The excitement of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science begins outside of the main entrance where there are life size dinosaur sculptures. Very cool. When you enter the museum, you enter the lobby to pay to gain admittance to the actual museum. There is an additional cost for the Dyna Theater and the Lodestar Astronomy Center, but we didn’t visit those.
In order to look at the exhibits in chronological order, you have to begin on the second floor. If you do go in chronological order to view the exhibits, the first one is Origins and covers the time period of 12 billion years ago and includes the formation of the universe. It was more astrological and although my children enjoy learning about the stars and the cosmos, we didn’t spend much time here.
The next exhibit was Age of Giants which covered the Jurassic period of 208 million years ago to 144 years ago. This was one of our favorite exhibits, because this is the time of the dinosaurs that my children love. The exhibit, like the entire museum, was very multi-media in its presentation. There were fossils and dinosaur replicas to look at. The interactive exhibits made you feel as though you were actually in the Jurassic period, and my children loved it.
The third exhibit was New Mexico’s Seacoast which encompassed the Cretaceous period of 144 million years ago to 66 million years ago. This exhibit’s big feature is a detailed look at the comets that are believed to be the extinction of the dinosaurs. Parts of this exhibit are on the second floor, but the best part is actually on the first floor. It was our favorite part of this split exhibit and our second favorite of the museum. There were combinations of living exhibits in aquariums, statues, displays that included real plant life. My children thought that this was the most realistic looking exhibit in the entire museum.
As you depart this exhibit, you can go through the Evolator Time Machine, an interactive space ship ride that last about six minutes and takes you on a fast interactive tour through time. We thought it was very cool. Once you are in, there doors close and there are a series of monitor screens that have a captain and his robot companion talking to you about where you are going through time and what you are seeing on the screens, which are supposed to be outside of the time machine. The whole cabin moves via a system of hydraulics -- it is way cool and quite believable for youngsters. This “ride” launches about every 12 minutes throughout the day.
As you depart the Evolator, the next exhibit is the Age of Volcanoes. This exhibit covers the Tertiary period of 66 million years ago to 1.6 million years ago. It is set up to simulate a volcano. As you walk through the tunnel-like exhibit, it simulates walking down into the depths of a volcano until you reach the core where the walls are actually glowing red and there appears to be a sea of lava flowing under the plexi-glass floor. This was bit too realistic for my children and they scampered through holding tight to the edges so they wouldn’t fall through the floor.
The fifth exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is the Evolving Grasslands and also covers the Tertiary Period. Instead of volcanoes and destruction, this exhibit shows animal and plant life of this time period as our Earth moved away from a land of dinosaurs and into the world as we know it today.
The Pleistocene period of 1.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago is the sixth exhibit (and I am sorry that I don’t have the title of the exhibit, but I can’t seem to find it in my notes). We only spent a brief time at this exhibit because we were beginning to run short on the time commitment we had allowed ourselves to visit the museum. (Husband had a tee time arranged at a golf course.) I honestly don’t recall much of this exhibit with the exception that there was a simulated cave to walk through and my children were fascinated with the bats.
The final exhibit was New Mexico’s Ice Age and depicts a 12,000 year old New Mexico. We liked this exhibit a lot as it had a Saber Tooth Tiger and a Mastodon as part of the exhibit.
Throughout the entire museum there were kiosks with museum workers making the exhibits interactive. A cool touch according to my children. These interactive portions did what they were supposed to do in that my children said it made the exhibits seem more realistic, and I know they learned just a bit more each time we stopped at one.
In addition, as if eight exhibits aren’t enough, there are side trips to take while inside the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. One is entitled Fossil Works where you can watch a paleontologist remove a fossil from their transportation nest. This is a glass welled room where one can actually view the museum workers do their thing with actual dig extracts. While we were at Fossil Works, a museum volunteer who we had been watching extract a dinosaur bone from its casing came out of the room and asked us if we had a few minutes to talk with him. Of course we said yes. We were rewarded with pieces of the sand stone surrounding the fossil he had been working on ands well as pieces of the plaster of paris casing that protected the fossil on its journey from the dig site to the museum. He talked to my children for 10-15 minutes about what it is like being on an actual dig. This experience was really the high light of our museum visit.
We also enjoyed the big Earth Relief Map and actual seismograph that showed/explained seismic activity throughout the region. In this area, we got to simulate seismic activity so we could see what it looks like on the seismograph. Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- there was no actual seismic activity on the day we visited.
Another fun area was The Naturalistic Center which was a hands on activity room. We did things like look through a microscope at various materials, made a variety of animal tacks in sand, and petted a real live turtle.
Other side trips at the museum include the Magic of Minerals display, which includes a piece of real gold in its natural state; the East Gallery, which houses changing exhibits, and the Dyna Theater that shows “Jane Goodall’s Wild Chimpanzees” and “Dolphins." If you feel the need for souvenirs, there are not one but two gifts shops. Most of the items in the gift shops are moderate to high in price, but they did have something in every price range.
One final place worth mentioning is the Lodestar Astronomy Center which houses a planetarium. We didn’t go into it, but museum personnel assured us that it was a neat portion of the museum.
My final thoughts are that this is one of the most fun museums that I have ever experienced. The staff was beyond nice, but I have to say that was, for the most part, how our entire Albuquerque experience was. The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science is a must see stop.
Contact Information :
1801 Mountain Road N.W.
Old Town Albuquerque
Phone: (505) 841-2800