Strataca

The Kansas Underground Salt Museum is a family friendly salt mine and museum to explore near Hutchinson, Kansas.

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.

Bottom Line

Families looking for a child-friendly and climate-controlled mine for exploration should see Strataca. It belongs on every central Kansas must-see list.

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My Favorite Runs

Enjoyable walking, running, and cycling areas in the USA

After retiring from the US Army on 1 September 2016, I took a new job in Tennessee. My schedule prevented me from doing one of my favorite things, running, since 12 September. Today, however, I took a glorious 5-miler in the Wolf River Nature Area outside Germantown, TN. Running there reminded me of some of my favorite places to run, bike, or walk, throughout the United States. These trails are relatively easy, and located close to urban areas. Unlike some of the trails considered “Best in the US” for running, these are short and accessible to casual walkers, runners, bikers, and hikers.

California

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve – Mostly a walk but can be a run, you will find terrific shorebirds in this coastal estuary near the city of Huntington Beach. The nearby Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve is also worth a walk.

Pennsylvania

Hickory Run State Park – This park boasts the Shades of Death trail and the Boulder Fields. Neither are suitable for running but both are great to hike and explore.

Lehigh Gorge State Park – Nestled in the Pocanos Mountains, the Lehigh Gorge State Park has many trails to bike, walk, and run. A 36-mile long gravel trail tracks the Lehigh River from Glen Summit through Whitehaven and Rockport and ends at Jim Thorpe. The northern part of the path can be a little tough to follow at places

Tennessee

Wolf River Nature Area – Wolf River made it on to my favorites list after only one run. The trail slopes gently without large hills and passes through hardwood forests and wetlands along the river.

Texas

Franklin Mountains State Park – if you like desert trails and lots of ups and downs, the Franklin Mountains are for you. They separate east from west El Paso and boast all manner of high desert flora and fauna. For the fit, the Franklin Mountains trail run is up to 50 kilometers every September.

Virginia

Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge – A mostly flat area of wetlands near the Potomac River at Fort Belvoir, the refuge is good for running, walking, and (occasionally in the winter) cross country skiing. Great blue heron, osprey, egrets and bald eagles abound. The 1.8-mile-long Beaver Pond Trail is the best known, but there are miles of other trails.

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park – This park follows the pathway of the old C&O Canal, which transported goods from the Ohio valley to markets throughout the East Coast. It is 184.5 miles long and is terrific for walking, running, and especially cycling. The southern part, near the Great Falls, is gravel and mostly flat.

Mount Vernon Trail – Just outside of Washington DC, the Mount Vernon Trail snakes along the Potomac River for 18 miles from Theodore Roosevelt Island to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. It is paved, mostly flat, and busy, with thousands of people using it every week. The trail passes by the Reagan International Airport, through the City of Alexandria, and past several residential areas. Why do I like it? Because the Potomac is beautiful, parks abound along the trail, the eastern birds and wetlands are worth seeing, and it is easy to get to.

Noland Trail – This is my favorite run. Located near the Mariner’s Museum and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, the Noland Trail follows the shoreline around Lake Maury. The five-mile loop has steep climbs and drops so it is suitable for running or walking; bicycles are not allowed.  The forest and the lake are gorgeous.

Washington State

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge – The main trail, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Trail, is 4.4 miles long but only walking, not running or cycling, are permitted. Canoeing on the Nisqually River near the refuge is easy; suitable for beginners and families.

There are thousands of other great nature trails and other places to run (or walk or bike), but these are some of the best that I have run.