The natural history museum in downtown Albuquerque is monstrously big, and after arriving at its service doors I made my way around the campus (“building” does not suffice), admiring the way the landscape was sculpted and filled with plants to deliberately portray different areas of New Mexico. I was very nearly the first person in, and decided to do only the museum tour. There’s a planetarium, but I was just at the VLA yesterday and had seen massive photos of galaxies, not just stars, there. The museum is so incredibly HUGE that simulated stargazing wasn’t missed. (And…the last time I visited a planetarium, it turned out to be a light show and I fell asleep.)
Where to begin with this place? Its heart and soul is natural history, with an extensive and winding tour through time that involves dinosaurs, the ice age, and early American man. The museum tells the story through massive skeleton reproductions, murals, ‘real-life’ models, and flat pictures. Just as Carlsbad gave the definition ‘cavernous’ real weight, here too the megafauna gave ‘mammoth’ a new meaning. They were imposing even as frames, and people used to summon the courage to attack them for meat!
A computer science wing attracted my interest going in, though I found it too noisy; television monitors are everywhere, with interviews of various people like Bill Gates talking about New Mexico’s role in turning computers from warehouses into pocket conveniences. They had all manner of interesting gadgets there: early portable radios, an array of vacuum tubes and transistors; teletype machines, even a UNIVAC.
The noise moved me out, though, and into the space science hall. There I played with a Mars rover, rotating its camera around with a joystick. It’s not as easy as it sounds, because the rover’s eyeball isn’t obvious. Massive models of the planets (“and Pluto”) line the wall, and a small theater offered a depressing film on environmental destruction, ozone depletion, that sort of thing. Natural history is king here, from the the T. Rex models to the enormous rock collection. There’s even a reproduction of a cave, and live animal exhibits. In another area, Actual Science is done — there’s a closed off area visible by glass where people were peering into dishes and studying their computers. Perhaps they were an exhibit: “Science At Work”. The museum also has live animals, at least fish and reptiles.