Fun In The Piedmont
NC Museum Of Natural Sciences
WARNING: The adventure you are about to embark on is meant for the inquisitive only. Eyes must remain open at all times, hands in constant touching mode, and ears attuned to the slightest chirp and growl. Suppressed excitement is unacceptable and maximum levels of expression – physical and verbal – are expected.
Welcome to North Carolina’s ultimate interactive encounter, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.
The largest natural history museum in the Southeast is filled with dioramas recreating North Carolina’s biological and ecological diversity from the mountains to the sea. Packed within these walls are 70,000 square feet of walk-through environments spread over four floors. Wonder, excitement, discovery and technology beckon at every turn, appearing overhead, under foot and surrounding you on every side.
Grab a guidebook and map as you enter, and veer right into the coastal North Carolina exhibit. This small gallery introduces you to native salamanders – the state is home to 58 species − as well as plants found only in North Carolina.
Take a relaxing stroll along a Carolina salt marsh and shoreline before passing cautiously under the 65-foot prehistoric blue whale fossils that welcomed you. The auditorium ahead is your vessel for the 17-minute journey through “Wilderness North Carolina.” This HDTV film experience transports you into the wild environments of North Carolina, but you are still safe within the museum – or are you?
On the second floor lies the heart of the museum. Even with eyes closed, you can clearly see the roaring rush of water tumbling 20 feet into a calm trout-filled pool lined with trees and rocks. The placid waters beneath this magnificent waterfall are also home to a population of turtles. It’s as if you had escaped the constraints of the museum walls and stumbled upon your own private retreat smack in the middle of the North Carolina mountains.
Enter prehistoric North Carolina on the third floor, and approach “The Terror of the South” with extreme caution. Lightning flashes and thunder rumbles as the gaping dagger-toothed jaws of an Acrocanthosaurus lunge for a sauropod dinner. Not to fret, it’s just the museum’s dramatic one-of-a-kind dinosaur display; although, the ominous circlings of three winged pterosaurs overhead cause you to second-guess which era you are in.
Catch a bird’s-eye view of the treetops as you enjoy live presentations in the Windows of the World Theater, part of the Mountains to the Sea exhibit. Set your fingers free and connect with your touchy-feely side through the variety of dazzling interactive, hands-on exhibits offered in the Discovery Room. Or just absorb the stimulating sights and sounds of the many exhibits throughout the museum that include live animals.
Of all the growls rumbling in your ears, the one from your own tummy is the most familiar. Check out the Acro Café on the fourth floor for a delicious variety of sustenance to continue your adventure. You’ll want to keep a close eye on your food though – live butterflies, snakes, hummingbirds and a two-toed sloth inhabit a re-created tropical forest next to the snack tables.
Other exhibits throughout the museum grant you a glimpse into the natural world through the distinct lens of North Carolina’s diverse geography, geology, plants and animals. Twice a year, your experience is enhanced through roving exhibits on loan from museums around the globe.
Eager explorers of all ages are encouraged to visit and experience, in one place, the richness and beauty of North Carolina’s natural heritage. You may even get a glimpse of Willo, the dinosaur with a heart!
For directions, hours of operation and other information on the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, visit www.naturalsciences.org.
added: December 30, 2008
updated: June 28, 2010