Saturday in a Salt Mine

Wichita, Kansas

After 23 years of visiting relatives in Kansas- I decided to venture out of the kitchen and find an adventure. It turns out adventure was waiting for me 650 ft. underground! "Strataca" is a museum housing everything from movie costumes to historical artifacts in the only underground salt mine in the United States open to the public. Read on to find out about our afternoon in the Strataca Salt Museum!

We all have cousins in Kansas. You know, that less than thrilling destination that you'd rather not use all your vacation days on. Don't get me wrong- cousins are the best, but they could have lived in Europe, thankyouverymuch...And year after year of gaining five pounds because you spent all week catching up in the kitchen, can get a little old. It's not just my family, right? Well, this year, we decided to venture out of the kitchen and see if there were any adventures to be had.

It started like this:

"Uncle Ernie, is there anything cool to do around here?"

"Well, let's see, the salt mine is pretty cool."

"I'm sorry..the what?"

"The salt mines in Hutchinson..they store famous movie props and costumes deep underground because it's the perfect climate all year 'round."

How had I never heard about this? It sounded strange and cool enough to me! We hopped in the car and drove 40 minutes to "Strataca, Kansas Underground Salt Museum."

After buying our tickets and receiving hard hats, we arrived at "The Shaft," a double-decker six-ton hoist that slowly, noisily, and bumpily took us down 650 ft into darkness. "We usually take the elevator ride in darkness so you can see how the miners experienced it," the guide told us, "but I can turn a light on if you want." When my sister asked for the light, she clicked on the little light on her hard hat. "Nevermind, that's honestly worse!"

First impressions upon exiting the elevator: It's darker than I'd like it to be...I am literally in a hole that someone has carved out of a giant rock...The walls. are. sparkling! (Because of the salt, duh.) Once we adjusted to our surroundings, we were free to explore the four parts of the museum at our own pace.

1. The Self-Guided Walking Tour

Here, we strolled around reading facts about salt and the history of the mines, and watched video clips of interviews with the miners. There were old tractors and tools on display- once a piece of equipment outlived its usefulness, it would be abandoned in the mines. Luckily, it only got more interesting from here..

2. The Salt Mine Express

We hopped onto a sketchy little train with questionable tracks and away we went! Because of the perfect climate, everything in this part of the mine remains exactly as it was in the 1940s and 50s. We listened to a pre-recorded tour guide as we spent 15 minutes winding our way through the salt pillars. We learned about the perfectly preserved trash piles ("What goes into the mine, stays in the mine"), a caved-in part of the salt-ceiling, and a toilet chilling out in the open with toilet paper scattered all about the ground. "Don't lick the salt," the recording advised. *gag

“"50% of films made before 1950 no longer exist. Less than 20% of American-made silent films survive in complete form. Humidity and heat, warehouse fires, improper labeling and handling have caused irreparable damage."”

3. Movie Props and Historical Artifacts

The amount of movies, costumes, government documents, and historical artifacts that are stored down here really is incredible. There are currently 49 acres of storage, with another 40 available! (Which is still nothing compared to the 980 total acres.) The constant 68° and 45% humidity makes it the ideal climate for storage, not to mention the one elevator-entrance makes it a high-security location. We saw everything from the George Clooney Batsuit to a newspaper from the day after President Lincoln died!

4. The Dark Ride

The Dark Ride was a thirty minute (much smoother) tram tour with a guide. Our guide was crazy-knowledgeable which can make a tour infinitely more interesting- especially if the topic is...salt. Apparently, this mine was almost chosen for nuclear waste storage, but they found the rate at which it was closing in on itself was too slow (good for a museum- apparently not good for nuclear waste). On the dark ride, the guide turned off the tram lights so we could experience Absolute Darkness, and pointed out that most workers carry around at least two flashlights because if anything happened to the electricity, they would totally get lost and die. Nifty. At the end of the tour, we got to pick out souvenir salt rocks from a pile.

Some Salty Facts:

  • The Strataca Salt Mine is one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas and it is the only salt mine in the United States (out of 14 total) open to the public.
  • You won't season your dinner with Strataca salt anytime soon..although 500,000 tons of salt is mined each year, it is only used as road salt because of the impurities.
  • All of the equipment they use is actually from the coal-mining industry because they don't make salt-mining-specific tools.
  • It turns out they're putting on some pretty cool programs 650 ft underground- including a "Mine Run 5K" and Murder Mystery Dinner Theaters!

Overall, it was a fun and surprising way to spend an afternoon. If you ever happen to find yourself in Kansas (visiting all 50 states maybe?), the Salt Museum is a unique experience and worth a visit!