My wife and I visited this Science and Nature Museum earlier this year while in the Denver area for our younger son’s wedding. I enjoy visiting science and natural history museums as I always see fascinating things and learn something new at each one, and Denver’s is a great museum! It’s affiliated with the prestigious Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Like all good natural history museums, this one covers a large variety of topics and has lots of displays spanning many subjects, with most focusing on Colorado (though many with a more global perspective). The museum is housed in a boxy 716,000-square-foot (66,519 m2) building and has more than one million items in its collections.
The roots of the museum date to 1868 when Edwin Carter, a scientist, moved into a cabin in Breckenridge and began his study of the birds and animals of the Rocky Mountains. His collection was impressively thorough and formed the core historic exhibits of this museum. In 1892 wealthy people bought and moved Mr. Carter’s collection to Denver and it’s grown ever since. The Colorado Museum of Natural History was officially incorporated in 1900, with a name change some time later.
As the museum’s collections are vaste, it’s impossible to see everything even in a full day’s visit. We mostly went to see two temporary exhibits, one of which was particularly fascinating to us:
Dead Sea Scrolls
An extremely popular attraction for which a timed ticket is necessary. Unfortunately no photography was allowed within this exhibit, but it was quite fascinating. It was on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and presented in a large gallery, the displays focused primarily on the discovery of and information gleaned from these important historic documents.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek between 200 BC and 70 AD. They include the oldest known biblical documents and other writings on Middle Eastern customs and laws. The scrolls were preserved within sealed clay jars and found by Bedouin goat-herders in caves beside the Dead Sea in the mid 20th century. It was fascinating to see the small delicate writing on 10 actual scrolls — which are browned and fragmented due to their age and delicate nature — with accompanying English translations. The exhibit also featured 600 non-scroll artifacts from this region including weapons, stone carvings, coins, clothes and such, that helped set the atmosphere of life at that time.
Creatures of Light (Nature’s Bioluminescence)
The exhibit does a fascinating job of looking at things in nature that glow in the dark. As you might imagine, the variety of displays in it were quite far reaching in scope. There was a rather extensive presentation and discussion of everyone’s favorite insect, the firefly, including the role of their glowing torsos in nature (mostly for sexual attraction, as you might expect).
The exhibit walks you through life in a variety of environments, including algae, glowworms in caves, and a rather extensive and fascinating display of life in the deep oceans where light never penetrates, and how creatures at this depth use light as a lure and defense mechanism. For example, the angler fish uses a glowing tentacle above its upper jaw to attract food to it.
There are far too many to see in one day, but among our favorites were:
Prehistoric Journey tracing the changes of life on Earth, including ever popular displays of dinosaur skeletons. There was even a “walking dinosaur” roaming the lobby to entertain and engage young children, a popular attraction! I felt a little sorry for the person in costume who was operating it as it looked heavy and awkward.
Wildlife Exhibits (or the “stuffed animal collection” as our daughter-in-law described it) included dozens of animals in as natural a setting as you can recreate in a museum. A number of these are in the slide gallery at the bottom of this post.
The Gems & Minerals exhibit was one of my favorites. Being a mountainous area, Colorado is well known for it’s gold and silver mines, but the displays include a lovely colorful crystals and minerals from around the world. I took enough photos from this exhibit to fill an entire blog but am limiting myself to a few of my favorites here.
Space Odyssey provided a limited overview of the Universe and our very small place in it. Nothing too impressive. But it included a quote from my favorite author, always a pleasant surprise!
We did not have time to visit the IMAX theater, planetarium, Discovery Zone (hands-on children’s center), Egyptian mummies and Expedition Health (exploring the human body). That would have required another day. But if you like science museums, you’ll enjoy a visit to this one in Denver. And if you’re there on a nice summer day, the Denver Zoo is immediately beside the Museum of Science and Nature.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)