Kansas Roadtrips: Museums of Hutchinson

Most people come to Hutchinson, KS to visit its world-class museums – Kansas Cosmosphere and the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. Only few visit prairie dogs. Even fewer do all three. We were in the smallest of minorities who did all that and had a dinner at the Dutch Kitchen restaurant.

Note to a future visitor: Visiting the Salt Museum takes about 2 hours, while the Cosmosphere can keep you busy all day. Plan accordingly and attend the latter when you have plenty of time.

Given Hutchinson’s salt-mining roots and multiple working and abandoned mines in the area, it’ no surprise that one of the biggest museums of that kind in the world is located there.

Although numerous old people are seen approaching the building with the sign “Underground Bound”, it’s not an old people recycling facility. Many of them actually make it back to the top.

The main attraction of the museum is the ride 650 feet down to the mine which takes about 90 seconds. Underground it’s always 68F which makes it a very pleasant excursion on a hot day.

Museum is located in the abandoned part of the mine and during the “dark” ride and train ride the guides explain the process of salt mining and demonstrate various equipment lovingly left in the mine. “What goes in the mine, stays in the mine (but not the old people, they don’t stay)” they repeat frequently.

After the mining is done, remaining tunnels are used to store everything from movie reels to canceled checks.

Clean air, stable temperature and humidity are optimal for storing stuff in hundreds of miles of empty tunnels.

If the Salt Museum truly belongs in Hutchinson, the fact that one of the best space museums in the world is located in the middle of Kansas is mind-blowing. The quality of displays, the artifacts, unique items like the Liberty Bell 7 and Apollo 13 command module make it a must-visit even for people who are not hardcore space geeks. I especially enjoyed the honest discussion and extensive displays dedicated to the Nazi roots of both the American and the Soviet space programs.

This painting reminded me of some North Korean art I’ve seen.

This sled was used to research the effects of acceleration:


Rocket engine:

Unknown fact about Gagarin:

Soviet part of exposition is amazing, probably the best since the original Space Pavilion in Moscow.

Cosmos Pavilion in VVC, Moscow, 1969
©Rob Ketcherside

Inflatable hatch used for the first space walk by Cosmonaut Leonov.

Drive home was relaxing and uneventful, my daughter chauffeured me all the way home. Finally the driving school money is paying off.