Daytrippin': The Virginia Museum of Natural History


With dinosaurs, a climbing ship, a live corn snake and extensive animal displays, the Virginia Museum of Natural History was a hit with my 3-year-old son, Jackson. As we made the one-hour, 20-minute drive to the Martinsville, Va., museum, I worried that he might be too young for this day trip, but I was wrong.

"I love this place," he said as we made our way into The Great Hall and saw the 140-million-year-old Allosaurus, a theropod dinosaur specimen found in Wyoming that's the focal point of the hall. Here, we also saw the skeleton of Pteranodon with its 20-foot wing span, and a 500-million-year-old stromatolite. Stromatolites are the oldest known fossils, and this one was found in 2008 in Roanoke, Va. The Great Hall is also home to Eobalaenoptera, a 14-million-year-old baleen whale specimen, which is suspended from the ceiling.

From The Great Hall, visitors can see scientists at work through windows in their labs. In the Elster Foundation Vertebrate Paleontology Lab, researchers study whales, dinosaurs and vertebrate fossils, including more than 700 dinosaur bones from the museum's collection. The museum is well-known for its significant research and collections, which include more than 10 million items from Virginia, the Southeastern U.S., and countries around the world such as China, the United Kingdom and more.

Jackson's favorite spot in the museum was the Hooker Furniture Discovery Reef, an interactive play area for ages 8 and under with a wooden climbing ship. This room also features a small, sandy beach area with seashells, toy crabs and pebbles; and puzzles, games and books.

daytrippin2.jpgMy favorite area was the Hahn Hall of Biodiversity, which opened in 2010, and features an extensive collection of antelopes with more than 26 species on display. Jackson found the animals a bit overwhelming and scary, but with some hand-holding and coaxing, he willingly explored this area, which also includes a lion, hyena and leopard.

Another exhibit on this level includes Uncovering Virginia, which highlights six research locations in the state such as Saltville, which documents the Ice Age in Virginia 14,000 years ago, and Solite Quarry, which was the site of a lake 225 million years ago.

The How Nature Works Gallery demonstrates how the world is shaped and how all living things depend on the sun. Here, visitors learn about erosion, weathering, how mountains form and how the Earth is driven by the heat beneath it. Discover what a giant water bug eats, watch a video about Pangaea and learn about magma.

The lower level of the museum is home to several animals such as Sheldon, an eastern painted turtle; Corny, a common corn snake; two tanks of trout; and a Madagascar hissing cockroach.

On the upper level, we visited Fossil Overlook, where we saw many fossils and a T. rex head.

"That's a really big dinosaur head," Jackson said.

After touring the museum, consider eating lunch or grabbing a snack at the Paleo Café. Menu items include cinnamon rolls, cookies, coffee, sandwiches and soup. There's also a museum store for souvenirs. We bought Jackson a toy dinosaur, and he enjoyed picking out small gifts for his two older siblings, who were in school on the day we visited.

If You're Going in March:

There are plenty of exciting events going on in conjunction with the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

March 17: Piedmont Kite Festival
The third annual Piedmont Kite Festival will be held at Jack Dalton Park, 3300 Kings Mountain Road, Collinsville. Enjoy make-your-own-kite and helicopter stations with fun activities about flight, birds and aviation, face painting, and live music. Free. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

March 24: Rocks to Racing Exhibit Opening Day Celebration
Racing simulator, activities, games and more. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

March 28: Doodle Bugs -- Let's Get Physical
An hourlong preschool program with stories, games, crafts and more. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Pre-registration is required one week before event by calling 276-634-4185. Program fee is $5 per participant. 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Travel Information
Virginia Museum of Natural History
21 Starling Ave.
Martinsville, VA 24112

Hours and Admission
Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Adults, $9; students, $7; ages 3-18, $5; under 3, free

Looking for more adventures close to home? Check out our other Daytrippin' articles to find some fun ideas!

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