Planning Your Science Travel Itinerary
Summer is here—and that means it’s time for a road trip! Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton, co-authors of Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the Hidden Wonders of the World, join Ira to share some suggestions for sciencey things to see and do around the country, from unusual museum exhibits to outstanding natural wonders.
Plus, we asked you for YOUR travel ideas—and did you deliver! We’ll share tourist tips from some regular Science Friday guests, and highlight some of your many suggestions.
Hello yes if a science-loving person came to visit you, what would you suggest they go see?
Please tell me about all the cool sciency / science adjacent / techy / amazing natural wonders near you. For an upcoming @scifri thing. (please RT)
— Charles Bergquist (@cbquist) June 19, 2019
Here in Maine, I’d take them to see the glacial features in Acadia National Park, like sea cliffs and sea caves that are now above sea level, or giant erratic boulders balanced on mountaintops.
— Dr. Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill) June 19, 2019
I try to pick things physically close to why they’re in Vancouver.
At UBC? Visit the blue whale skeleton at @beatymuseum
(More time? cross the walkway to the jellyroll landslide at @PMEUBC then stroll down to particle accelerator @TRIUMFLab)
— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) June 19, 2019
Hello from Chicago. We will happily exhaust you with science-y things: @AdlerPlanet @shedd_aquarium @FieldMuseum @msichicago @Fermilab @gpconservatory @lincolnparkzoo Chicago Botanical Gardens @MortonArboretum @LPConservancy @imss_chicago @plantchicago pic.twitter.com/eH5Tvh4CIV
— Jennifer Roche (@BowerbirdComm) June 20, 2019
In Boston the glass flower exhibit at @HarvardMuseum – a mix of science, history, and art. pic.twitter.com/btda8Czko5
— Michael Tlusty (@TlustyM) June 20, 2019
Here in Arizona, check out:
☀️ @SESEASU‘s impressive meteorite collection, live planetarium shows, & mission operations facilities
? University of Arizona’s telescope mirror facility
✈️ The “Aircraft Boneyard” near Tucson
? Titan Missile Museum
— Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) June 19, 2019
The redwoods (if they’re into trees), a visit to the @exploratorium, @calacademy, @SLAClab and Tomales Bay.
— Danielle Venton (@DanielleVenton) June 19, 2019
#Tidepools on both ends of Monterey Bay (I can show you). Redwood forests & banana slugs in Santa Cruz. @MBARI (super cool stuff) isn’t open to the public, but the @MontereyAq is! Fossils on local beaches. Blue whale skeleton at Seymour Center in Santa Cruz.
— Dr. Allison Gong (@ProfAlGong) June 20, 2019
I’ve been visiting scientist friends in Oxford, Cambridge, London in England & Glasgow, Scotland for a week.
I always squeeze in some science tourism:@OBGHA @morethanadodo@CUBotanicGarden
I was nearby, but didn’t have time to visit @kewgardens & @gsc1#scicomm #urbanecology pic.twitter.com/ecImi8BGf1
— Dawn Bazely (@dawnbazely) June 20, 2019
In Cincinnati, you have to check out the @CincyMuseum – 4 museums under a gorgeous Art Deco half dome. Our @CinObservatory also has the oldest public telescope in the country and fun, nerdy Late Night Date Nights. Trammel Fossil Park is free and fun, and I love our @greatparks !
— Jenny Garwood (@luckeyfrog) June 19, 2019
In the UP of Michigan, the geology of @IsleRoyaleNatl the @KeweenawCVB led to a history of mining actively preserved by @KeweenawNPS – amazing place for geology, ecology lovers and history buffs! Always take visitors to Quincy Mine and the Mineral Museum @michigantech
— Dr. Amy Marcarelli (@AmyMarcarelli) June 19, 2019
In Oklahoma City, I would suggest @sciencemuseumok, @myriadgardens, @okczoo and in Norman the @SamNobleMuseum. Also, come see one of our live shows! #TravelOK #ExploreOklahoma
— Yes Science Show (@YesScienceShow) June 20, 2019
Spoiled in Gainesville. @FloridaMuseum, hit the @UF observatory, @cademuseum go to Devil’s Millhopper State Park for stairway to geologic sink, head to Paynes Prairie State Park to see gators, visit some beautiful nearby springs, and see the bats on campus and @BatConservancy
— Kirsten Hechtbender (@HellbenderHecht) June 19, 2019
In the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend @alfmuseum (I am curator there) — it’s a major paleontology museum on a high school campus (with some very cool fossils found by many of the students over the years–everything from baby dinosaurs to extinct rhinos)! pic.twitter.com/AlxDusblJK
— Andy Farke (@AndyFarke) June 19, 2019
There’s so much science stuff in the Raleigh/Durham NC area! Raulston Arboretum @NCState, @naturalsciences @greggmuseum @DukeLemurCenter @GreensboroSC @lifeandscience pic.twitter.com/Yio5HILUaM
— M Gallardo-Williams, Ph.D. (@Teachforaliving) June 20, 2019
Space science in STL: @STLScienceCtr @clcstlouis @Boeing Prologue Room, @WUSTL Earth&PlanetarySciences, @ParksCollegeSLU @MoonriseHotel and the planet walk along Delmar Loop, @umsl Astrophysics w/ planetarium & observatory, and in Bonne Terre, The Space Museum.
