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August 16, 2000
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ALONG THE WAY: Nevada State Museum

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One of the benefits of growing up in a large city is a picnic in the park including a trip to the Natural History museum. But most of the newer residents of Las Vegas, and several of the older ones have no idea that you can do that here. The park is Lorenzi Park located on Washington Blvd just west of Decatur and the museum is the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society. For KNPR listeners the name most associated with that museum is Frank Wright who writes our feature stories Nevada Yesterdays.

The museum is a great resource for anyone living in Las Vegas. There’s a regional history gallery, a biological sciences gallery, and a few rotating exhibits. But for me the first room I headed to when I entered the museum was the one that reminded me most of the Natural History museum that I visited as a child. Not quite as big but far more friendly.

Frank Wright, historian, Nevada State Museum and historical Society ... This is a gallery that we did call Ice Age Las Vegas. Because most of the creatures in here were 10,000, 12,000 years ago. We have a casting of a Colombian mammoth. A 65 year-old male mammoth. A casting rather than the real bones because the real bones are very fragile. But it has certain advantages. Kids can walk up underneath this huge critter, they can sort of play with the knee bones. If they can reach that high. So it's a very popular exhibit for kids. And we also have some other prehistoric now extinct creatures that used to live in the Las Vegas valley. We have a Pacific horse. And a rather frightening creature down at the end which is a Shasta ground sloth. It's about 9 ft. from nose to tail, and it has some pretty frightening claws on the front of it. So that's a pretty popular thing. Our most recent addition to this gallery is the Ichthyosaur. On one wall we have a mockup of the entire creature, the skeleton. It's I think its 45 or 50 ft. long. Takes up an entire wall and then some. And in front of it we have some of the actual bones that were found up in central Nevada. And it's the state fossil. I think it's kind of neat that kids can learn about the state fossil in their fourth grade classes or seventh grade classes and come out here and see the thing that became the state fossil.

David Bert ... Unlike other museums this is a very user-friendly museum. You've done that intentionally?

Frank Wright... Yeah we try to create things where people can be very close to it, be almost part of the scene. We leave areas where people especially kids can touch, play with things, learn things, play games, those kind of things. We try to stay away from the older museum style where everything is behind glass and you stand there and peer at it. We're trying to make it as you say a user-friendly kind of place.

David Bert ... Over to the left is my favorite room. I love this room. As much time as I spend outdoors you’d think that I'd have seen enough of this, but it so well displayed here. In this room you have all of your outdoor exhibits.

Frank Wright ... Yeah this is the hall of biology. And we try to familiarize people with the idea that the desert is a very special and fragile place. And so we show things like the cactuses and the small critters that live here, the reptiles and the snakes even larger animals such as the mountain lion and so forth. So that people will gain the deeper appreciation of the environment that they're living in.

David Bert ... I also have to admire all of the wonderful butterflies that you have here. It so great because when you're outside and you're seeing the butterfly you don't really get a chance to really view it. Here even these tiny little pygmy butterflies, you can get right up against them and see them in detail.

Frank Wright Yeah, we’ve got a collection and interpretive exhibit on butterflies. I think that some people might be interested to know that in the back of the facility where most visitors don't see we have maybe a quarter of a million butterflies. One of our staff members is a very noted lepidopterist. So we tend to want to show people not just how pretty butterflies are, but that they are an indicator species on the health of the general environment. So there's a lot to learn from butterflies in the desert.

And there’s a lot to learn at the Nevada State Museum and Historical society. Not just with these and the other exhibits, but also in the historical archives that are housed here. But most of all, the Nevada State Museum gives us an insight into the world around us that we can all understand. So the next time you’re looking for a fun family outing consider packing a picnic and heading off to Lorenzi Park and the Nevada State Museum.

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