Celebrating 50 Years of Natural Wonders

Natural History Museum of Utah

Natalie Hollingshead | Photos by Kevin Kiernan Sep 12, 2019

If the natural world feels far away — say, more than a few steps outside your own front door — you may be overdue for a trip to the Natural History Museum of Utah. There is no better time than this fall, when the museum kicks off its 50th anniversary with a special exhibit called “Nature All Around Us.” The hands-on exhibit runs through Memorial Day 2020.

“You can find nature right outside your door, wherever you live in Utah,” says Becky Menlove, associate director for visitor experience.

museum entry and atrium
wildlife display at a museum

Making History

The museum has been dedicated to illuminating the natural world and the place of humans within it since opening in the University of Utah’s George Thomas Building in 1969.

These days, the museum and its collection of more than 1.6 million objects are housed in the state-of-the-art Rio Tinto Center, where it moved in 2011. Inside the impressive facility, visitors take a serpentine journey through the museum’s multiple levels and halls, winding through Utah’s natural history with inventive displays and exhibits for guests of all ages.

“There are plenty of interesting objects to see, and lots to do, from puzzles and games to digital interactivity, augmented reality and mechanical interactives,” Menlove says. “Families tend to do these things together, so there is good opportunity for intergenerational learning.”

An average of 300,000 visitors pass through the doors annually, with 150,000 more who are impacted via outreach programs. The museum also performs important functions as a state museum, such as caring for a huge collection of specimens from dinosaur bones to pressed plants — some collected more than 100 years ago. Much of the research at the museum focuses on monitoring change, and the collections are critical to this work.

fossils on display at a museum

Natural Wonder

Anniversary celebrations continue through fall 2020. Events include a behind-the-scenes-weekend, a 1969-themed celebration, a birthday celebration on the afternoon of Dec. 31 and a spring lecture series. Museum officials also plan to visit with Utah communities to identify and mark natural history wonders in every corner of the state.

No matter when you visit, plan on staying at least two hours, plus extra time if you want to browse the thoughtfully curated museum store and eat at the cafe. All the exhibits are engaging, but the dinosaur hall inside the Past Worlds exhibit is remarkable.

If the weather is nice, don’t skip the outdoor spaces. The top floor overlook offers sweeping views of the Salt Lake valley, especially delightful as seen from a lounge chair.

And if you’re inspired to explore the greater outdoors after learning about the Beehive State’s natural history, just hit the Bonneville Shoreline trail, literally outside the museum’s front entrance. 

“The museum is a pretty important piece of our statewide community,” Menlove says. “This anniversary is a great opportunity to see what we do.” 

fossils on display at a museum
native american display at a museum
native american basket work
assorted displays at a museum
assorted displays at a museum
assorted displays at a museum

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