— Christine Nobbe (@NobbeChristine) June 19, 2019
If you wind up in Seattle and want a nice dose of nature in the city, visit the @burkemuseum where you’ll find the largest fish collection in N. America (just wrote a story about a new book that relied on the collection: https://t.co/msxwz80oDM )
— Hannah Weinberger (@Weinbergrrrrr) June 19, 2019
The channeled scablands in Eastern WA, Neskowin ghost forest on Oregon coast (cataclysmic geology shot and chaser!)
— Deirdre Lockwood (@deirdrelockwood) June 19, 2019
Oooh! The Columbia River Gorge near Portland, OR, and the Bonneville Dam and fish ladders. SO many volcanoes (Mt. St. Helens!) Also, the Hanford nuclear site is just upriver in WA.
— Dr. Kiki Sanford (@drkiki) June 19, 2019
In Portland, OR I would show off @OMSI, World Forestry Center, Hoyt Arboretum, Rose Garden, Japanese and Chinese Gardens, Columbia River Gorge, Forest Park, Mt. Hood, Silver Falls, @TheOregonGarden, @WAAAMUSEUM, @EvergreenMuseum, and @Powells too.
— D Paul Angel (@D_PaulAngel) June 19, 2019
Not many folks visit the Olympic Peninsula, across the Puget Sound from where I grew up, but it’s got some pretty cool stuff. There’s a temperate rainforest https://t.co/iA80Z3DE1r & the Makah Cultural Center, 1 of the 1st tribe-run anthropology museums https://t.co/oXAuEcTa6r
— Francie Diep (@franciediep) June 19, 2019
The largest dam-removal project in US, the Elwha river, is a giant science experiment in progress. Story has indigenous rights, endangered salmon, and public policy change. https://t.co/4eB8pGlwMS #elwha #damremoval
— Sally James (@jamesian) June 20, 2019
In Adelaide, Australia – a North Terrace stroll, stopping at the Museum of Economic Botany @BotGardensSA, @SAMuseum and MOD @modatunisa. And if there’s time to explore more widely, a visit to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.
— Johanna Kohler (@compelling_copy) June 20, 2019
70 miles west of Macon, Ga. A small cluster of low mountains on the Flint River. Come for the endemic lilies in the river, the shoal bass (catch them on flies like trout), and the valleys where mountain laurel from the Blue Ridge mingles with longleaf pine of the coastal plain.
— Grant Blankenship (@Grant_Blank_) June 20, 2019
In Western Massachusetts? I would take you to Montague Plains, a globally rare inland sandplain ecosystem. Not as well known as Albany Pine Bush, as we don’t have the dedicated funding for interpretation that APB has but amazing biodiversity! And great wild blueberries!
— Brian Holt Hawthorne (@brianhhawthorne) June 19, 2019
Plenty to see at @Arktikumlapland @Arctic_Centre just 5 miles from the Arctic Circle. Nightless nights right now, lots of wildlife nearby and auriras in winter. And of course all of the nature of @OurLapland. pic.twitter.com/0ehrRVWRag
— Stefan Kirchner (@ArcticLawyer) June 19, 2019
for new york visitors looking for nature, i think the jamaica bay wildlife refuge is a must, as is seeing the fordham gneiss in inwood hill park. breezy point is awesome in the winters when seals hang out on the beach. i’m also dying to go to the meadowlands
— ryan (@RyanFMandelbaum) June 19, 2019
DC– the Smithsonians (including Hirshhorn and Renwick, who often have techie displays, and Postal Museum which even has the first mail postmarked in space), ArtechHouse, the Einstein statue, Library of Congress exhibits and events, Rock Creek Park planetarium
— Therese Jones (@theresejones0) June 19, 2019
Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, CO! Dino tracks minutes outside of Denver.
