Hays, Kansas, is home to perhaps the best reason to pause and stretch between the Colorado border and Kansas City. The Sternberg Museum of Natural History is in this town of more than 20,000 people that used to be known for its fort and its sheriff, “Wild Bill” Hitchcock. When my brother Jim lived in Denver, Ruth & I crossed Kansas at least once a year and became so restless that one time we vowed to stop in every town to find an attraction. We never stopped at the Sternberg, however, now to my regret. I am one of those who figured if you’ve seen one animatronic dinosaur you don’t need to seek out another natural history museum to see more. I was wrong. The exceptional Sternberg Museum of Natural History does things differently. By keeping the goal of entertaining children uppermost in the minds of curators, The Sternberg brings out the child in each adult.
Charles Sternberg was a Civil War surgeon who was assigned to Kansas’ Fort Harker after that war. He got a reputation for being able to identify fossil bones. One of the more entertaining signs in the Sternberg Museum now is one that says, “Welcome to Kansas 80 Million Years Ago”. At that time much of what is now this state was under water due to a large inland sea that was home to many unusual animal characters. Now preserved in surface rocks all over especially Western Kansas are the fossilized remains of many of these creatures. Charles’ son George developed an interest in fossils too and became associated with this museum. George made a startling discovery almost 30 years later when he found a fossil that got global attention, a fish-within-a-fish, the most complete and unusual specimen of its type. It’s on display in this museum. A fish with a long, complex scientific name swallowed a smaller Gillicus Audux before both of them died. This rare fossil not only survived but was found by George.
After digging in a fossil pit, any child would thrill to seeing 6,667 cans fo tuna stacked in a display to show a Megalodon’s average daily food intake. This extinct shark ate 2,500 pounds of food every day! Megalodons are so mainstream famous now that they have been featured on postage stamps and in men’s clothing.
After seeing this canny display, tiring of the natural history of Kansas, and hearing yet another child say “Ooooo, what is that?”, head for Hays’ downtown. At 117 East 11th Street, you will find Gella’s Diner and Lb. Brewing Company where you can have a fine meal any time of the day. It does not have to contain tuna.
Ruth concluded about the Sternberg Museum, “Great specimens!”