Perhaps you already have discovered the secrets of finding free things to do in the valley -- events, museums, music. With all the colleges around, there are scads. Last Friday I finally took the opportunity to visit a museum I've been wanting to visit for a while -- the Amherst College Museum of Natural History.
On weekdays, there is no public parking on the campus, so I parked my car in the public parking at the square and walked my way down to the museum. It was a perfect day with a warm sun, so the short walk to the building was pleasant. (Walking from the square, head S/E on Rt 9. Take a right at the short street just before the purple and white Amtrak Station. Go past the campus police station on the left and head up the on the first right. The museum is red brick and has a bay of large windows looking directly out to the pathway.) There are some classrooms in the building, but as you enter, enter to the right.
I was greeting by a student who was suffering just a bit, perhaps, from the quiet unbusy-ness of the museum on a beautiful Friday afternoon, but friendly and helpful as a museum docent should be. He explained the layout of the museum, a bit of what exhibits were on each floor, and even gave me a free shark's tooth (after I filled out a short and simple survey). (Which is funny, because ever since I vacationed in Bar Harbor this past summer, I've been wanting a shark's tooth -- finally got it.)
The main floor of the museum is the most eye-catching, with large reconstructed skeletons of ice age animals -- a bear, a mammoth, a mastodon, a saber-tooth, and more -- fascinating and beautiful, set together on a raised platform display. (When I was there, they were preparing for a Halloween party that evening.)
The basement is dinosaur land -- a skeleton and some dino skulls greet you at the bottom of the stairs, as well as a marble bust of Edward Hithcock, who was the Professor of Natural History and Chemistry in 1825 and who collected hundreds of slabs of local shale to study the ancient bird tracks that fascinated him -- and that turned out to be dinosaur tracks. There is a whole room dedidcated to displaying his finds, where slabs of imprinted rock hang from walls. A very impressive display and a fun place to test your own print-discovery skills. For more info, visit the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection.
And for another place to visit where you can search out prints in the wild, head on over to Nash Dino Land.
The top floor of the museum has information on the local geologic history of the Connecticut River Valley and the areas surrounding Amherst, and I admittedly didn't spend quite as much time there -- though I did take the opportunity to visit the hallway rock displays. There is also a reading room on this floor and some tables and chairs very convenient for quiet study.
Each floor has a hallway with great glass wall displays of gems, minerals, and rock collected from around the world (which I loved looking at -- they are titled with the name of the mineral, the location it came from, and its chemical formula -- very cool).
There are also educational display drawers with fossilized specimen of fish, snails, eggs, and other smaller ancient creatures.
And if you're looking for a quiet place to study or read or daydream, the museum and building also has a number of comfortable-looking chairs, tables, and couches.
For accessibility there is an elevator, bathrooms, and a cubicle coat room.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Museum of Natural History -- it's not so big as to be overwhelming, but there's lots of stuff included inside. Open 11-4 Tuesday-Sunday (closed Mondays).
Looking for more free things to do? I will be highlighting more of them on this blog in future days, but in the meantime, visit the Five Colleges Calendar.