April 3, 2015| Story and Photography by Ron Sparkman
I’m going to have to start my review of the Houston Museum of Natural Science with a bit of a confession: space was not my first love in science. That honor went exclusively to paleontology after the release of Jurassic Park. I was a slight dino nut before, but that movie just took it to the next level. Following the film’s release, I ate up everything I could. The Lost World: Jurassic Park is still my all-time favorite book. I’ve purchased at least four copies, even downloading it to my Kindle so I don’t have to tear up any more physical versions. Okay, so maybe I still have a paper copy, too. Now you might be wondering why I’d share this info before a museum review on a site that’s never spoken once on the subject?! Because the Houston Museum of Natural Science has one of the top paleontology exhibits in the world. I’ve yet to see its equal. It brought back my first love of science with a vengeance and I think if you go, it will bring back the same wonder for you too.
We spent the morning at Battleship Texas, another sensational Houston treasure, before heading over to this treasury of wonders. We’d come to Houston for the Year In Space launch at Johnson Space Center and we had a second day free to explore. We were not to be disappointed. From the moment we get out of the car, we named after long ago beasts so you could easily commit your parking spot to memory. I knew I was going to love this place.
As we entered the front door we were caught by the sheer size of the storefront you walk through before you reach the ticket counter. It is by far the most comprehensive one I’ve seen in my journeys thus far. Later, I would limit my support of the museum to a single purchase, but I could have EASILY spent my trip AND my rent money. As we exited and made our turn, we could just see how truly massive this place was. The scene was bustling: a twenty minute line for tickets, kids riding a T-rex in the hall, a massive planetarium to the left, a butterfly hall in the back, and none of this made up the main exhibit halls! Stunning! Once I saw the size, I immediately realized that this wasn’t a museum I could see in just a couple of hours. Honestly, I don’t even believe it is one that you fully appreciate with just one day. I saw everything as quickly as possible, so technically this is a review “in progress”. From here I split up with my friend and hit up the Chemistry and Energy exhibits before rejoining my friend on the paleontology tour. I plan on continuing my study of this amazing world of science at a later date.
The Hall of Energy, while small, is comprehensive in its explanation of our current energy sources and the alternatives the industry is looking into. Videos keep the area from being too cluttered, so anyone can catch the information in an easy-to-understand format. If you want to understand the future of alternative energies like solar, wind, and fusion, this is a great place to start. Take some time with the videos and educate yourself!
Let’s face facts, other than the Breaking Bad series, most people can find the subject of chemistry boring because they can be so easily confused by it. I know I was as a student, but HMNS tackles this problem with ease by presenting guests with an incredible gallery on their bottom floor comprised of bigger-than-life structures of DNA, an interactive Periodic Table that takes up an entire wall, and more. Everything showcased in perfectly lit, in fact, the entire building the most exquisitely lit museum I’ve been to. Taking excellent photos and videos here is strikingly easy. I digress as there is so much more to say! We also found a wonderful interactive experience for kids to indulge in their love of space science. This area is tucked away behind the chemistry area and is composed of multiple computer stations for kids of all ages.
After examining all the wonders of the lower level, I charged through as much of the main and second floor areas as I could before our paleontology tour at 3 p.m. It’s nothing short of mind-boggling some of the amazing things presented here. From the “Top 50 Wildlife Photographers of the Year” gallery through the stunning Cullen Hall of Gems & Minerals, a security guarded, massive vault of mindbogglingly beautiful gems rated number 1 in the world, you really have such a lush variety of subjects to dive into here. I really can’t make my recommendation any more serious. But alas! I haven’t even told you about the crown jewel yet! Because we have yet to talk about the Morian Hall of Paleontology. Oh my stars…
By far the most impressive part of the museum was the Paleontology tour. For an extra 5 dollars, a tour guide gives you a tour through time on an epic scale. From Tiktaalik , to Stegosaurs and T-rexes, and even a replica of Lucy herself, any and everything you could imagine about the history of life on our planet is on display here. That’s all I say about this experience, seeing as I can’t do it justice. This is the crown jewel of Texas exhibits in my opinion. Check out a quick view of just a piece of the exhibit below. Go, get the tour, and thank me later. Special thanks to our incredibly knowledgeable guide Rich for a fantastic experience. Ask for his group when you go!
A truly immersing experience for one and all. This beautiful place was created to bring the kid in all of us alive. Bring new walking shoes because you’ll be stopped in your tracks over and over again! Find out more on their Facebook page. It’s also important to keep in mind that this place is kept alive, in part, by donations and volunteer work from people just like you, so make sure to visit their Support page!