LEHI — "This looks fun and dangerous all at the same time!" said one of the bigger kids heading into the pitch blackness of the slide recently at the Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point.
"I was really scared on the way down," Ryan Grandvig said. "It's like an adventure. I'm having the joy of my life here!"
"It just gets super dark in there," Kaelyx Swanner said as he emerged at the bottom of the slide. "It was so fun."
The kids were from the Open Classroom Charter School in Salt Lake City and had come to "test" the more than 400 interactive toys and elements at the $28.5 million museum.
Their testing included checking out the four swinging rope bridges crisscrossing the open area next to the 45-foot monkey, the cascading waterfall and the Tests of Courage stations: Can you hang upside down like a sloth? Flap your wings as fast as a hummingbird? Or squeeze as hard as a python?
They could check out the laser harp that makes music when someone simply passes a hand through the laser "strings" or play a tune on the bubble organ.
They could stage a miniature play with costumes, props and sound equipment and see a movie of it seconds later.
They could make magic, practice pouncing like a lion or go to the bank and get play money through the tube from the impressive stacks topped with real dollar bills. They could play with giant Legos or stop-motion animation.
They could stand in the wind tunnel and feel the gentle breezes — of up to 85 mph.
They could watch themselves on video loops and discover secret passageways and hidden entrances to even more fun.
The adventurous among them could carefully walk on ropes, pipes and small wooden steps high above the rest of the action.
Camden Gardner, 9, said the ropes walk is scary. He relied on his dad to encourage and calm him.
"I knew he could do it," Sam Gardner said.
"I just stayed focused," Camden said. "But I was shaking so badly. It's probably the bravest thing I've done here."
"This is excellent," Eli Kennard said. Eli is 11 and found just as much to enjoy as the younger kids, like 4-year-old Aiden Barwalker, who pedaled hard to make the toy trains chug past.
"It's really, really, cool. It's like this little city," 14-year-old Cam Dention said.
"They have actual drums in here!" Shelby Saxton shouted as he disappeared into the studio. "This is the coolest thing. It's magic!"
"This was built for all ages," explained Britnee Johnston, communications manager for Thanksgiving Point, standing in the hub of the five main exhibit areas. "So far, we've tested about 1,200 kids a day. They're loving it."
"We teachers are having a ball, too," Denny Mugana said. "I had no idea what to expect. I'm really surprised. We haven't stopped moving since we got here."
The museum, designed by FFKR Architects and built by Okland Construction, is 45,000 square feet with a 5-acre outdoor "Discovery Garden" playground component.
The displays, designed by Roto Group of Dublin, Ohio, are innovative, sturdy and ready for kids to dance, stomp, drum, hang from and shake. They're colorful, full of detail and built for fun and safety.
Carson Norton, 10, stood in the wind tunnel with his hair flying. "It's just hitting on you!" he said. "I'd like to have one of these in my house. This is the best thing. I can't wait for the water to start." Water Works is on schedule to be ready by the museum's opening date of May 15.
From the main hub, an adventurer can choose from a variety of options: Kidopolis, the Rainforest, Water Works, the Discover Garden Archimedes playground or the traveling exhibits on science, art and human perception that will be provided by San Francisco's Exploratorium.
Guests can bring items to trade in the trading post and could come away with something impressive.
Visitors are invited to bring keys and their stories to add to the Keytree sculpture, which, over time, will feature hundreds of different keys from all kinds of places.
The museum, located in the Barbara Barrington Jones Family Foundation building just north of the golf course, is expected to draw an additional 300,000 visitors annually to the area.
If you go ...
What: Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point
Where: 3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi
When: Opens May 15, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday
How much: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and children ages 3-12, discounted season passes available
Information: 801-768-2300 or thanksgivingpoint.org
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.