We ended Day Seven with a hotel stay northwest of Wichita in Hutchinson, a city large enough to have its own dying shopping mall and not one, but two notable attractions. Thus did Day Eight commence in the heart of the Kansas heartland…at the Underground Salt Museum.
I realize the name carries an excitement level on par with a box factory or the state of Delaware, but the Salt Museum is no ordinary salt mine. Granted, yes, part of it is an ordinary salt mine, but we’d never seen one of those before, either. Could it possibly be fascinating to gander inside the workplace that provides us with one of the greatest-tasting minerals on Earth?
This rusty but imposing chainsaw-mobile says yes.
Your first clue that you’re not visiting a run-of-the-mill blue-collar workplace is the friendly visitors’ entrance. Very few mines have this fancy a foyer.
The lobby provides a few informative displays, as well as a few samples of actual minerals you can touch. I imagine this part is among the most thrilling for serious rock collectors.
650 feet below the lobby is where the tour begins, not to mention panic attacks in the unknowing claustrophobe.
If you waited in the lobby for your family and eschewed the tour because you’re a cheapskate, you missed out on seeing this enormous salt boulder, far cooler than the pebbles on the ground floor. Note the sign encouraging interactivity, something else you probably don’t see in a normal mine with its harsh OSHA regulations and its workplace-safety buzzkill.
The walls around us were loaded with French-fry topping. Most of it we couldn’t touch. Past employees were either granted a one-time exception, or were fired after this single offense. Oddly, this was not the last time on our vacation that we would be reminded of Larry the Cable Guy.
Exhibited around the caverns were various tools of the trade, including this handy box of miner toys. Employees flatly refused to hand out free samples.
I like to imagine the employees spending their lunch breaks staging duels between Chainsawmobile and Saltdozer for mine-machine supremacy. Museum profits could double if they added Battlebots tournaments writ large.
The museum portion represents only a fraction of the total, sprawling square mileage encompassed by the vast salt mines and all the services they provide. Modified jalopies are kept below ground for employee use to travel between various distant points. Obviously the salty conditions are not kind to their bodies.
Another rusty car is part of a tribute to TV’s Mike Rowe, who filmed a 2007 episode of his Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs here, possibly because of the less-than-effervescent ambience.
This wouldn’t be the last vestige of Hollywood on our tour.
To be continued!
[New readers and completists: be sure to check out the 2012 Road Trip checklist for the ultimate reading guide, still in progress. Thanks for reading!]