The Kansas Underground Salt Museum is a family friendly salt mine and museum to explore near Hutchinson, Kansas.
By Mark D. Harris
When Emerson Carey founded the Carey Salt Company to mine rock salt in Hutchinson KS in 1923, he could never have imagined that his mines would also turn into a popular tourist attraction and a storage vault for irreplaceable documents and films. Nonetheless, they did. The 650-foot-deep mines are now owned by the Hutchinson Salt Company, and produce up to 500,000 tons of rock salt for deicing roads, livestock feeding, and other uses per year.
Strataca leases space in the Hutchinson mines to provide an interactive place for adults and children to explore the mine, and to teach them about salt mining past and present. Visitors begin by descending 650 feet in a mining elevator. A mine guide greets guests as they exit and gives them an overview of the mine and mining.
The first room is the Permian Room. This describes the local geology and how the salt was formed from prehistoric seas. A salt wall is lined with a compressed mixture of salt and mud. The second room is the Mining Gallery. Guests learn how salt has been mined in the past 100 years, from railroad lines to conveyor belts and from manual to automated tools. People also discover how miners lived in the past, and live today. Salt mining techniques are very similar to coal mining techniques, but salt mines do not have as many hazards, such as methane gas pockets or explosive coal dust. Salt mining tunnels are much larger than coal mining tunnels. The third section is known as Harry’s Habitat. Visitors discover “salt loving” bacteria, which may be the oldest living organisms on earth.
The Salt Mine Express is a 15-minute narrated train ride through areas that were mined and then abandoned in the 1940s and 1950s. Explorers young and old feel like archaeologists as they view a mining equipment, a trash pile, and even a mine toilet used 70 years ago. The Dark Ride is a 30-minute tram ride which covers mine hazards, air flow, and even nuclear waste storage. Near the end, visitors get to take a free souvenir salt rock to take home.
The mine hosts special events including an annual Mine Run 5k, and an annual 5k bike ride known as the Tour de Salt. December boasts Murder in the Mine, a special mystery dinner theater event. Scouts have hikes and camp outs in the mines and can earn merit badges. Adventurous couples sometimes have their weddings here.
The mines are deep, dry, have good security, and have a constant cool temperature – perfect for storage. The Underground Vaults and Storage Gallery is another company that leases space in the Hutchinson mine. They store original reels of movies such as Gone with the Wind and Ben Hur. The mines also include medical records, oil and gas company charts, and other documents from the USA and abroad.
To Keep in Mind
Children under the age of four are not permitted in the mine. The Train Ride is not handicapped accessible, but the Underground Mine and the Dark Ride are. Weapons, tobacco, laser pointers, and pets are not allowed. Be sure to clear your ears as the air pressure below the surface climbs. When the lights are off, the elevator and the mine are completely dark, so don’t be surprised. The temperature is a constant 68 degrees, so some people may want a light jacket.
Families looking for a child-friendly and climate-controlled mine for exploration should see Strataca. It belongs on every central Kansas must-see list.