Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

Why did we travel 650 feet underground? It was already the ninth day of our 24-day trip, but we finally made it to Kansas! We decided to quit wandering on more minor roads and drive toward our destination. That’s when we discovered our route included travel on Oklahoma and Kansas toll roads.

We have not yet spent much time driving on toll roads and did not know what each toll plaza would cost for an RV towing a vehicle. We scrounged up about ten dollars in coins from an unnecessary convenience store stop and our pockets because we assumed we would need exact change.

We laughed at our first toll plaza stop when we discovered our Texas Toll tag is accepted in Oklahoma and Kansas, and we needed no change at all. I do wish we had checked into that during our planning! Yet another lesson learned!

We ended up in Wichita late afternoon and stopped at my cousin’s house for a brief visit. I had not seen Connie or her family in over thirty years! It was a wonderful but very brief visit.

The next stop is Hutchison and our extremely spacious, flat, and level Harvest Host parking spot for the night! We have not yet had a bad experience with these sites and have met great people at each one.

Strataca – The Kansas Underground Salt Mine

3650 East Avenue G
Hutchinson, KS 67501
(620) 662-1425

So why did we travel 650 feet underground? In 2008, Strataca was designated as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas. We were interested in visiting this underground salt mine museum several hundred feet underneath the Kansas prairie.

The salt deposits here are believed to be formed 275 million years ago! I visited a salt museum once before, many, many years ago, in Berchtesgaden, Germany. The Berchtesgaden mine employs wet mining, a process in which fresh water is fed into the mountain, removing the salt from the rock and creating a brine that will eventually be extracted.

Described, Strataca mines its salt by blasting it into smaller pieces, crushing it, and removing it to the surface. This salt mine, known today as the Hutchison Salt Company, opened as the Carey Salt Mine in 1923 and is still active, with over 1,000 acres of excavation.

This is the only salt mine in the United States open to tourists as a museum. Road salt and salt licks make up most of the final product here.

Strataca Salt Mine

I have a little problem with claustrophobia and was concerned about the elevator ride that travels 650 feet below ground to the mine. I pictured in my claustrophobic mind that there would be narrow corridors and low ceilings.

A couple of years ago, I had to make a hasty exit from the Newgrange Stone Age passage tomb in Ireland because of the narrow corridor and low ceiling. I didn’t think it would be easy to exit the mine, so I asked a few questions before purchasing tickets.

The very understanding ticket-taker, Myron Marcotte, described what we could expect from the elevator ride and what we would see underground when we arrived. He patiently gave me all the information I needed to calm my phobia fear away.

So, you guys that might have a closed-in or small space problem, there is no need to worry about that at Strataca, not even a little bit. 

Here I am, hard hat and all, getting ready to board the elevator.

Before boarding the elevator to the bowels of the Earth, we were shown an informational and safety video. After that, we selected the hard hats required for the tour duration and were escorted to the oversized elevator that took a speedy 90 seconds to descend 650 feet – in total darkness.

I do not mind the dark; just don’t put me in a closet! Even though we had been told what to expect, I was astonished to see the massive, wide open spaces down there! This place is monstrously huge, with ten to twelve-foot ceilings.

It reminded me of the giant underground parking garage in downtown Houston, in the theater district. We were directed to wander freely through the open area, read the informational signs, and watch the various videos explaining salt mining.

This is a BIG place!

The underground air in the museum is clean, has low humidity, is very comfortable, and never changes at 68 degrees. Underground Vault and Storage has provided safe and secure storage facilities in the mine’s inactive areas since 1959.

It is a perfect location for long-term storage of just about anything. The salt absorbs moisture in the air, preventing bacteria and mold growth.

The Permian Room is the first area you encounter after leaving the elevator. Here, we saw several exhibits and videos describing the formation of salt deposits during the Permian Period.

Blasting Powder

The next area we explored was the Mining Gallery, which provides information about the mining process, mining equipment, and conditions miners have worked in through the years.

Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

The Strataca museum was featured in Mike Rowe’s “Dirty Jobs” episode. You can take a look at the video here.

We took so very long reading and learning that one of the staff went to the trouble to find us and take us to board the scheduled tram we had timed tickets for. Every staff person we interacted with at Strataca was professional, helpful, and friendly and answered our questions.

Each one seemed to be having a great time “at work!” As we walked around the corner to meet our train boarding location, we saw a large gift shop in the middle of the mine. It had a wide range of souvenir products and snacks for purchase. Bathrooms are also located in this area.

Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

We experienced two separate train rides. The timing was to take the Salt Mine Express first, where we rode through excavated areas in the dark. Our guide explained the history of the geological formations we saw along our route.

Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

We had a brief stop where we could collect small pieces of salt to take home.

Our second train or tram experience was the Dark Ride. Who wouldn’t want to go on a Dark Ride? This excursion took us much further into the mine and included an excellent narration by our driver/guide.

We were told the remarkable story of one miner who, several years ago, had been lost in the mine for a short time. He was directionally challenged, so he had set markers around to help him navigate. His prankster co-workers moved the markers!

Everyone was on lunch break when the man’s absence was finally noticed. His buddies soon found him; he was fine. It is very dark in that mine without a light, and I imagine it is difficult to find your way around. When the lights are turned off, you cannot even see your hand in front of your face.

I know this because we performed this little exercise while seated on the tram.

Our guide, Keith, did a terrific job explaining how mining works, its hazards, how the air flows in the mine, and so much more.

Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

This tram stopped at two much more giant piles of salt, where we could take whatever salt rocks we could carry. We have several samples of lovely salt rocks now.

The museum hosts several community events throughout the year. Many were, of course, canceled this year. A 5K and 10K run and a “Tour de Salt” 5K bike ride are some of the events held in this mine museum. A 250-person event center is also available to rent for special occasions.

I would very much like to participate in the Murder Mystery Dinner event! Maybe next year?

This was a fantastic experience we both enjoyed. Children are not permitted underground in the museum until four years of age. They must be at least eight years old to participate in the Safari Shuttle, but this is an excellent, full-day outing to a family destination.

A small amount of walking is required, but it is an effortless stroll in a very comfortable climate. I will forever be grateful to the understanding man from whom we purchased our tickets. If he had not been so descriptively thorough in setting my mind at ease, I might have missed this entire experience!

We’re heading further north into Kansas next. Check back next week to see what fun stuff we can see next! Would you want to travel 650 feet underground into a salt mine cave?

Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

3 thoughts on “Why did we travel 650 feet underground?

  1. Pingback: https://alwayswanttogo.com/are-we-still-in-kansas/ Are we still in Kansas?Always Want To Go
  2. Your very welcome I remember your hesitation about going underground. As you might know you are not alone in that feeling. But having worked in the mine some 45 years now I know how incredibly safe this mine environment is. I to am glad you made the trip and wrote this wonderful article. I encourage everyone who may be affraid for one reason or another to give it a try. If you get to the bottom and just have to go back up of course we will give you a refund.

    1. You absolutely made my day and I do appreciate you taking your time to calm my crazy nerves. I am keeping an eye on your website to learn when you guys will be able to hold your next Murder in the Mine event. That sounds like terrific fun to me!

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