I recently went on a trip through Kansas and Colorado, and even though I was far from any coastline, I still encountered many ocean-related items during my trip. Apart from hiking amazing trails in Colorado, and eating delectable Kansas City BBQ, I also visited several academic institutions. I started in Lawrence, KS exploring the campus of KU and visiting my sister's lab (see her research here). While at KU I also got to see the behind the scenes aspects of the KU Natural History Museum and saw some of their collections. This museum has some great exhibits, and showcases the natural history of Kansas and the North American Western Interior Seaway with a plethora of fossils on display. Definitely worth stopping by if you find yourself in Lawrence looking for something to do.
From Lawrence we drove to Denver, Colorado. Along with stopping for gas and food, we made one other planned stop in the small town of Hays, KS. From the outside the Sternberg Museum of Natural History looks like a giant white dome. Inside it is filled with exhibits of Cretaceous marine and Neogene terrestrial vertebrate fossils. One of the highlights of the museum in my opinion is the Fish-Within-A-Fish exhibit (pictured right). They also have a moving T-Rex exhibit that is triggered by a motion sensor, catching any unsuspecting visitor off guard (a.k.a me). Realizing we still had several hours of driving left though, we decided to not spend too much time in wonderful Hays, and continued on with our trip.
After spending the time in Kansas looking at an abundance of fossilized creatures, I yearned to see real live animals and also the mountainous terrain around Denver, Colorado. The cooler weather of Denver welcomed us and I spent most of my time there doing non-scientific, tourist activities. However, being the nerd that I am, I insisted that we visit the Downtown Denver Aquarium. I was blown away by the exhibits at this aquarium. Not only is there an amazing flash-flood exhibit (a highlight for a desert native), the coral reef exhibits are spectacular. I would never have guessed that I would see the diversity of fishes and marine invertebrates that I did a mile above sea level. This aquarium is a great community asset, exposing people that are thousands of miles from the nearest coral reefs to the unique diversity of these ecosystems. Overall I'd say the trip was a giant success, and would suggest anyone in those areas to stop by and support these great museums and aquariums.