— Stephanie Pappas (@sipappas) June 19, 2019
-The largest mammoth skeleton on display anywhere in the world @UNLincoln‘s Morrill Hall
-Some of the world’s last unplowed tallgrass prairie at Nine-Mile Prairie.
-Ashfall fossil beds, full of rhinoceros, horse, and camel fossils
-Prairie chickens dancing in the NE sandhills
— Lyndsie Wszola (@LWszola) June 19, 2019
In San Diego – Fleet Science Center (the museum, but also “Two Scientists Walk into a Bar” night at local microbreweries), White Labs brewing yeast tour, Birch Aquarium, Living Coast Discovery Center, tide pools in Point Loma, Palomar Observatory (about 1.5 hours away)
— Heather Buschman (@HeatherBuschman) June 20, 2019
Near me, @CincyMuseum and Krohn Conservatory are top on the list. For other nature science, any of the numerous parks and the Cincinnati Nature Center. COSI is always a good visit.
— Philip Boes (@tispip) June 19, 2019
I live in a very small town in Montana but we’re home to NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Lab where scientists study all kinds of infectious diseases, including Ebola. They give free tours!
— Rebecca ? April (@beckoftheyukon) June 19, 2019
The National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio. @AFmuseum
Check out the research & development hangar. When I give Museum tours for @AFResearchLab, I start with the early wind tunnels in their #WWI gallery & go all the way to spaceflight. S&T enabled every era
— Kevin Rusnak (@aerohistorian) June 20, 2019
Not the most outwardly pretty, but the electronics nerd in me loved the National Electronics Museum near Annapolis MD. Also NASA Wallops visitor center in Chincoteague, VA.
— Lauren McCabe (@SWBInano) June 20, 2019
There’s for example the Mensch & Natur museum in Munich, where you can experience earthquakes in a simulator firsthand, the Paläontologisches Museum for everyone interested in geology, archeology etc. Also, the Egyptology museum is very recommandable when in town.
— ??house of 1000 plushie cadavers?✂️ (@schreiraupeee) June 20, 2019
Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama. If you are there on the second Saturday in December, join in the marathon which runs right past the rockets. ? ?♀️ Also, the newly opened Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur is worth a stop, or two. ? pic.twitter.com/pIh0hOJjRK
— Michelle Morring (@mimorring) June 19, 2019
As it happens, I just went today to see leatherback turtles hatching from their nests and swimming out to sea in #PuertoRico. It was amazing. pic.twitter.com/RNaRh1PofB
— Brooklyn Backyard Birds (@BirdsBrooklyn) June 20, 2019
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Dylan Thuras is co-author of Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, and co-founder and creative director at Atlas Obscura in Rosendale, New York.
Ella Morton is co-author of Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, and a Contributing Editor at Atlas Obscura in New York, New York.
IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. The long holiday weekend means that summer is definitely here. So how about a road trip? This hour, places a science, technology, or environment lover should add for a good road trip itinerary from aerospace attractions to exceptional zoos and lots in between. We’re touring around the US and beyond. And I’ve got a few seasoned tour guides with me. Ella Morton is co-author of Atlas Obscura, An Explorer’s Guide to the Hidden Wonders of the World, and a contributing editor at Atlas Obscura. Welcome–
ELLA MORTON: Thank you.
IRA FLATOW: –to Science Friday. Dylan Thuras is her co-author. He’s also co-founder and creative director of Atlas Obscura. Welcome to Science Friday.
DYLAN THURAS: Thanks for having us here.
IRA FLATOW: You’re welcome. Both here with me in our New York studios. We’ve also asked you, everybody out there, to share your ideas for some must-see science sites and over 200 of you responded. So we’ll be sharing some of your tips this hour, too. Dylan, let’s start with you. You really liked something called The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.
DYLAN THURAS: So this is–
IRA FLATOW: What is that?
DYLAN THURAS: I grew up in Minneapolis. This is a place I went as a kid. And now I have kids of my own and I would really like to take them there. It is the world’s only library and museum dedicated to medical electricity. So the use of electricity in human health and well-being. And it’s in a lovely kind of Tudor mansion set back off of Lake Calhoun. So it’s a beautiful place to visit. It has all these great electrical toys, electrostatic generators, like a Wimshurst generator that you crank and it makes these huge sparks.
And in a nook they have an exhibit that I still really love devoted to Ben Franklin’s electricity parties. So when Ben Franklin was getting interested in electricity, it almost started out as like a lark. He bought these– he saw someone perform these feats. And then he would get these static electricity tubes and he’d invite people over. And then really he’d prank them. He’d load them up with static electricity, and make them go to kiss a conductor, and they’d get a big shock.
