Pop Culture Junkette

Addicted to pop culture.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spend A Day in Hutchinson, Kansas

Seriously. However, I mean just one day; I had the misfortune of spending 6 days there last week, and let me tell you that Kansas in February is not a tea party. Two days barely broke 20 with wind and a couple of days of ice. (I will note that the day before it turned freezing, it was almost 60.) No tornadoes, however.

That being said, should you find yourself in the Wichita area, Hutchinson, 45 minutes away, is well worth a visit for two things. First, the Cosmosphere. This museum about human space exploration is beyond outstanding. I was planning to spend about an hour and was there for 4. Starting with a detailed history of the Nazi missile program (with a V-1 and V-2 on display) and Wernher von Braun's morally ambiguous involvement with it, through test flights and the early attempts of the 1950s, into the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, the museum has more detail than even the Air and Space Museum on this subject. Plus it has some of the most amazing artifacts including Liberty Bell 7 (Gus Grissom's capsule that sank to the ocean floor and was finally recovered in 1999) and the Apollo 13 capsule ("Houston, we have a problem.") Moreover, the information provided regarding the Soviet program is top notch as well including a Vostok capsule. (It is the largest collection of Soviet artifacts outside of Moscow.) All this, plus an IMAX and a planetarium.

When I was leaving, I said to the woman at the ticket desk that I have a silly question, "Why is this place here?" I was given a brochure explaining that this is the most common question, and it was a combination of guile and luck on the part of the Hutchinson community.

Yet perhaps even more fascinating was the brand new (and still being built) Kansas Underground Salt Museum. This is a journey 650' underground into a working salt mine. You are driven around one part of the mine, and surrounded by walls, floors, and ceilings that are 97% salt. The salt mined here is used for roads and animal feed (not table salt), and it is just amazing to see up close. In addition, because of the ideal conditions (68 degrees with 40% humidity), the mine is used as a repository by a number of movie and television studios to store film. There is no salt mine that can be visited like this in the United States (and perhaps the Western Hemisphere), and it was a great way to spend a few hours.

One final warning about Hutchinson--restaurant and hotel selection is limited, and I had way too many meals at McDonald's, something I try to avoid at all costs.



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