So. You're in Seattle. You've got kids (or maybe just kids at heart) with you. And you wanna do something involving geology, but it's too rainy to play outside. What do you do? The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is at your service!
This is one of those something-for-everyone places. It's got displays on animals living and extinct for the biologists and paleontologists. It's got shiny rocks for the people who love the geology of gemstones. It's got rocks you can get your hands on for the practical geologists. It's got dinosaurs, of course! It's got a whole floor full of Pacific Northwest indigenous and Pacific Rim cultures for those who are more into anthropology. And it's got a gift shop for those who enjoy shopping. It's a win all around!
Let's have a virtual visit, then. I only took about four hundred photos last time I was there! With so much to see and do, we'll be splitting this into parts. In this edition: we'll visit the glorious gems in the lobby, then walk through time until the end of the dinosaurs.
When you enter the Burke Museum, the first thing that'll strike you is a wall full of sparkling gems. There are other wonderful things in that glass case that spans the width of the entrance, but those gemstones will probably grab your attention first. You'll find everything from raw and cut diamonds to huge chunks of amethyst and quartz. You may find things there you never knew about! I certainly hadn't been aware of emerald in mica schist before. Now I desperately need some.
No still photo can capture the way this wall glitters and gleams. Every slight movement makes the light reflect off another facet. It's entrancing. But do try to tear yourself away - there's much more to see! To the right, there are colorful bird wings and a few whole birds on display, plus the skulls of quite a few local animals. It's super neat seeing a killer whale jaw on display!
To the left, you'll find some Native American treasures. There are ceremonial pipes and daggers inlaid with abalone, and tiny, delicate baskets woven from grass, amongst many other lovely and practical things.
Keep going to the left, and you'll start on a paleontological journey through Earth's deep time. We start with the earliest hard-shelled life, ca. 500 million years ago. Signs tell you that Washington State didn't even exist: we were almost all ocean at that point, except for a tiny shoulder of the North American continent jutting in from the east. There are lighted boxes mounted on the wall showing gorgeous fossils of the critters who lived in the ocean at that time and the next few tens of millions of years.
The wall ends at the Great Dying 252 million years ago. Then we get to what nearly all kids really want: dinosaurs! There are several favorite features in this room. I love the sauropod thighbone you can measure yourself against:
There's a stegosaurus skeleton with an allosaurus right behind it. Y'all have no idea how much I love the stegosaurs. Looking at those bony plates growing from its back is really, really neat. And that tiny head! But, of course, there's the raptor for the kids who don't love the herbivores as much as I do - and there's even a little model of what the feathered dinosaurs looked like! So cool to see dinosaurs with feathers on display.
There are dinosaur eggs the kids can touch, and a huge therapod footprint they can measure their hands against. There's a dragonfly fossil I'm super excited about, plus an archaeopteryx, a water lizard, and a triceratops skull. People, you don't even realize how huge triceratops were until you're looking one in the eye sockets.
There's a enormous plesiosaur skeleton in matrix, so kids can get a look at what things are like before we carefully free them of their rock tombs and wire them back together. So awesome!
They've suspended a completed elasmosaur skeleton from the ceiling. I can't even begin to express the kind of neat that is.
And there are displays of the ocean critters that lived with it, like ammonites, which are a delight to those of us who think the ammonites were some of the neatest shelled critters of all time.
The room ends with the meteorite that helped kill off the dinosaurs. Next: Washington State emerges from the sea and the Cascades volcanoes blow!