Photos by Kelly Sue Photography
The Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History is a must-visit, providing an educational and fun experience for the whole family. I loaded up my preschooler and baby for the hour drive to Bryan to check out the museum, which was founded in 1961 by the American Association of University Women to provide hands-on education of natural sciences. The museum was originally located in the Brazos County Courthouse, and as the collection grew, found a new home in the Brazos Center, a multi-use facility operated by Brazos County. The new location afforded the museum both increased square footage and exposure. Upon arrival, visitors can begin the journey through history by picking up a museum visitor guide at the front desk. The guide gives extra details about the exhibits and ensures nothing is overlooked.
The first display when walking into the main showroom is the featured Tarzan: Myth & Mystery exhibit. My preschooler and I got a thrill seeing the majestic (though mounted and stuffed) lion, as well as the jungle cat and baboons, depicting a wild “survival of the fittest” scene.
The Tarzan exhibit explores the legend of the jungle man of West Africa, invented by author Edgar Rice Burroughs in his 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes, and the subsequent evolution of the story. Included in the collection is Hollywood memorabilia from some of the 48 Tarzan movies, sure to excite any film buff. This exhibit runs through October 29th.
The Ice Age and Prehistoric exhibits are impressive and informative. We particularly enjoyed the American Mastodon fossils and the Glyptodon (also known as a Giant Armadillo) shell. My preschooler lingered at each display, marveling at the sheer size and age of the bones, wondering what happened to these magnificent creatures, and what it would be like if they were still alive today.
A large (40 foot wide by 11 foot tall) Brazos Spring mural hangs over the entire exhibit, presenting the artist’s interpretation of how Central Texas may have looked thousands of years ago, when the climate was significantly colder and many of these now-extinct creatures roamed the Earth.
A third exhibit showcases a more recent time in Texas history, during the early days of ranching and cotton farming. Authentic tools, such as a cotton gin and plow and forge, can be found alongside the world’s oldest cotton bale. Visitors can also learn about the evolution of the handgun in the cowboy era, and check out a chuck wagon.
Outside the showroom, a separate room houses the wildlife exhibit. Toads, scorpions, snakes, and turtles from around Texas are housed in aquariums for amphibian and reptile lovers to enjoy. A real, working observation beehive provides a glimpse into a life of pollination and honey making. I could not bring myself to take a close look at the tarantulas, though my preschooler assured me they are gentle spiders and nothing to fear. I did make friends with a Common Snapping Turtle named Boris. He may have been watching me closely to see if I would feed him, but I like to believe he simply wanted to be my friend.
Carter Creek Nature Trail is across from the museum entrance and is a great opportunity to continue the natural history education in the great outdoors. The floodplains of the Brazos Valley are a perfect home for many native Texas plants and animals, and trail markers along the way point out where they can be found.
Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History exists to serve the community and has numerous resources to educate and engage all ages. The museum hosts nature camps in the summer (and over winter and spring breaks) for children ages 4 through 12, embracing non-traditional teaching methods that allow campers to interact with nature and explore science, animal behavior, and history. The museum also provides a museum instructor to lead large groups on field trips through the exhibits and hands-on activities, which is a wonderful tool for teachers and homeschool groups. Brazos Valley Museum is a unique location for a children’s birthday party, too, with party themes of the child’s choosing, such as mad scientists, creepy crawlies, outer space, or dinosaurs, and a museum instructor provides relevant crafts and games.
As a resource for teachers, the museum hosts teacher workshops throughout the year, and has Discovery Kits available to rent for use in classrooms. Discovery Kits are available in a variety of topics, including fossils, insects, Native Americans, endangered species, and many more, and contain artifacts, specimens, lesson guides, and related activities to bring the museum right to students.
Many adult-focused programs take place at Brazos Valley Museum, including bird and wildlife watching with the Rio Brazos Audubon Society, and educational classes taught by Texas A&M professors and local experts. On October 1st, the museum will host a Chuck Wagon Cook Off and the 8th Annual Buffalo Stampede: Half-Marathon and 5K Race.
Volunteers and Members are vitally important to maintaining the museum. Giving of your time or financially helps ensure the Brazos Valley Museum is around to educate and engage the community for a long time. The museum website, www.brazosvalleymuseum.org, provides a list of volunteer opportunities, from assisting in events like the half-marathon, to adopting an exhibit animal like the Speckled Kingsnake or Emperor Scorpion, ensuring the animal is cared for and happy.
Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00 pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for children 4 to 17, senior citizens, friends of the museum, and university students, and free for children under 4. There is a group discount of $3.50 per person with 10 or more visitors. The first Tuesday of the month, admission is only $1 per person.
Brazos Valley Museum is adjacent to the Brazos Center at 3232 Briarcrest Drive in Bryan. More information can be found at www.brazosvalleymuseum.org or by calling (979) 776-2195.