And he did all kinds of wacky stuff. All this is before the famous kite key thing. And he’d planned a big electric party where one of the stunts was going to be that he was going to cook a turkey with electricity. He attempted this and he very nearly got himself killed in the process. He accidentally discharged a Leyden jar, got a really nasty shock, and wrote to a friend saying that it was an experiment he had a desire to never repeat. Anyways, so you can go and play with these toys. You can learn about Franklin’s parties.
IRA FLATOW: It’s in the museum. This is all in the museum.
DYLAN THURAS: There’s a room devoted basically to all of the instruments that you would use to have your own electricity party. And for a kid, it’s really a fun place.
IRA FLATOW: It is cool. Several of our listeners mentioned that, too. Laura Whithead called it unique science and tech museum with a focus on biomedicine, plant medicine, and tech innovation, with beautiful gardens and a Frankenstein immersive theater show in Minneapolis.
DYLAN THURAS: Also true. Really fun.
IRA FLATOW: OK, Ella, what’s one of your top picks?
ELLA MORTON: Well, I saw this a few times come up on the Twitter followers’ recommendations. It’s a place in Boston at Harvard. It is at the Natural History Museum. They have some great museums at Harvard. One is the Natural History. They also have the Peabody Museum, which is dedicated to anthropology. But at the Natural History Museum, there is a particular exhibit of flowers. And these flowers are made from glass. And they were created by a father and son team, Rudolph and Leopold Blaschka.
And these Blaschkas were bohemians in the truest sense. They were from Bohemia on the border of what was then Czechoslovakia and Germany. And they created these flowers out of glass. They were master craftsmen in the art of glass blowing and sculpting. And the botanists at Harvard needed a way for their students to study plants.
But to be able to study plants in 3D, there’s a limited amount of time during which you can look at them and study them before they start to wither and die. And you can look at things like pressings or you could look at paper maché models. But they just weren’t quite realistic enough to be able to study in detail and in a prolonged way. So the Blaschkas created thousands of these glass flowers.
And when you walk into the museum, they’ve redone it recently so that they’re displayed in these gorgeous wooden and glass cabinets. And it’s one room dedicated to all of them. If you didn’t know they were made of glass, you probably wouldn’t guess because they’re so delicate and the leaves are so thin. And they’re colored. They’ve been painted. So the flowers are incredible.
But there’s one particular subdivision within that that I found super fascinating, which are rotten apples– apples affected by fungus and various diseases that they have sculpted and painted with such loving care. And they’re beautiful. They are somehow gorgeous– these rotten apples. So you can examine those up close.
IRA FLATOW: Outside of Boston.
ELLA MORTON: Mm-hmm.
IRA FLATOW: Right out there with all kinds of good stuff.
ELLA MORTON: Right. Yeah. You can swing by the MIT Museum, go to the Mapparium stand in the center of a globe. It’s a good time out there.
IRA FLATOW: You’re shaking your head, Dylan. Do you agree?
DYLAN THURAS: Yeah. Boston has a ton of really wonderful things. The Mapparium is one of my favorite things. It’s more geography than science. But one of the coolest things actually is it’s a huge three-story glass globe. You step inside. You stand in the middle. And if you’re not interested in the amazing geography and seeing this from a perfect perspective, because it’s actually one of the only places where you can see the size of the countries accurately displayed– on a map they’re all distorted. Even on a globe they’re distorted because you’re looking at a sphere from the outside.
Even if you’re not interested in that part, it has incredible acoustics because it’s this huge glass sphere. So depending where you stand, it has a whispering gallery effect. It has this kind of magnification effect if you’re in the middle. It’s just a really wonderful place to visit.
IRA FLATOW: We asked some of our friends and colleagues around the country for suggestions. You heard them on our News Roundup or State of Science segments. And now they get to play tour guide.
SARAH KAPLAN: I’m Sarah Kaplan and I’m a science reporter at the Washington Post. And I’m really lucky to live in Washington DC, which is a great place for science travel. We’ve got the Smithsonian Museum. So I can go to the Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the zoo. But I want to recommend some science destinations that are kind of off the beaten path.
I love to go to the National Arboretum where scientists are studying all kinds of things about plants– their diseases, their genetics. You can see trees there from all around the world. You can also go to the Space Window at the National Cathedral, which is stained glass inspired by the Apollo 11 photos and actually contains a sliver of rock brought back by Apollo 11 astronauts.
