10 am: Time Travel via the Museum of the Earth

cropped photo of a fossilized mammoth skeleton

Photograph by Joseph Martinez


Two million years ago, glaciers headed south began the process of carving out shallow valleys, leaving behind debris to dam up the valleys and form the Finger Lakes.

Seen from above, the much longer than wide lakes resemble the fingers of a hand, prompting early cartographers to give them their collective name. Even before that, all of this area of New York and into Pennsylvania was once an ancient sea.

These were the types of geological facts we hoped to find at the Museum of the Earth, as we made the uphill and through the woods trek three miles north of downtown Ithaca. The museum, a modern structure resembling something Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise might visit on a vacation voyage to Risa, proved a quick stop as far as museums typically tend to go. Upon entering the museum via the top floor your eyes are immediately provided with the feast of a rare and massive Right Whale skeleton hanging in succulent visual desert from the ceiling. The top floor, one of only two, otherwise tenders but the cash register and a small gift shop. That left us with the bottom level to explore, and though some may complain of too quick a trip, we saw in our crystal ball a perfect family outing for anyone with particularly young babies.

As we one foot after anothered the museum with our youngest baby, Winter, who at 17 months had no trouble walking the entire distance of the museum’s offerings, my arms and back relished the chance to allow him to run largely free of adult handholding, if not complete supervision. Certainly the number of rooms with information interesting enough to captivate your average adult and even older, more typically video game prone kids, but the overall tone of the Museum of the Earth definitely feels like it’s oriented for children still struggling with the concept of not peeing in their own pants.

skeleton of a right whale suspended from the ceiling
Photograph by Linden Tea

As opposed to your typical museum experience where all exhibits are walled off behind velvet ropes or plate glass, much of this place is very much hands on. Winter slid his fingers over the various rock formations on display, spending more time than perhaps is natural for a young toddler comparing their various textures and pointing emphatically to us to do the same. Magnetic pictures on the walls encourage youngsters to organize which animals lived where and when, lining them up by eras and giving them a glimpse at what some of todays creatures descended from. A room filled with toy dinosaurs and replicas of Stegosaurus tail spikes and various other dinosaur teeth and claws kept our little bundle of goo busy long enough for us to read over the museum’s examples of how evolution works.

While doing so the lady and I laughed a little at overhearing a conversation by another family where the mom was explaining to her kids that evolution is only a theory and that God didn’t create dinosaurs. “The Bible doesn’t even mention dinosaurs,” she told them as matter-of-factly as only the expertise of a soccer mom from rural New York can impart, “which makes us wonder what the real truth is.” Her kids brushed off the lesson like most little boys would, eager to get back to playing with a replica of a fossilized tooth.

At the Museum of the Earth, however, we were forced to settle for a mammoth as no actual complete fossilized dinosaur skeletons are present. All in all though, we were back out the door before the two hour mark, satisfied that we’d discovered a wonderful way to kill a few hours; and for four of us to get in for $24, it was as easy on our bank account as it was to walk through. And regardless of the current state of the factuality of evolution amongst the scientific or religious communities, I for one plan to tell Winter that not only were dinosaurs real, but they still exist, only now they just stay hidden and wait for kids who don’t share their ice cream with their dad, and then eat them in their sleep. At least that’s what happened to the last one we had…