Daytrippin'--Museum of Life and Science
It is unusual to choose one day trip destination and really get three — a museum, a zoo and an amusement park — for the price of one. But that is exactly what you get when you visit the N.C. Museum of Life and Science.
Located off I-85 in Durham, the museum is an easy drive from the Triad. Kelly, Wills, Joseph and I drove over on a Saturday morning arriving close to lunchtime. We also met up with some friends from Raleigh and their 5-year-old daughter, Meredith.
We started in the museum’s ABC NewsChannel 11 Weather section, which has interactive exhibits such as a 15-foot high tornado and globes you can spin to create ocean currents. For Weather Channel lovers such as my husband and kids, this was a dream exhibit.
Off to the side is the Carolina Wildlife exhibit with a great collection of snakes, fish, turtles, an opossum, a woodchuck and more. This exhibit makes a quick circle, so you can come right out and go into Geology, where the boys were able to check out many different kinds of rocks, gems, minerals and fossils.
After Geology, we moved on to Aerospace. Wills actually climbed into an Apollo command module test vehicle (awfully small), and we saw Neil Armstrong’s isolation suit.
Life’s Devices is an exhibit to help visitors learn about the adaptations that help animals survive. Along with many cool animal — and human — bones to play with, the kids could make a school of fish change direction, experiment with different wing shapes in a wind tunnel and watch ants in a very large ant farm. Right beside this exhibit is Small Science, where the young ones have a great time racing balls down tracks, climbing and making giant bubbles.
Before we ate lunch, we quickly toured the upstairs. My favorite exhibit was in the telecommunications section: two giant satellite dish shapes on opposite walls. Wills could sit at one and speak into it, and I could hear him on the other side — and vice versa.
Butterflies and Bugs
After an outdoor lunch of tasty wrap sandwiches at Grayson’s Café, we met up with our friends at the Magic Wings Butterfly House. This is the highlight of the trip. The three-story tropical conservatory houses hundreds of exotic butterflies among the flowers and trees. In addition, there is a wall behind glass where you can watch butterflies emerge from their cocoons.
We arrived just in time for a “butterfly release,” and we were able to hold butterflies on our hands and let them alight on our shoulders. It was quite the thrill for everyone, and Wills says it was his favorite part of the whole trip.
After the butterflies, we took a walk through the Bayer CropScience Insectarium and got up close and personal with bugs — from tarantulas to really big roaches. This part is definitely not for the squeamish.
Exploring the Outdoors
After the butterflies and bugs, we took a pleasant walk along the woodland boardwalk through the new 6-acre outdoor wildlife and wetland habitat. We all enjoyed seeing the endangered red wolves and the native black bears, especially the cubs, which were quite playful with their parents while we were there.
We took our train ride on the Ellerbee Creek Railway at 4 p.m. The small-scale train runs every 30 minutes and takes passengers on two loops around the track. Tip: Buy the train tickets at the same time you buy your admission to the museum: The rides fill up fast.
The newest exhibit at the museum is called Catch the Wind and includes seven large-scale exhibits expressing how wind influences the environment. The kids loved the Sailboat Pond where they could be the captains of their own radio-controlled boat, and the Seed Thrower where you can explore seed aerodynamics by launching giant seed models and watch them fall.
We wrapped up the day by visiting the animals in the Farmyard and then walking over to the playground, called Loblolly Park. The kids had a blast playing music with the drums and bells and climbing on the multilevel play structure. The museum closed at 5 p.m., and we left — exhausted but very satisfied with our three-in-one day trip.
Museum of Life and Science
Magic Wings Butterfly House
433 Murray Ave., Durham, N.C.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m., Sunday
Fees: Adults $9.50, ages 3-12 $7.50, under 3 free, seniors and active military $8.50, train tickets $2