Another favorite thing to do is take the accidental fossil tour of DC. The city is full of limestone and marble buildings and those rocks are really good at preserving fossils. I’ve seen fossils in the limestone around the Tidal Basin, in the marble entryway of the National Gallery of Art. If you go to DCfossils.org, you can find a guide to where to find lots of these fossils. I really hope you enjoyed visiting my city.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. I used to live in DC for many years. It’s incredible when you study what actually you can see in terms of its history, right?
DYLAN THURAS: Yeah, I love the idea of looking at buildings not for their architectural history, but their geological history. And seeing ancient sea life embedded in the side of these buildings is really such a cool experience.
ELLA MORTON: I also love that she mentioned the Space Window at the Washington National Cathedral, because that is a building that has some hidden elements that people might not notice. It has a tiny Darth Vader on the outside of it. A little– not a gargoyle– there’s another name for it. Basically, a gargoyle. But if you look really closely, you can find it.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. All right, let’s go to another quote from one of our columnists, Maggie Koerth-Baker, who is a science reporter at 538. She’s a regular on Science Friday. She had a suggestion.
MAGGIE KOERTH-BAKER: If I could take somebody anywhere in my neck of the woods, I would take them to the ice roads that go out under Lake Superior in the winter. My sister-in-law lives up near Bayfield, Wisconsin, and the ice freezes solid enough that you can drive a truck over it out to an island off the shore. It’s really fantastic.
And there’s also these really amazing sea caves where they ice over in winter, and these stalactites of ice hang down from the ceiling in all these just amazing colors from the minerals that seep through the ground as the ice forms. There’s only about a week or two each winter that you can go and check them out. It’s really just completely spectacular.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. Isn’t that something?
ELLA MORTON: Wow.
DYLAN THURAS: As a kid from Minnesota, I can attest–
–that there is a waterfall in Minneapolis called Minnehaha Falls. And during that same week that you can get out to the Apostle Caves, people go and they sneak behind this waterfall because it’s just a set of frozen ice stalactites. It’s amazing. That’s a good suggestion.
IRA FLATOW: Let me go to another reaction from Eli Chen, who is a regular from St. Louis Public Radio.
ELI CHEN: For those who are willing to travel just a little outside of St. Louis, the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka is one of my favorite places to go because you can see really rare canine species like the Mexican gray wolf or the African painted dog, which move around really gracefully. There’s also something called the Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail. That’s in Weldon Spring. It’s basically a site of entombed waste from the Manhattan Project.
So you can learn all about its legacy in St. Louis, if you want to. And because it’s on a really high point, you can also watch birds and star gaze on top of it, too. And I’d also like to add, if you’re near anywhere that does a Story Colliders show, try to find out if you can attend and listen to some great personal stories about science.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah. There are a lot of personal stories about science.
ELLA MORTON: So many.
IRA FLATOW: It’s great. Ella, you’re a co-author of an Explorer’s Guide to the Hidden Wonders of the World.
ELLA MORTON: That’s right.
IRA FLATOW: Say I want to go somewhere and leave the US and go find some place to explore, perhaps London where there are a lot of science museums there, or some place in Paris.
DYLAN THURAS: We actually– so Atlas Obscura– we run some tours. We take people around the world to different places. And we’re running a science and medicine tour to London coming up in September. So it’s in collaboration with The New York Times, and we’re going to be going to a bunch of places.
But one of the places that we’re going to be taking people is to this old operating theater basically in the attic of this building that dates back to the 1700s. It’s incredible. You sit around on these little benches. And on this tour, you’re going to get to see a surgical demonstration in the operating theater. So that’s a place that I think is really cool for science and medical interested folks. That’s in London.
IRA FLATOW: We’re talking this hour about things to see on your vacation, places to visit if you’re interested in science and great science vacations with my guests, Dylan Thuras, co-founder and creative director of Atlas Obscura, and co-author of Atlas Obscura, An Explorer’s Guide to the Hidden Wonders of the World. And Ella Morton, his co-author, also contributing editor at Atlas Obscura. And we asked a lot of listeners early on and some of the folks we’ve had on as regulars to suggest where we might go. And we now have Kiki Sanford who belongs to This Week in Science.
KIKI SANFORD: Hi, Ira. This is Dr. Kiki from Portland, Oregon. And ooh, the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, and the Bonneville Dam and fish ladders. So many volcanoes– Mount St. Helens. Also, the Hanford Nuclear site is just up river in Washington. Have a great summer.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah, that whole western part of the states, right?
DYLAN THURAS: Yeah, I mean, if you’re in Hanford to visit the nuclear site, you might as well go to LIGO, because that’s where one of the gravitational observatories is– one of the two in the US. And they offer tours to the public. I haven’t been to either yet, but I really want to go.
