out the other use of the underground space – storage. Since it’s a climate controlled space safe from natural and man-made disasters, it’s an ideal storage space for sensitive information and artifacts. Opened during the Cold War, it’s the world’s largest single storage facility for the film industry – original negatives from film and TV along with props.  And some of the famous artifacts are on display, like props from The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Batman, and Men In Black.

The Salt Mine Express Tour: The “dark ride” tram tour takes you on a 40 minute tour where you learn about the history of the mine. In 1923, the Carey Salt Company began mining the salt, and the mine is still in operation as the Hutchinson Salt Company.  There’s old, abandoned machinery left beneath the earth; once equipment was brought into the mine, it was there forever. And at one point, they turn off the tram lights, so you can experience absolute and complete darkness (it’s the most intense darkness you’ll ever experience). It ends with a stop where you can gather your own piece of salt from a pile for a souvenir (don’t eat it!).

Visitor information:

3504 East Avenue G at Airport Road, 620.662.1425. Closed Mondays and reservations recommended

All inclusive entrance, which includes admission, guided tram tour, and train ride

  • $19 for adults
  • $17 for seniors
  • $12.50 for children 4-12 (0-3 not admitted)
  • $14 for Reno County residents
  • $12.50 for members

Kansas by numbers

8 feet – the height grasses can reach in the tallgrass prairie

Author Jonathan Conard with his daughter.

Author Jonathan Conard with his daughter at the highest point in Kansas

11 physiographic regions

14 mph average wind speed in Dodge City, Kansas’ windiest city

24 state parks

24 endangered species

65 feet – the depth of Milford Lake, the state’s largest lake

300 bison (approximately) in the herd on the Konza Prairie

467 recorded bird species

680 feet above sea level – Verdigris River, the lowest point in the state

4,039 feet above sea level – the height of Mount Sunflower, the highest point in  the state