The Oklahoma City area is host to endless family activities, but if you're willing to cross the border into Kansas, two out-of-this-world attractions await.
Explore the skies
Just a little more than three hours from the Oklahoma City metro, the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center sits, ready to show you the wonders of the sky above. This Smithsonian-affiliated space museum features three theaters in an impressive 105,000-square-foot venue. Start your outer space journey downstairs with the Hall of Space, which features a comprehensive collection of artifacts and exhibits highlighting the role of the United States in rocket development and the tenuous relationship between Russia and the US that evolved into the joint International Space Station. There are a multitude of artifacts to observe and touch, and endless ways to discover something new.
On the main level, the Carey Digital Dome Theater features 45-minute 3D IMAX documentaries and Hollywood feature films. Current documentaries are D-Day: Normandy 1944 and Great White Shark. The dome theater is a unique viewing experience because the overhead curved projection area gives the images a special sense of motion that also makes the viewer feel more connected to the action. For the most current film offerings and showtimes, visit their website.
A must-see is the 45-minute live demonstration at Dr. Goddard’s Lab, which gives the audience an interactive, behind-the-scenes look at explosions and propulsion, the basics of rocket science. Hosted in the building that used to be the museum’s planetarium, the lab show combines big bangs with interactive fun to appeal to all ages. Experiments involve liquid oxygen, balloons, fire and the mystery rocket fuel. Questions and enthusiasm are welcome!
The Justice Planetarium Night Sky Live show guides viewers through the various seasonal skies and teaches stargazing and basic astronomy sprinkled with comic relief. The comfortable seats recline for easy viewing of the stars above. The 45-minute show is educational, fun for the eyes and encourages laughs with its witty narrative.
Other attractions include the Cargo Bay Gift Store and the naviGator Flight Simulator, which offers riders a brief yet fun journey. The Cosmosphere also plays host to a variety of special events and speakers. A free monthly lecture series, Coffee at the Cosmo, happens at 9am every third Thursday. Additionally, there are a variety of camps for children of all ages.
The museum is located at 1100 N. Plum and is open from 9am to 7pm, Monday through Friday, and from noon to 7pm on Sunday. All-Day Mission Passes include one admission to the Hall of Space Museum, one documentary show at the Carey Digital Dome Theater, one Dr. Goddard’s Lab show, one Justice Planetarium show, and one visit to the naviGator Flight Simulator. Admission fees for the Mission Passes are $23 plus tax for adults and $21 plus tax for children (4-12), seniors (60+) and military. Single venue tickets also are available.
Just five miles away from the starry attraction, you’ll find Strataca, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. This one-of-a-kind museum is located in an underground salt mine formed about 275 million years ago when the Permian Sea dried up. The bedded salt deposit, one of the largest in the world, extends 27,000 square miles throughout central and south-central Kansas. The purest salt vein is located 650 feet below the surface, and is still being mined today by the Hutchinson Salt Company. Strataca is the only attraction of its kind in the western hemisphere.
“The adventure is 650 feet underground with the walls and ceilings exactly how they were mined out, surrounded by salt, left as natural as possible, is what gives me that feeling of awe and wonder and calmness,” said Gayle Ferrell, director of operations. “It’s a different world than you can find anyplace else. You don’t really believe it until you go. I can go underground and it seems like I’ve been there 30 minutes and it’s been 3 hours, and that is unique. I can’t find that anyplace else. It’s magical.”
The journey begins with a safety and information video, and leads into a preparation room where everyone dons hard hats and Self-Rescue breathers, worn over the shoulder. A 30-passenger double-decker elevator descends 650 feet below the Earth’s surface in darkness. The ride takes about 90 seconds but immediately one can sense the infinite darkness and the unique scent of salt. The temperature underground is always a comfortable 68 degrees with 45 percent relative humidity.
Once off the lift, enter the Stratadome, a large mined-out area where a guide greets you and explains the various places to explore underground. Then the adventure is in the visitor’s hands! Get dirty in the Permian Playground, marvel at a 600-pound block of salt, take photos and touch displays that are designed to delight and educate. Learn about the mining process and the daily work of a miner from the past to today with exhibits and videos.
The Salt Mine Express is a 15-minute train ride that journeys through a part of the mine that was active in the 1940s and 50s. See the mine exactly as it was used, and subsequently how it was left when the work was done and there was no more salt to be harvested in that area. From the unusual nostalgic garbage left behind by miners to the equipment and even the important but often unmentioned details such as plumbing and electricity, you will see what the life of a miner was like back in the 1940s and 50s.
The Dark Ride is a 30-minute tram adventure where you’ll learn more about the mine from a personal guide, ask questions and even collect your own souvenir piece of salt.
A great time to make the trip would be October 4, when the museum hosts the Hunt for Red Rocktober. Kids 13 and older can go on a supervised collection adventure. On select Fridays and Saturdays at 1pm, the Salt Safari for ages 13 and up sets out on a 3-hour hike through the mine, exploring miles of tunnel in mostly darkness, as the only light will be from head lamps on hard hats.
You can find this underground oasis at 3650 E. Avenue G. Underground admission is $14 for adults, $7.50 for children ages 4-12, $12 for seniors (60+) and active military. Children age 3 and under are not allowed underground. The Salt Blast Pass includes all rides and rates are $19 for adults, $12.50 for children and $17 for seniors and military.
Visitors should allow about two hours for their visit, but can explore at their leisure until closing. A maximum of 28 visitors can depart at regular intervals from 9:20am to 4pm. Strataca is open from 9am to 6pm Tuesday through Saturday, and 1pm to 4pm Sunday. Strataca is closed on Mondays except for posted holiday hours. It is recommended to call ahead with a credit card and make advance reservations to ensure minimal waiting upon arrival. Reservation check-in is 10-15 minutes prior to tour time.
There’s so much to explore at each venue, your family easily can make a weekend of it. Whatever you do, don’t miss the rides at Strataca or the shows at Cosmosphere, which are sure to be family favorites.
If you’re planning a visit to the Cosmosphere and Strataca, take advantage of a shared visit discount, which offers visitors who journey to both venues within a ten-day period $5 off at the second venue. Just present your ticket from the first location when visiting the second venue.