IRA FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Let me bring in another contributor, Francie Diep, staff writer at Pacific Standard.
FRANCIE DIEP: Not many folks visit the Olympic Peninsula across the Puget Sound from where I grew up, but it’s got some pretty cool stuff. There’s a temperate rainforest and the Makah Cultural and Research Center, one of the first tribe and anthropology museums in the country.
DYLAN THURAS: The Olympic Peninsula is– I don’t know if I’m just really into quiet, but in the Hoh Valley Rainforest there in the national park, it has the one square inch of silence. It’s an attempt by an audio ecologist named Gordon Hempton to preserve natural soundscapes, because they’re vanishing very rapidly. There’s very few places you can go in the world where you can listen to 20 minutes of natural sounds and not hear some sign of human habitation, whether that’s an airplane or a car engine. It’s actually it’s surprisingly hard to get to a place of true natural silence. So this is an attempt to preserve one of those locations.
IRA FLATOW: Give us another recommendation.
ELLA MORTON: Sure. So recently I was in Buffalo to look around. I’d never been there before. And–
IRA FLATOW: It’s my alma mater.
ELLA MORTON: Oh, really?
IRA FLATOW: Yes.
ELLA MORTON: SUNY? There you go.
IRA FLATOW: SUNY Buffalo.
ELLA MORTON: There you go.
IRA FLATOW: Way long time ago.
ELLA MORTON: So yes, I mean, Buffalo has been through a lot in the last few decades. It’s suffered a lot economically. There’s been a lot of population loss. Most tourism focuses on the architecture and the art deco nature of it. But there’s a lot of rejuvenation happening that’s really interesting. While I was there, I was scampering around abandoned grain elevators and going to old places that are being repurposed.
And probably the most fascinating one I went to was a location that used to be known as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, which is not a phrase we would use nowadays. But that’s how it began in 1880. And it was designed under this philosophy called the Kirkbride Plan, which was established by a psychiatrist named Thomas Kirkbride. And he took a whole new approach to the treatment of mental illness.
He decided that buildings that were devoted to psychiatric hospitals should be these long horizontal buildings, and they would have an administration in the center and the wings would span out from that. There was a male side and a female side. And the furthest away you were from the center determined the severity of your affliction. And the idea was that as you got better, you would move closer and closer to the center, until one day you could walk out the doors. And it also emphasized the importance of nature. So there was a lot of fresh air. There were these beautifully landscaped grounds. The ones in Buffalo were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
And there were tons of these Kirkbride Plan mental health institutions all across the US. The vast majority have been demolished now, because even though Kirkbride had some really good ideas about mental health that treated patients more humanely, he did also assume that people would eventually be cured from whatever they were suffering. There was not really any accommodation for the idea that people would live with a mental illness for the rest of their life. It was this idea of being cured by nature.
So this particular institution in Buffalo– it opened in 1880 and the last patients left in the 1970s. And then these beautiful Victorian buildings just sat there for several decades abandoned. But in recent years they’ve decided to pour a bunch of money into rejuvenating the place. And at the moment, the central three buildings of the former psychiatric hospital have been transformed into a hotel, a restaurant– there are these art galleries, there’s an architecture center. And it’s kind of incredible, because when you think about what was previously termed an asylum being turned into a hotel, it’s sort of an easy transformation.
The idea of staying at a hotel in a room once occupied by a patient is a little bit strange for some people. But the way that they’ve approached it is very respectful of the history. And they’ve preserved so much of the architecture. They make a real effort to show you what it was like and give you a sense of the development of the treatment of mental health and psychology. So I just found it fascinating to wander around the grounds. And they had these really huge hallways that are really long in the hotel. It’s almost like The Shining.
There were no rooms with blood or twins or anything. But yeah, it’s fascinating to walk around and imagine what it must have been like back in the day.
DYLAN THURAS: I’ll give you another northern New York State one. In Syracuse University, you should stop by and look for the Tree of 40 Fruit. Now would be a good time actually, because it’s summer. So this is a tree created by an artist and it’s a graft of 40 different varieties of stone fruit. So this single tree bears plums, peaches, almonds, which I didn’t know were a stone fruit until I learned about this tree. And it’s incredible.
IRA FLATOW: Where do you see this?
DYLAN THURAS: So this is on Syracuse University.
IRA FLATOW: Syracuse University.
