Once we decided to take a road trip to Hutchinson to visit the Cosmosphere, I did a little homework on the town. As if a world class space museum wasn’t enough, we learned that Hutchinson was also home to a unique place called Strataca – and we knew we had to visit.
Strataca is a salt mine museum — and is located within one of the only working salt mines in the world that allows tourists to visit.
And it was SO COOL.
We had called ahead for tickets, and arrived in town just in time to take the first elevator (or “hoist”, if you’re a salt miner) into the mine. But first – hard hats for everyone.
The elevator took only 90 seconds, but in pitch darkness I have to admit it felt a little longer. In no time, we were 650 feet underground where the temperature stays a steady 68º and we had the entire afternoon to explore.
The boys immediately saw signs that said “PLEASE TOUCH” and they were loving it!
Salt dust, salt blocks. Black salt, white salt, red salt. Cauliflower salt, rock salt. Salt salt salt. The boys could touch almost everything but the safety video we’d watched before getting on the elevator did ask us to please not lick the walls in the mine. Seems like a good rule, yes?
As we made our way through the exhibits, we learned about the salt itself and about the mining process and the miners themselves. It was fascinating.
Our salty path eventually wound around to a series of rail rides that would take us deep into the mine with guides filled with stories and salt mining lore.
On one loop, we were given flashlights as we were visiting a portion of the mine beyond the museum — a portion of the mine not actively mined since the 1950s. We heard different guides say it at different times — what goes into the mine, stays in the mine. We learned that miners determined it was more efficient to leave their trash down in the mine rather than haul it out and since the salt creates an environment that preserves material like paper and plastic that would otherwise rot — our rail took us past break areas littered with Lucky Strike cartons, Hershey’s chocolate bar wrappers and paper water cups from 60 years ago that were perfectly preserved and looked like they were just dropped on the ground yesterday! It was wild.
During one ride, we were able to get off the rails and mine for our own salt! The boys LOVED this part. They could keep pretty much whatever they could carry!
After touring the mining tunnels, we were back to the museum portion of the space to wander through rows upon rows of storage — mostly documents, film and TV reels, and delicate clothing and costumes. I had no idea this was a use for underground salt mines — acres and acres of storage space to perfectly preserve delicate items. We saw a newspaper published the day after Abraham Lincoln was shot that was nearly as white and crisp as the day it was printed.
From start to finish, the staff of Strataca was just delightful. From my phone call to Snow in the office the day before our trip to the tour guides and docents (Ralph and David and Austin and Alan) ready to field incessant questions from excited boys — these people love salt and they love telling people about it. We loved every single minute of our unexpected and unique adventure underground.
Tips for Visiting Strataca
- Get the Hutchinson discount. Strataca and Cosmosphere have a partnership that gives a $5 discount if you visit both within 10 days and present the ticket from your first destination.
- Leave the littles at home. Aaron (8 years old) and Colt (10 years old) were the perfect age for Strataca — too much younger and I think they’d have been bored or even a little scared. It’s dark down there and the boys were old enough to be amazed by what we were seeing, but
- Allow plenty of time! We arrived at 1:00 and stayed until nearly 5:00 when they closed. I didn’t originally anticipate we’d spend that much time, but we really loved it and I’m glad we didn’t get there later and feel rushed.
- Drink water. When we got back topside that afternoon, I couldn’t get enough water. I haven’t read anywhere that being in the mine for that length of time could cause dehydration, but I sure felt it.