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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thing 51: The Museum of Natural History

50 "things" and not one Smithsonian? Is this possible? Let's correct that right now, shall we?

T-Rex skull
Last weekend, the Boyfriend and I ventured into the pits of tourist hell when we spent a couple hours at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. I had slept right through the Market, after the exertion of the Mos Def concert, and by the afternoon I got to feeling restless. I was overwhelmed by the need to see some dinosaur bones. And the Boyfriend, because he loves me, humored me in this, even though fanny packs make him physically ill.

We entered the Museum of Natural History from Constitution Avenue, and immediately upon passing through the metal detector, I was face to face with an authentic maoi statue. You know, one of those Easter Island heads. Devotees will remember that this statue completely stumped me and GFD during our Urban Dare adventure, and was the only thing keeping us from victory. So, with this picture I have officially completed the Urban Dare. Ahem, it only took me three months.
An authentic maoi statue.  Finally.  Urban Dare is complete.
From the Constitution Avenue entrance, we had to go up a narrow escalator and then we were in the atrium of the museum, a wide, circular space at whose center is a a replica of an enormous tusked elephant walking through African sand. The atrium is lit through the sky light at the top of the large dome in the ceiling. The second floor's balcony is propped up by narrow, white marble columns. There is a desk for information, a desk at which to buy tickets for the I-MAX, and signs directing visitors towards all the various exhibits.

The atrium at the Museum of Natural HistoryBut mostly, there are tourists. It is July. In our nation's capital. In probably the second most kid-friendly museum in the city (second only, I'm guessing, to the Air and Space, which I simply am not going to venture into until at least October when the greatest gush of tourism will have subsided). It's not like I was surprised to find a sweaty, screaming, crying, running, hungry, cranky, photographing, bored and matching-shirted crowd there. I was ready. I had steeled myself. Still, it was overwhelming. Do tourists even enjoy the experience of the museum, or are there too many other tourists there for them to get even a moment to catch their breath and appreciate?

Which is kind of how I felt. The Boyfriend and I headed up first to the geology room, to see the shiny jewelry. In order to get to that great, glittering, blue behemoth that is the Hope Diamond, you have to wind your way through all these different exhibits about plate tectonics, meteor showers, earthquakes, mining and mineral deposits before you get to the pretty things. So much to learn, and so many people in the way. Every explanatory plaque, every interactive exhibit, every square inch of thick glass encasing twinkly gems was blocked by tourists in high-wasted shorts, their eager children or their impossibly bored teenagers. I can't say I learned much. Except that I really hope that, when the Boyfriend wins a bajillion dollars playing lotto someday, that he buys me a 142 carat emerald and diamond necklace.

Someday, necklace, you will be mine.
We strolled down to look at the dinosaur bones, too. Again, there were so many people everywhere that I didn't really feel at leisure to learn much. Stegosaurus bones are cool. T-Rex's skull is neat. And, um....strollers look hard to steer.

Stegosaurus skeleton
There was also a really wonderful exhibit of nature photography. This I can happily and highly recommend. Even though it was also packed, I felt able to wander and admire and read without too much tourist interference. The photographs were all prize winning, the best of the best from the 2006 Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards and the National Wildlife Photography Awards competitions. Each category had an amateur and a professional winner and the categories covered everything from birds to landscapes to human interactions with nature. All the pictures were displayed in full, perfect color, on large, glossy poster boards. One was an arctic sunset, with dark blues and bright pinks. One was of a big brown bear, rolling on his back, seemingly laughing. And there was this one, the grand prize winner of the whole competition:

The Boyfriend and I only lasted about an hour and a half before we had to get out of the crowd. There is so much to see, the stuffed mammals, the live spiders, the I-MAX movie about sharks. We will probably go back another time, when things quiet down. But right then, I needed to get out of there. The ginger chocolate chip molasses cookies I baked when we got home helped us recover. The best cookies you will ever eat.


Anonymous said...

oh jeez, yes, this is like my least favorite thing to do in DC. the National Museum of Women in the Arts is good, but they charge you to get in, and I think their best exhibit (Women in the Renaissance) might be closed. If it is, check out the Freer, Sackler, and African Art museums on the other side of the mall! They're really cool and way too obscure for many tourists.

also, I love your blog!

dc365 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dc365 said...

Thanks, Anonymous!

I actually LOVE the Sackler! Mostly because I love Islamic art and calligraphy. But yes, it is decidedly lower key. And I've already been to the Nation Museum of Women in the Arts. Check out "Thing 5".

I just really had a hankering for dinosaur skeletons last Sunday...But I have learned my lesson. If I want to go back, it will be in dead of winter. Preferably Christmas Eve.

Alex said...

Hi there!

I've been browsing your blog and loving all of the fascinating things you've found to do around DC! Although the National Museum of American History has yet to grace your site, I thought that perhaps you might be interested in helping us spread the word about a really cool event that NMAH is launching-- a national Star-Spangled Banner YouTube Singing Contest!

Contestants can submit a video performance of the national anthem to the Star-Spangled Banner group on YouTube. The deadline for submissions is April 13, 2009.

It would be great if you could alert your readers to this exciting contest. Here's a link to the Call for Entries if you'd like to help spread the word:



Night Kitchen Interactive on behalf of the National Museum of American History