DYLAN THURAS: And in the winter, it just looks like a normal tree, until you see it coming to life with all these different flowers and different fruits. It’s a special place. And then once you get to Boston, you should go– on the top floor of a university library there, you’ll find a small collection of medical specimens. And it’s a particularly interesting set because among the collection is the skull of a patient named Phineas Gage, who’s a very famous neurology patient because he had a railroad spike accidentally blown through his head. He survived, but his personality changed. And he became a landmark case–
IRA FLATOW: He did. Yeah.
DYLAN THURAS: –in neurology. So you can see the skull, you can see a death mask, and actually the spike itself is all in this just little kind of hard to find medical collection at the top of this library.
IRA FLATOW: We have a lot of listeners who called in with suggestions. Let me move to a part of the country we haven’t really talked about yet and that’s Florida. Wendy Williams writes, I’m in Gainesville, Florida. I would visit the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida museum. Go when you have a bit of time and enjoy the wonders of it. Rachel [INAUDIBLE] says, the Conservation of Southwest Florida in Naples is always cool, especially if you want to hear about and/or see some of the invasive pythons that could swallow you whole.
ELLA MORTON: Oh, great.
DYLAN THURAS: Yeah.
IRA FLATOW: A bit north is Koreshan State Park, which is a science meets history excursion because it was a cult that loved botany.
DYLAN THURAS: Oh, that sounds amazing.
ELLA MORTON: That sounds like a relatively innocuous cult.
DYLAN THURAS: That’s very squarely in our area of interest.
IRA FLATOW: Is it?
DYLAN THURAS: Botanical cults. Sure. Yeah. Science cult. Yeah. That’s Atlas Obscura territory.
IRA FLATOW: Texas– Amanda Wheelhouse writes there’s a lot of techie things to do in Austin. But if you want to unplug and do a nature thing, I suggest grabbing a seat along the hike and bike trail east of the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch the Mexican tree-tailed bats.
ELLA MORTON: Yes.
IRA FLATOW: Do you know that one?
ELLA MORTON: Oh, yes.
DYLAN THURAS: We took a group actually on kayaks with a guy named Merlin Tuttle, who’s kind of the father of bat conservation. And we all went out and we sat in the middle of this river and we watched the bats come out. And it is an– there was a million bats in this bridge alone. It is astonishing.
IRA FLATOW: Yeah, because that is something you have to go look for. You got to find out where those things are happening. You’re in the right place at the right time.
DYLAN THURAS: Exactly.
IRA FLATOW: Let me talk about near Dallas. Someone writes in, I’m in Dallas, so we have a wide variety between Dallas and Fort Worth. The Perot Museum and Fort Worth Museum of Nature and Science, Australian lungfish, and the world’s largest alligator snapping turtle at the Children’s Aquarium in Fair Park. And there’s also the world famous dinosaur tracks. And more obscure petrified wood buildings of Glen Rose and Bat World Sanctuary in Mineral Falls. I can even bring up Dallas’ pretty much only carnivorous plant gallery, but that would be bragging.
ELLA MORTON: Oh, I love carnivorous plants. Can I mention a carnivorous plant place?
IRA FLATOW: Sure. Absolutely.
ELLA MORTON: So in Wilmington, in North Carolina, there’s a place called the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden. And it is devoted exclusively to carnivorous plants with which I’ve had an obsession since I was about eight. I didn’t realize until recently that Venus flytraps only grow natively in about a 60-mile radius of Wilmington, North Carolina.
IRA FLATOW: Is that right?
ELLA MORTON: Yeah, which seems so restrictive. I think it used to be a larger range. But it’s just on the coastal swampy area of North and South Carolina. And so this garden is named after a guy who was just wild about carnivorous plants. He passed away about six years ago, but his legacy has been this garden which is a quiet and peaceful place that you can wander through and see a bunch of Venus flytraps and also pitcher plants, which are these bell-shaped plants that will swallow insects.
There’s one particularly fascinating pitcher plant that is native to Borneo that has a symbiotic relationship with a tree shrew. And the shrew essentially poops inside it and the nitrates from that food to the pitcher plant– so pitcher plants and their digestive juices have always fascinated me. But this particular garden is just a nice, tranquil place full of carnivorous plants. And also was the subject– was the target, rather, for a heist in 2013. 1,000 Venus flytraps were stolen, which is actually a felony in North Carolina. But the culprits were caught and the garden was replenished. So all is well now.
IRA FLATOW: What do you do with a 1,000?
ELLA MORTON: I know. I guess you sell them on the black market.
DYLAN THURAS: Who’s your fence?
IRA FLATOW: Hey, buddy, I’ve got about 1,000 Venus flytraps here if you’re interested.
ELLA MORTON: Well, I think they’re worth about $20 each, so that was a significant heist.
