We consider ourselves blessed to reside in a city with so many diverse attractions. Museums are one of our favorite destinations, and the Museum at Prairiefire fits its own specific niche in this category. We arranged a visit and tour on what ended up being a frigid and windy Kansas City winter day. The museum is located inside of the Prairiefire neighborhood at 5801 W. 135th Street in Overland Park, Kansas. The building is the first in North America to utilize dichroic glass on the exterior. It is designed to absorb the light on the outside as one color, but it becomes a different color on the interior. It is truly an amazing sight to see.
We want to thank the Museum at Prairiefire for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
The bitter cold held back their normal Saturday crowds, so we actually had a chance for more interaction with the staff. Stepping through the entrance we found ourselves in the huge Great Hall. After meeting up with some of the staff, we headed out on a tour of the facility. Our first stop was in the front gallery where their T-Rex resides. This full-sized replica of the King of the Dinosaurs towered over us, as it appears to look out on the museum entrance.
A Kansas Explorer
The skeleton of the T-Rex was discovered by Barnum Brown, the famous Kansas paleontologist. This graduate from Kansas University uncovered the original pieces in the mountains of Montana. A series of informational placards tell about Barnum, and how the processes he put into place are still being used by scientists today.
Across the Great Hall from the T-Rex is an area where visitors can create their own “digital” dinosaur. Crystal and I took turns selecting the region where we would dig for fossils, and then designed what our specimen would look like. You get to name your “pet”, before releasing it into the wild of the digital monitor in the Great Hall.
Once released, it will wander periodically across the screen, and appear to be right alongside of you. This was especially interesting when one of the creatures would stop and make its appropriate sounds. I was able to capture this Velociraptor as it let me know who was boss. Throughout the day, whenever we passed through this area we would find ourselves viewing the big screen, to see what creatures were passing by. This exhibit would turn out to be quite addictive for visitors of all ages.
The second floor, at the Museum at Prairiefire, holds The Discovery Room. This hands-on area is designed for kids 3 to 12, but to be honest it was fun for us kids a little beyond those numbers. The main area contains five different scientific fields, as well as a separate room for astronomy. The layout of the room makes it easy to quickly assess which areas are the most busy, so visitors can pace their visit around the room.
Meet My Little Friend
The invertebrate area is filled with plenty of creepy-crawlers that share our planet. We were given a chance to hold one of the hissing cockroaches, but only one of us was willing. (I won’t say which one, but it wasn’t Crystal.) Once it was resting in my hand it didn’t want to leave. Obviously, I am blessed with a little insect magnetism versus Crystal’s same skill with animals. In the Field Biology section we were introduced to some of the larger creatures that call the museum home. A Pygmy Hedgehog, Bearded Dragons, and even Poison Dart Frogs can be viewed, and some are even brought out for closer interaction.
Some Assembly Required
The entire area is designed to educate visitors, and part of this includes assembling replicas. We had one of the smaller guests show us the correct procedure for building a dinosaur. The staff is on hand to assist with discovery, and it was fun too see the sense of accomplishment as each piece slid into place. Crystal did take an opportunity to handle the over-sized (and not real) Praying Mantis replica.
In the anthropology section we found a collection of masks, which caught my eye. (I love to collect tribal masks.) Crystal was more than willing to model one of them for me. Nearby we found some visitors playing some of the games that were used by earlier civilizations. Across the way, the Geology area holds hundreds of rock specimens to study with the supplied magnifying glasses. There is even a display case to see the effects of black light on some special specimens.
Some of you may be quite familiar with virtual reality, but we are newcomers to the experience. The Museum at Prairiefire offers two different VR journeys. In the Virtual Theater we got to explore Stonehenge. This is a one-at-a-time experience where the user follows a set path that showcases this mysterious location. It is an educational journey with plenty of interactive dialogue. This program is done standing up, so it can be a little odd feeling at first, but soon you find yourself drawn into the landscape. The other VR area is the Discover Video, which is a different type of experience designed to be more immersive.
After donning the appropriate headgear, we were ready for take-off. This is a 360 degree experience, so guests can look all around them. The show we saw was called Spacewalker, and is a space launch and walk. Visitors are encouraged to look in every direction, so they can take in lots of detail. I was completely amazed by the ability to see how the multiple stages of a rocket are assembled. Once the rocket has arrived into space one of the occupants of the craft took us along for a space walk. It would be hard to describe the view of seeing the earth below me and the great void of space reaching out behind. I’m sure this will be the closest I ever get to space travel, and it left me in complete awe of the experience. In my opinion, these VR experiences are certainly worth the price of admission to the museum.
Heading Farther Into Space
The Museum at Prairiefire includes an area which holds a rotating exhibit. During our visit it was Beyond Planet Earth, which focused on the exploration and future of humankind’s experiences in outer space. Here we found models of previous spacecrafts and satellites, as well as displays on potential devices that could be used for future colonization. There was even a model of a potential space town that could be created with incredibly lightweight equipment.
The Red Planet
Earth dwellers have long had a fascination with Mars, and the exhibit included a look at some of the real facts behind the Red Planet. We enjoyed reading about the crafts that have been used to explore this neighbor, and there was even a display about how technology could be used to unlock the hidden atmosphere potential of the planet. Unfortunately, this particular exhibit only ran until the end of February. On the bright side, they have worked feverishly to install the next exhibit, which features Modern Dinosaurs. This new installation promises to deliver just as much educational opportunity as the one we saw. We certainly hope you get to experience it firsthand. Why not make plans to visit this weekend?