Wednesday, 6 September 2017
Hutchinson, KS to Bentonville, AR 304 miles
Hutchinson is home of Strataca, which is a humongous underground salt mine. We decided it was worth a three hour tour to go 650 feet underground to see what is hiding underneath Kansas, so we were up early this morning so that we could get a good breakfast before going underground. Our restaurant choice was the Firehouse Cafe, which, you guessed it, was in what used to be a firehouse. We loved it! Full of locals, of course, a cool venue, and good, hearty food – what’s not to love?
It was easy to find Strataca, since it’s the main tourist attraction in town and since it’s so flat you could see it coming. It’s not so easy to get into the mine, since it is WAY down under. This salt mine was formed 275 million years ago and it’s part of the Permian Basin, which you may remember we visited parts of a few years ago (Sassy Sisters 2013, Rocky Mountain High) when we drove from New Mexico into the western edge of the basin near Midland and Odessa, Texas. We’d also driven across part of it (Sassy Sisters 2007, Roadside Giant Tour) when we saw the Monument Rocks of western Kansas. This year, we’re seeing the purest portion of a 27,000 square mile salt vein, which just happens to be right under Hutchinson. The entire Permian Basin salt deposit covers over 100,000 square miles! The salt mine that is Strataca is 300,000 square feet and it was discovered in 1887 when Ben Blanchard was drilling for oil and found salt instead.
Emerson Carey, a local entreprenuer, started the Carey Salt Mine in 1923. The salt mined here is rock salt, used mainly for de-icing roads or freezing homemade ice cream. Over 500,000 tons of rock salt is excavated each year! In addition to mining salt, the tunnels that remain happen to be the perfect storage place for important media collections. Since 1959, Underground Vaults and Storage has been safekeeping data, movies, newspapers, and more (even nuclear waste!), right here in Kansas.
Our tour guide, Bob, got us outfitted with hard hats and buddy tags, and then we hopped on the double-decker six-ton transporter hoist that took us through frozen aquifer and many layers of rock and silt into the heart of the salt mine. Once there, we had the chance to look at museum-like exhibits about the mine and its history, and then we took a train ride deeper into the mine. We were able to drive down now-abandoned shafts and tunnels that were mined in the 40s and 50s. What’s so interesting about the mine is that anything that goes into the mine stays there, so it truly was like traveling back in time. The trash piles marked the decades as well as the decrepit vehicles that are frozen in their tracks (and in time). It was one of the most fascinating tours we’ve done!
It was almost 1 PM before we left Hutchinson, and we had 300 miles to go to get to Crystal Bridges. We didn’t want to miss the Chihuly exhibit, so we skedaddled! We had thought we might stop in Wichita for lunch or to see something of interest there, but we pushed on instead. We got to Bentonville and found Crystal Bridges with no problem, and the timing was perfect. We got to see the Chihuly glass in the daylight, then went inside to see the art inside the gallery, and then we went back out to see the glass all lit up at night. Spectacular!
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation. Sam Walton’s daughter, Alice Walton, is the patron and chair of the museum’s board of directors. The museum was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie and the building opened on 11 November 2011. It was named for a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction incorporated in the building by Safdie. The museum’s permanent collection spans five centuries of American masterworks ranging from the Colonial era to the current day.
By the time we had seen all of the art that we wanted to, it was time for dinner. We were so hungry (no lunch, after all!) that we opted to eat in the restaurant at Crystal Bridges. Great choice! Dinner was fabulous! Afterwards, we made our way to our hotel and called it a day. What a wonderful way to wind down our trip!