Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Happy summer, everyone! For the months of July to September, I will try to post twice a month, once in the middle of the month and once at the end. Did I quit the procrastinator’s club? Of course… not! This summer is approaching fast, and I’m still working on last summer’s adventures, and I just went on vacation not too long ago, so I have a significant backlog that will last till next year if I don’t do something about it. So let’s begin… I love natural history museums, and I wouldn’t have missed this one for anything…

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, located in Washington, D.C.

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The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is free admissions, being part of the Smithsonian Institution and all, and was opened from 10am to 7:30pm when I visited during the summer. The floor plan of the museum is available for a suggested donation of $1. (You don’t have to pay for it, you can just wave to the staff members, take one and walk off, if you are thick-skinned enough to do that. I couldn’t do it, but one of my traveling buddies was able to, so we got free floor plans, which I kinda feel guilty about now, it was only a dollar. Sorry museum, next time, I’ll definitely pay for it.) The museum covers a lot of material, so even if there were no crowds, it would take some time to look at everything. However, my traveling buddies and I made the mistake of visiting on a Saturday, which meant  swarms of people pushing against you as you tried to move from exhibit to exhibit, so definitely try to visit on a weekday to avoid crowds.

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The museum welcomes its visitors with the elephant.  (The place to buy or take a floor guide.) The first gallery visited was the Hall of Mammals, hence meeting the relatives. So what makes a mammal, a mammal? A mammal has hair, feeds its young with milk and has special ear bones. (I didn’t know about the special ear bones, learned something new.) The gallery displayed various mammals from around the world, even a model of our oldest relative, which is some sort of shrew-like animal. (I had to Google that, I thought it was a rodent-like animal. Shrew, mouse, they sort of look the same to me.)

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Moving along, the Hall of Human Origins presented the evidence of human evolution from ape-like ancestors to human . The gallery was very detailed, it explained what characteristics make a human, a human, and why these characteristics evolved to what they are today. For example, the various body types we see today. Early humans had small bodies, but had large digestive tracts, because they ate mostly plants, which takes longer to digest. When early humans migrated to hotter climates, and started eating meat and other foods, they evolved narrow bodies so that they could stay cool, and since meat is easier to digest than plants, there was no longer the need to have such a large digestive tract, thus narrower bodies. As humans migrated to colder climates, they evolved to more compact bodies to stay warm, and as they continued to eat meat and cooked foods, the digestive tract remained small. Modern humans live all over the globe, therefore there’s a lot of variety to the modern human body. My fave part of this gallery was the time tunnel, where you can see animations of early humans (the picture on the right in the second row).

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Next up, I saw the Ocean hall, which is a detailed gallery all about the ocean, almost anything you want to know about the ocean can probably be found here. The gallery was huge, and contained so much that I found the gallery a bit perplexing and overwhelming. When I first walked in, I didn’t really know what was going on (and the guide map is no help here), there was so much to look out, I didn’t know where to focus. When I looked around quite a bit, I thought that the gallery was organized around the ocean zones, from the sunlight surface, to the twilight zone, to the deep sea. However, as you move through the rooms of the gallery, the organization changed, (I wished they had a floor map for the individual galleries.) so in the end I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at, just that it was ocean related. Following the ocean hall, I ventured into the gallery entitled “African Voices”, which focused on African culture.

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The last gallery I visited on the first floor was the fossil hall, which was the most popular and crowded of all the galleries. They had fossils of land mammals, sea creatures, even plants, and everybody’s favorite, the dinosaurs. (The room with the dinosaur fossils was the most crowded, the closest I got to seeing the dino bones was through my camera lens.) The fossil hall was well organized, you could easily tell what fossils you were looking at, as each room was clearly labelled. According to the Smithsonian website, the fossil hall is closed for renovation till 2019, however the fossils are displayed elsewhere in the museum (please consult museum visit for more info).

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Moving along to the second floor, I started at  the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.   The gallery was split into four different sections: the solar system, plate tectonics and volcanoes, rocks and mining, and gems and minerals. I don’t quite remember the solar system section, so I will assume I wasn’t all that impressed with it. The plate tectonics and volcanoes, and the rocks and mining were both interesting. Some of the rocks were displayed in a very beautiful manner, similar to a natural landscape. The gems and minerals section was similar to a department store that specializes in jewelry. All the gems and minerals were laid out as if they were about to be sold; so for all those gem lovers out there, definitely go check it out, you may not want to leave.

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Usually I’m not a fan of crowds, it means pushing and shoving to get to the front, but when you are in a museum, and there’s a crowd, it means something super interesting is on display. So after some maneuvering, I managed to get close enough to see what the deal was, and it was the famous Hope diamond. It was quite nice to see in person, it has its own room, but  quite crowded, however it is worth the pushing and shoving (I am now able to say I saw the famous Hope diamond).

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The museum had a gallery dedicated to plants and bugs entitled, “Butterflies and Plants: Partners in Evolution”. The gallery focused on how bugs and plants have evolved together throughout the earth’s history. In addition, the museum has a live butterfly house, however there was a fee to go in, and since I was frugal, I chose not to, so I don’t know what I missed. (Feel free to tell me if you have seen it.) There was also an insect zoo, for the bug lovers.

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Right by the bugs and plants gallery, there was a small area that focused on Egyptian burial rituals. I’m quite fascinated by burial rituals, I like to see how different cultures send off their loved ones to the next world, the items they bury with them, the things they do. When I visited the museum, they had a special exhibit entitled “Written in Bones: Forensic Files from the 17th Century Chesapeake”. The exhibit had a lot of bones on display with accompanying stories of what may have happened to these bones.

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Finishing on the second floor, I saw the Korea Gallery, which displayed a variety of Korean artifacts. And last, but not least, in the basement of the museum was the Birds of DC gallery. (If you are interested in birds, I highly suggest you visit the Birds of Vermont museum.)

My traveling companions and I spent about fours hours to see the whole museum. I’m not quite sure about them, but I feel that I could have spent a lot longer; there were some exhibits that I sort of just breezed through because of the crowds. I had a wonderful experienced and learned a handful of new facts, thus I highly recommended everyone to visit. Everyone will find something to enjoy at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

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