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Scientific Sights of the Denver Area

by Joe Kraus


Joe Kraus, M.L.S. is the Science and Engineering Librarian at the University of Denver.  He is a member of the Physics, Astronomy & Mathematics (PAM) Division, the Science-Technology Division and the Rocky Mountain Chapter.  He is currently serving as the Chair of the PAM Division.  His email address is


Colorado is a tourist destination for many who are interested in geology.  However, the area offers museums and facilities in many of the sciences, not just in geology.  I have a six-year-old son who enjoys going out to museums to learn about science, so I have had the opportunity to take him to most of these places.  All of these places are “family-friendly,” and many have been recently renovated and updated.  Even if you visited one of these places ten or more years ago, a second visit would be worthwhile to see the changes.  There will be tours to a number of these facilities on Thursday, June 7th.


Denver Museum of Nature and Science ( This is one of the first museum stops for anyone interested in science.  While this museum is mentioned elsewhere in this article, it is worth taking a deeper look.  For those who are staying in town after the conference, there is a tour to the museum on Thursday morning, June 7th.  The A.M. Bailey Library is open to the public on the 3rd floor, near the South American Wildlife Exhibits.  Some sections of the museum hold temporary or traveling exhibits, but it has many permanent exhibits, such as:


·        Gems and Minerals: The Coors Mineral Hall houses a Mexican silver mine and an absolutely fantastic display of rhodochrosite crystals.  It has a great collection of minerals and crystals from Colorado and around the world.

·        Hall of Life: This recently renovated section has been updated.  It has displays on the human body and pregnancy, the importance of a sound diet, and a DNA forensic laboratory.

·        Prehistoric Journey:  My son loves this section.  He especially enjoys looking at the huge Diplodocus and examining the fossils at one of the “touch carts.”  You can also view scientists working on specimens for cataloging and display.

·        Space Odyssey: This new area has a special focus on Mars, but you can tour the rest of the universe at various computer kiosks, talk with any of the galaxy guides, see a demonstration at the galaxy stage, or read and learn in the “Infolounge.”

·        Gates Planetarium: This renovated and updated planetarium now uses a state-of-the-art digital projector system.  The dome is rotated so the facility can employ comfortable upright theater seats.

·        Phipps IMAX Theater: There is always an interesting variety of films showing at the IMAX.

·        Wildlife Exhibits: This section includes great displays of plants and animals native to Colorado and a good collection from around the world.


Denver Zoo ( This is the fourth most popular zoo in the nation.  With the wonderful display of habitats covering over 80 acres, it is easy to see why it is so popular.  Originally built in 1896, the zoo is being updated in many areas with renovations worth more than $130,000,000.  Predator Ridge was finished in 2004, a new parking garage was installed, and the main entrance was updated.  Other areas will be renovated in the future.  You simply must take rides on the zoo train and the fantastic Conservation Carousel, which features 48 one-of-a-kind, hand-carved wooden animals representing rare and endangered species around the world.


Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum (  If you are a military buff or just like to look at airplanes, this is the place for you.  By the time the June conference starts, some renovation of the 68 year old facility should be completed.  One of the notable planes is a B-1A bomber, supposedly one of only two in existence.  During the end of the SLA conference, a "Collector's Extravaganza Antique Show" will be taking place from June 6th through the 10th.


Downtown Aquarium ( This used to be called Colorado’s Ocean Journey.  It was purchased by Landry’s Restaurants and renamed the Downtown Aquarium in 2005.  One section of the aquarium is a path that follows the Colorado River to the ocean.  The other major section depicts African and South American freshwater habitats.  My son enjoys touching the horseshoe crabs and the stingrays.  The Downtown Aquarium houses an interesting but mediocre restaurant (, and it is open later in the evening than most other museums.


Denver Botanic Gardens ( This is a beautiful urban retreat.  The Gardens’ mission is to “connect people with plants, especially plants from the Rocky Mountain region.”  The Gardens feature a great collection of plants that thrive in Colorado’s dry climate, as well as orchids and other tropical plants in the Conservatory.  If you get a chance, visit the Helen Fowler library.


Dinosaur Ridge ( and the Morrison Natural History Museum (  Both of these places are on the west side of town.  Dinosaur Ridge runs along a stretch of West Alameda Parkway.  Your first stop should be at the small visitors’ center, where you can get your bearings.  Along the parkway, you can see evidence of many dinosaur footprints, mangrove swamps, invertebrate and crustacean trace fossils, Brontosaurus bulges, and dinosaur bones.  At the Morrison Natural History Museum, you can see and touch many exhibits, including a mammoth tooth, a saber-cat skull, a T-Rex skull and a live milk snake.  Museum workers often encourage youngsters to help excavate a dinosaur bone. 


National Center for Atmospheric Research ( and You should visit this lab just to take in the great view from the mesa.  However, it can get windy.  Inside the facility, you will find engaging hands-on educational exhibits.  The NCAR Library has a good science collection.  If you get a chance, sign up for the bus tour on Thursday, June 7th

National Renewable Energy Laboratory ( and  This government laboratory provides an interactive exhibit hall and self-guided tours through the visitors center. At this laboratory, visitors can learn about energy from the sun, wind, biomass, and other sources of renewable energy.  Best of all, entrance to the museum is free.  There is a Thursday morning bus tour, June 7th.

Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum (  I recently visited this museum for the first time, and I wish I would have gone sooner.  It has a fantastic collection of gold, silver, minerals, rough and cut gemstones, fossils, mining artifacts and more.  Entrance is free.   Do not miss the lower level!  The stairwell is at the back left of the main room.  The Arthur Lakes Library is about two blocks away.


Coors Brewery (  Once you are in Golden, you might as well stop at the Coors Brewery for a tour.  If you only want to imbibe some of the adult beverages (for free), ask to take the “Short Tour,” which includes taste tests. There is also a long tour (for free) that provides an in-depth look at the brewing process at this world-famous facility.