IRA FLATOW: Kevin Rusnack writes the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Kevin writes, check out the Research and Development hangar. When I give museum tours for the Air Force Research Lab, I start with the early wind tunnels in their World War I gallery and go all the way to space flight. That’s kind of cool stuff, because one of the places I visited, there are a couple of airplane graveyards.
ELLA MORTON: Mm-hmm.
IRA FLATOW: Have you been to them?
DYLAN THURAS: There’s a famous one out in Arizona– the Boneyard.
IRA FLATOW: Tucson.
DYLAN THURAS: Tucson. Yeah. I’ve always wanted to go.
IRA FLATOW: I’ve been there.
DYLAN THURAS: I’ve seen pictures. How was it? What was it like?
IRA FLATOW: It’s awe-inspiring because there are thousands of planes. They’re all lined up and some are famous, some are not. And they’re in storage. You think, hey, why don’t they wheel this one out again? You should go to visit it, because it’s a–
DYLAN THURAS: I would love to. I would love to check it out. I was just learning about a place just outside of Las Vegas, which is a collection of Blackbird planes, these secret planes that were used to do all of this photo reconnaissance. It’s the only place where you can see all of them together and learn basically about all the missions that these planes ran that were classified for 20, 30, 40 years after they did them.
IRA FLATOW: I’m Ira Flatow. This is Science Friday from WNYC Studios. A listener writes in, I live in a very small town in Montana, but we’re home to NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Lab, where scientists study all kinds of infectious diseases, including Ebola.
DYLAN THURAS: That sounds– that’s great.
IRA FLATOW: I hope they’re not giving out samples.
DYLAN THURAS: There’s the CDC outside of Washington, too. There’s another good collection– where’s the tick collection?
ELLA MORTON: Oh, yes.
DYLAN THURAS: That’s another good disease collection.
ELLA MORTON: Yeah. So Sarah mentioned some Smithsonian places in DC. But you don’t have to go to DC to see Smithsonian collections. There are some very specific ones that are housed elsewhere. There is a tick collection at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. And they have over a million specimens of the 860 odd tick species that have been thus far identified. And you can make an appointment to go and see these ticks. They’re not living. They are dead.
But it’s a really valuable resource for scientists and entomologists and people who study infectious diseases, because ticks do carry these diseases, like Lyme disease, that are not super well-understood. And they also host a– I don’t know that it’s technically a tick symposium, but it is a two-week tick workshop that covers everything you would ever need to know about ticks. It’s happened twice so far. It just happened in May. But it’s one of the very specific collections at Georgia Southern University.
And if you’re going on a tour of Georgia University– odd things– this one isn’t so visually interesting, but at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta is the first ever time capsule. And it was installed in 1936. It’s called the Crypt of Civilization. And you can’t go inside and look at things, obviously, because it is a time capsule. I think it’s scheduled to be opened in like the year 8,113, which is a significant amount of time away. So we’ll see if Earth lasts that long.
But they have an itemized list of everything that they put inside and it’s essentially 1930s pop culture. There are things like stockings, and wigs, and just run of the mill day-to-day things that are interesting because they’re from the 1930s. But that is the first time capsule.
IRA FLATOW: Before we run out of time here in the next minute, one more suggestion from listener Kirsten B. It’s rainy or really cold– the Maine State Museum. A lot of history, but also natural history, the history of our industry, which is also a story of technology and science, meaning mills, fishing, and forestry. When it’s nice outside in Maine, you are required to be outdoors.
DYLAN THURAS: That is true.
ELLA MORTON: That’s a good philosopher.
IRA FLATOW: And you can always visit Acadia National Park.
DYLAN THURAS: Which is very beautiful.
IRA FLATOW: It’s a gorgeous place. We’ve run out of time. I’d like to thank both of you for taking time to be with us today. Ella Morton is co-author of Atlas Obscura, An Explorer’s Guide to the Hidden Wonders of the World, and a contributing editor at Atlas Obscura. And Dylan Thuras, he is co-author. He’s also a co-founder and creative director of Atlas Obscura here in New York. Thank you both.
ELLA MORTON: Thanks so much.
DYLAN THURAS: When are we going on this trip?
When are we taking off?
IRA FLATOW: Taxi.
ELLA MORTON: [INAUDIBLE]
As Science Friday’s director and senior producer, Charles Bergquist channels the chaos of a live production studio into something sounding like a radio program. Favorite topics include planetary sciences, chemistry, materials, and shiny things with blinking lights.
Ira Flatow is the host and executive producer of Science Friday. His green thumb has revived many an office plant at death’s door.