One of Kansas's eight wonders is the Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson. In 1887 drilling for natural gas began, but the drillers didn't encounter the gas that was found years later. Instead they found a bed of salt shale at 300 and 350 feet. Some of the salt shale even went as far as 600 feet into the earth. By 1888 a salt mine was being erected in order to pull out the valuable resource. The caverns left from the excavation now make up the tourist locale of the Salt Museum. Visitors to the museum are taken on a ride through the tunnels into the 650 foot depths to learn about the mining process, the salt, and geological information.
Museum hours for summer are Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday 1pm to 6pm. The museum is closed on Mondays. The Visitors Center closes an hour before the mines. Tours of the underground world last for one and a half hours to two hours. Admission prices for adults are $14.35 and children are $9.05. Children under four are not allowed into the mine due to mine safety regulations. It is best to make reservations before arriving at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. Groups are welcome with advanced reservations.
The latest addition to the salt mine museum is the GE Engine No. 2. It is one of three engines ever built. It is on display outside of the museum. The engine was built in 1919 and operated from 1928 to 1963 on a short railway line. It provided switching services for the Carey Evaporation Plant and Salt Mine. The rail was less than six miles long, but it helped the Carey Salt Mine stay successful. The Champlin Oil Refinery, Detroiter Mobile Homes, and the Kelly Mills Companies also used the engine. It weighs 60,000 pounds and has a horse power of 260 with an overhead electric line. The engine had to be repaired a few times due to crashes. To restore the engine for the museum new doors and windows had to be added.
Another exhibit of the salt mines is organisms found by scientists. Dr. Russell Vreeland, Dr. William Rosenzweig, and Dr. Dennis Powers found living bacteria trapped inside a salt crystal. These organisms are created with living during the time before dinosaurs. The salt crystals were not found at Hutchinson's mine, but they are on display at the museum. The find has increased attention in Hutchison for scientists as they now struggle to find bacteria in the mine. If they do find these bacteria they will be older than those already found and on display.
A special event at the Underground Salt Mine is the Murder in the Mine dinner theater. A murder has occurred on the "Disoriented Express'' and the best criminals have been brought in for the job. Sherlock Homes, Charlie Chan, and others are on hand to help solve the mystery for visitors attending the theater. The museum also hosts a Halloween extravaganza complete with costume contest.