Monday, December 30, 2013

Day 232 - The University of Wisconsin Geology Museum


I have never been to the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum. This small, relatively unknown feature of the local University of Wisconsin Madison has been a bit of a curiosity for me since I first became aware of it several years ago; however, it was never top of mind when I found myself with a little free time to spare. As a result, I never made the trip to the Geology Museum leading up to my “I have never...”journey. Considering that was the case, I decided I would add the UW Geology Museum to my list of places to experience sometime during my year of new experiences. 

Weeks Hall
As I approached the exit to the Geology Museum, I grabbed the door frame and stopped myself for a brief moment. Turning back to the first aisle of the museum, I took one last look at the brilliant display of colors that welcomed me when I first arrived. “That’s so incredible,” I said as I kicked my feet back into motion and made my way toward the stairwell and headed down to my car. Pulling away from the building I thought about the overall experience and about what I could take away from the day’s event. On any other morning I likely would have been at home getting ready for work and tinkering with my computer as I prepared for the day, but today I went to an unfamiliar location and experienced new and amazing things. I learned and discovered, and I walked away with a mind full of amazing memories about my first experience at the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum. While it’s not an experience I would range among the incredible, it was certainly a much better way to spend my morning than my typical routine. That in and of itself says a lot, and it provides a pretty good reminder why breaking routines is a usually a good idea.

Realizing such a visit would be a good event for a cold winter day I delayed the visit as long as I could, waiting for the perfect opportunity to make itself known. Although that opportunity took some time to appear, an unusual stretch of quiet in the happenings in and around Madison during the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve left me scurrying to find new experiences to fill my calendar. As a result, I turned to some of the lower priority experiences on my “I have never...” list, which spurred me to investigate a potential visit to the UW Geology Museum during this period. Luckily, I determined today would be one of the only days the Geology Museum during the week between the holidays. As a result, I set aside time to make my first visit to the Geology Museum before work this morning to finally make good on my intentions to visit this off beat feature of the city I call home.

In the lobby
In an effort to arriving to the Geology Museum with plenty of time to explore, I left my house as the sun broke over the eastern horizon this morning. Greeted by unusually cold temperatures for this time of year, I hurried my way to my car and made the short trip to the other side of downtown as quickly as possible. My haste caused me to arrive at the museum with several minutes to spare before its scheduled opening time. As a result, I promptly parked my car and made my way toward the entrance. As I stood before a locked glass door, the air bit at every part of my exposed skin, making the initial phase of the experience almost unbearable. Resolved to make the experience finally happen, I did my best to keep myself warm as the minutes slowly crept toward 8:30.

As the clock rolled to the scheduled opening time, I grinned in anticipation of the warmth waiting inside the building. Anticipating someone would arrive and open the doors any moment, I stood close to the glass, peering into the building’s interior where I could. Noticing the door was the ground level of a stairwell, I did my best to look for signs of movement toward the top of the stairs. Several minutes passed with no movement on the other side of the door, which caused me to move into a state of mild panic. Cold creeping into my bones, I quickly removed my glove to check the museum’s operating hours on my phone. After everything confirmed the museum was schedule to open as normal today, I gave the door in front of me one last tug. The thudding sound of a deadbolt on metal carried through the air around me as the door abruptly came to a halt less than an inch from its resting position. Confused I took a step back and looked at my clock once more. There was no question, the museum was supposed to be open, but by all outward appearances, that wasn’t the case.

Ordinary at first sight, but lined with beauty

Crazy stuff

The conflict between the information I had just looked up on my phone and the reality directly in front of me stirred some confusion in me. Taking one last look through the museum door window, I noticed a door on the opposite side of the stairwell. Acknowledging the door provided an alternative entrance to the museum stairwell I took several steps back and began looking down the length of the building in front of me. No more than ten yards to my right, a bank of doors leading into the heart of the building sat, which spurred me to action. Without hesitation I moved to the closest of the four doors and swung it open. After passing through a second set of doors, I immediately turned to my left to find the stairwell entrance. With a light pull, the door cracked open, leading me into a stairwell with a Geology Museum guiding me up to the building’s second level. Hopeful, I climbed the stairs and grabbed the handle of a door labeled “Geology Museum.” The door offered no resistance as I pulled it toward me and stepped into the Geology Museum lobby. Realizing how easy it had been to actually enter the building, I stopped briefly and looked back at the door leading the stairwell. Shaking my head, I broke the silence with the only remark that crossed my mind in the moment, “Seriously? ...Duh, Caleb.”

The black light display

Happy my “I have never...” plans weren’t ruined, I promptly walked into the Geology Museum and took a look around me. The sight of the most diverse and beautiful range of rare minerals and crystals I have ever seen stopped me dead in my tracks. On my left, a long glass case displayed beautiful symmetric natural forms doused in purples, blues, greens, and pinks. Behind me, displays of meteorites worth more than their weight in gold lined shelves and display mounts designated for larger pieces. Toward the back of the room, a chamber of vibrant, rare crystalline forms beckoned. The sight was beautiful beyond recognition, and it was immediately more than I ever expected.

Old stuff

In awe at the beauty surrounding me, I began slowly pacing the first leg of the space. As I walked, I took my time to analyze the more magnificent stones and geodes resting behind the glass panels. After grazing my hand across a 1,600 pound piece of copper I moved on, wrapping my way through a black light room displaying the fluorescence and luminescence of rare earth minerals. As the display moved through various wavelengths of black light, I stood dumfounded by the neon colors pouring from the display. The experience was strange and beautiful. Frankly, it was unlike anything I had seen before, which left me in the familiar state of wonder that has accompanied plenty of the last seven months of new experiences.

Creepy stuff

Eventually convincing myself to continue through the next stretch of the museum, I moved past displays of some of the oldest rocks on earth and a bounty of fossils dating from the earliest periods of life on earth. Walking further through the aisles of displays, the crowded shelves of geological forms advanced millions of years through evolution until the transitional forms of dinosaurs and terrifying creatures for lesser known eras began to emerge from swaths of stone. As I rounded one of the last corners in the museum, I was startled by towering skeletal forms of massive dinosaurs, a wooly mammoth, and prehistoric predators long since extinct. My proximity to the fossils was the closet I had ever been to the stone remains of such creatures, which stopped me in my place for several minutes.


Examining the surface of the fossilized bones standing only a few feet in front of me, I took time to ensure I directed my eyes over every point of significance on the remains of the creatures. The moment was as impressive as it was amazing to me, which caused me to lose track of time completely. Eventually, snapping out of my state of curiosity, I took a quick look at the clock on my phone and realized I needed to leave if I was to fit in a full workday during reasonable hours. Reluctantly, I took one last look at the scattered fossils in the room around me before rushing through the last segment of the museum. It wasn’t the way I hoped the experience would end, but it was obligation called me on me to do.

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