Strataca Salt Mine

The Permian room where the museum begins

I can always count on Jef to find things that I didn’t imagine existed in Kansas. He booked us tours at the Strataca Salt Mine, which was originally the Carey Salt Mine opened in 1923, but is now known as the Hutchinson Salt Company. The original mine shaft used by Carey is still used today. It is the only salt mine in Reno County. The salt was first found in 1887. The Permian Wellington Formation is one of the largest in the world and is found 650 feet below ground. The Strataca Mine was opened specifically for visitors to the mine, which was known as the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

Jef booked us the extra tour, which is known as the Salt Safari Shuttle. A regular ticket will take you on the Dark Ride and the Salt Mine Express and give you access to the museum. We had to arrive ten minutes early to our timed entrance. There were only six people with our group. You watch a short video above ground, get your hard hat, and head to the Hoist. The Hoist is a little different than an elevator in that it also hauls up freight. When we descended the guide gave us the option to put on the light, but no one asked for it so for 90 seconds we went in total darkness (I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face). We were let out into the main museum which is pictured above. There are quite a few artifacts to look at, history of the area, and how they mine the salt.

Big Salt Block
Mining train from the 1950s
Vehicle used with Mike Rowe when he filmed there

All the vehicles in the mine had to be transported in pieces and reassembled once they got into the mine. The owner did not want anything to have emissions so everything runs on electricity or biodiesel fuel. They don’t bring any vehicles out of the mine either, so you can see some abandoned ones on the tour. The first tour we took was a train ride, which was very similar to a train you would see in the mall, but it was on tracks 650 feet underground.

Us on the train ride
Fallen ceiling
1950s toilet…see all the paper on the floor?
The salt floor is heaving…that is why the boxes are falling.
In the 50s this was unusable salt because it has mud (the black streaks) and red salt which livestock won’t lick. Now they crush everything for road salt.

When we went on the Salt Safari Ride, we each had a flashlight and everything else was dark. Our guide used a laser light to show us significant things on the wall, so if there is a green dot in my picture, that is why. We had no other light. The ride took an hour and when we were halfway through, the guide called up topside to let them know where we were located. I felt like everyone was very concerned about safety. We were never allowed to take off our hard hats, we had to check in by name every attraction we went on, and we were assured that the ceilings were always monitored.

Crystallized salt
A mined room
When they finished a room, they wrote the date on the wall, sometimes with the miners initials.
This crystallized salt is more important for the red rock underneath, which is not usually found at this level
Old railroad tracks…they reused the rails
They didn’t realize that they didn’t have mineral rights to this salt, so here sits thousands of dollars in salt that they can never take out.
How the miners knew what direction they were traveling
Smoke damage from a fire in the mine. You can still smell it and it happened in the 50s.

I was not aware that many mines that have already been emptied are used for storage. It is a perfect place to keep things preserved because there is no humidity, no wind, no worries about any natural disaster touching what is stored. Therefore, Hutchinson has a company called Underground Vaults and Storage, now abbreviated to UV&S, that keeps a lot of documents, props from movies, videos, computer data storage, etc. If you were born in Kansas, or know someone who was born in Kansas, their birth certificate is stored there. They had a display with some examples of what might be stored:

Batman costumes

On the Dark Ride, we saw a lot of the same things as on the Salt Safari, but it was much shorter (only 20 minutes) and we didn’t get to go very far into the mine. On both rides you get to stop and get some salt samples. You can get a bigger piece on the Salt Safari, but on the Dark Ride you get a cool little canvas bag to collect smaller samples. The whole experience took us about two hours, but we made sure to schedule our Salt Safari ride about an hour after our entrance. If you want to spend more time looking around the museum area you can do it after all the rides. I think that the extra Safari ride was worth the extra money. I loved how far we drove into the mined areas, but if you are nervous about being out deep in a mine, the regular ticket is a great option. We really enjoyed the experience.

They used old wooden dynamite boxes to block openings. Now they use plastic sheeting.

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