From the getting of lizard wisdom in "Dueling Dragons" to witnessing how our insides stack up in "Meet Stuffee," the Children's Museum of Utah has long been all about learning through hands-on exploration.
A perfect example of the museum's philosophy is the novel new exhibit, "Nine-Mile Canyon." In this 2,200-square-foot interactive replica of the canyon, kids can learn all about the unique history, geography and culture of Utah." `Nine-Mile Canyon' is the biggest project the museum has taken on since it opened 15 years ago," said Tracy Larsen, director of development. "With a two-year financial commitment from the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Foundation, we were able to create a high-quality exhibit, rich in content and educational value."
Nine-Mile Canyon, located near Price, was chosen because it offered a wonderful framework for exploring Utah's geology, ecology, prehistory and history.
Archaeologists who have studied artifacts in the canyon believe ancient cultures may have lived there as long as 12,000 years ago. These ancient people were followed by the Fremont Indians, who left behind petroglyphs and pictographs on the canyon walls, as well as remains of villages, dwellings and artifacts that tell of their culture. Ute settlers came later and continued to cultivate the land and leave rock art and other artifacts. The last to arrive in the canyon were people of European descent - explorers, pioneers, cowboys, farmers and freighters.
The years 1886-1910 marked the canyon's heyday, when the Nine-Mile Canyon corridor became a thoroughfare linking Price with the Uintah Basin and Fort Duchesne. With wagon freighters and access to the train, the road became the most heavily traveled in eastern Utah. The area quickly attracted farmers, ranchers and merchants.
To create the illusion of walking into Nine-Mile Canyon, museum visitors enter the exhibit through a long, narrow simulated canyon whose walls were fabricated using actual castings from a rock canyon near Price. Petroglyph and pictograph designs found in Nine-Mile Canyon cover the walls. Kids learn about the Fremont Indian culture by exploring a cliff dwelling and creating their own dwelling with simulated boulders. They also learn how to grind and store corn in granaries.
To understand the importance of water in our state, an interactive creek model demonstrates erosion, damming and water flow. About every two minutes, water pours out of two sides of a mountain like a flash flood. Kids position figurines of trees, horses and people to see how they fare under the torrent of water.
Uncovering the bones of a mammoth, an animal that once inhabited the vicinity, is a favorite hands-on experience. Children learn about prehistoric animals and paleontology and can make fossil rubbings to take home.
To gain a better understanding of the hardships of working in Utah in the late 1800s, visitors can play on a freight wagon and weigh bundles and crates. They also can operate a model train that travels through a simulated canyon environment.
A pioneer ranch house, along with a life-size fiberglass horse and milking cow, helps kids visualize cowboy and pioneer culture. Inside the house are books about the canyon as well as albums filled with old photographs. They can also hear oral histories on an old-fashioned telephone.
Two telegraph offices allow children to communicate with each other in Morse code from across the room and learn about early modes of communication. And in a fort that represents Fort Duchesne, they learn about frontier military life by standing guard inside the fort.
Finally, a computer station provides additional data on Utah history. For example, a child interested in the Fremont culture can access in-depth information about the tribe, complete with photographs and stories.
The Children's Museum of Utah has created a super learning experience for the state's young people, and the facility's goal of stimulating imagination, curiosity, creativity and wonder in children of all ages has certainly been achieved with this exhibit.
On the Saturday "when the exhibit first opened to the public, we had a record-breaking day," said Larsen. "The second day, a Monday, we had another record-breaking day. We've just had a great response from the public. We've had a lot of school groups sign up, and we're real excited about it. It's a permanent exhibit, so it'll be here for a long time."
The Children's Museum of Utah is located at 840 N. 300 West in Salt Lake City. Admission is $3 per person; children under age 2 are admitted free. For more information call 801-328-3383.