Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas is unique in the western hemisphere. Although there are some similar salt mine museums in Europe, there are none in the Americas. And there are just 15 active salt mines in the United States. The museum has recently added the name "Strataca" for subterranean adventure.
The staff of the Kansas Underground Salt Museum strongly recommends reserving your tour in advance. I recommend not arriving too early for your tour, as there wasn't much to do while waiting for it to start. The tour begins with a brief safety video. Everyone on the tour entering the cave has to wear a white hard hat and personal breathing device. The museum staff get different color hard hats.
The museum visitors don safety gear, board a crowded, double decked elevator and ride down 650 feet in the dark - "because that is the way the miners do it." There is a guide in each car of the elevator and they will leave the elevator lights on if someone has trouble with the 90 second ride.
Although there are long sight lines in the caverns when lighted, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum probably isn't a place for the claustrophobic. The elevator is noisy and dark and there are places during the tour where you see the very floor pushed up several feet by the weight of the mine's support pillars. Not that I felt uncomfortable at any point during my visit to the Underground Salt Museum.
The salt mine is still in operation. The Hutchinson Salt Company's elevator leading down to the mine is a few hundred yards away. A new shaft was made for the museum at a cost of $6 million. The expense was shared with the third business operating in the mine - Underground Vaults & Storage.
Arriving in the mine, you receive a brief welcome to the Permian Sea, than everyone is free to do things at their own pace. There are salt mining galleries and an interesting large display of movie memorabilia from Underground Vaults & Storage. a company which uses portions of the mine as secure storage.
There are two rides available for additional fees. They are $3.50 for one or $5 in combination (if purchased before entering the mine).
The newest ride is the Salt Mine Express, which just open in March. The narrow gage railroad formerly operated at the Hutchinson Zoo and was converted to run on electricity when the zoo purchased a new train.
The 40 minute guided "dark ride" is conducted on a tram. There are frequent stops to point out formations, exhibits and abandoned equipment. Since everything brought into the mine is left in the mine (No sense going to the time or expense of bringing it back up), the mine is a bit of a time capsule. Near the end of the dark ride, there is a stop where everyone is allowed to get off the tram, sort through a pile of rock from the active salt mine and select a rock to take home as a souvenir of their visit to the Underground Salt Museum. I feel that this ride is a must part of a visit to the museum.
The Kansas Underground Salt Museum's hours are 9AM - 5PM (6PM in summer) on Tuesday - Friday, 9AM - 6PM on Saturday, and 1-5PM (6PM in summer) on Sunday. Call 866 755-3450 to confirm hours and reserve a tour. The last tour departs 2 hours before closing. A typical visit including all the options would run 2 to 3 hours depending on how much time is spent reading displays, riding tours and watching videos.
Children 3 and younger may not tour the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.
copyright 2009-2013 by Keith Stokes