Millions of years ago, the great plains were nearly covered by a vast inland sea. Every year as water evaporated, the brine at the bottom would settle into a layer of dirt which got compressed over time to create a layer of salt 650 feet below the current surface. In the 1800s, it was discovered in Kansas near the town of Hutchinson, and a mine was dug. Today, you can tour a large, inactive section at the Underground Salt Museum.
General admission runs $14 for adults (discounts for seniors and military) and $7.50 for kids, plus extra $3.50 each for the train and tram tours. Children under 3 are not allowed in the mines. Double tickets are available online for both the mine tour and the Cosmosphere across town. You could easily do both in one day- allow at least 2 hours for the mines. Both the Salt Mine and the Cosmosphere are Blue Star Museums, so military and their families get basic admission free this summer. Since we didn't have to cop for that, we bought tickets for both the extra tours.
Before you can go into the mine, you have to be briefed on safety and the emergency escape equipment. Of course, there's never been an incident. Salt isn't really flammable, so that helps.
Unfortunately, Miriam's head being so small, the helmet didn't fit very well, and it annoyed the heck out of her, and the emergency breathing apparatus got heavy for her after a while. Temperatures run about 68 degrees, so small kids might want to bring a jacket or sweatshirt.
It's a 90 second trip on a double-decker elevator to the bottom. After a quick info and safety brief, you are set for your self-guided tour. The ceilings are so high and the walls are so wide, it's hard to feel claustrophobic.
They request you don't touch, pick at, or lick the salt walls. They aren't clean, and can cut your skin easily. There are plenty of blocks and places you can touch, though. The main gallery has lots of information about the formation of the salt bed. Below you can see what they use to keep the mine level when excavating. The lower wide white stripe is a high concentration of salt from several years of drought and high evaporation. Then a wide band of dark has a lot of silt in it, indicating a period of heavy rain that washed dirt into the sea. Above that is another layer of drought salt. This "marker" layer is nearly flat across the whole salt bed, which stretches down to New Mexico. They could mine the salt at the current rate for another couple thousand years.
By keeping the stripes at about 6 and half feet from the floor, they maintain a constant elevation throughout the mine. You can see it clearly right above Mike's head.
Lots of old equipment, from diggers to explosives boxes to miner tram cars were on display. Some equipment is still used after 70 years.
Nicholas watching one of the short video clips. He watched the one on how they detonate the walls at least 3 times. What can I say? The boy likes explosions.
Miriam got so tired of wearing the stuff. I took to walking right next to her and carrying the weight of the canister, since they threaten to kick anyone out who is caught without the issued safety gear. It was only 3-4 lbs, but that's 10% of her body weight.
Due to the properties of salt and the safety of the location, the mines are also home to national archives and storage of private articles and records. Several movie props and a costumes were on display, and a week later we caught part of show on PBS that mentioned it. It was cool to say "Hey! We were there!"
What goes in the mine, stays in the mine. This was a pile of trash that was so old it was left as an antique site. Lots of water cups and empty cans of food.
What museum is complete without a gift shop? Actually, their shirts were pretty funny. Near the entrance is a banquet hall where there have been weddings and wedding receptions and also company events. For December 21st, 2012 there is an "End of the World" all night party planned. I think it's sold out, though.
On the dark tour, you get to take home some salt from a big pile. They give you little bags for small chunks, or you can take a hunk the size of your palm. You can use it to kill plants in an area of your yard, to reduce moisture in a small closet, or just for decoration. Just don't set it directly on wood.
Don't forget to tell them we sent ya!