"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Friday, July 23, 2021

650 Feet Underground in Kansas

Hutchinson, Kansas
Hutchinson Fairgrounds

We are in Kansas and heading underground!

We are here in Hutchinson in southern Kansas just to see the Underground Salt Mines.
We're camped just a few miles from the salt mines at the Fairgrounds.  Parking is in a huge area at the back on grass with paved roads.  W/50/Dump for $30.  We're in #3 with a little bit of shade which is nice since it's in the low 100's during our 3 day stay.
STRATACA, previously called Kansas Underground Salt Museum, is a unique chance to be 650 feet underground and learn how salt was mined here.  I heard of this from a couple of other RV friends but we weren't close enough last time we were in Kansas.  This time I chose our route specifically to come here.

The Permian Wellington Formation is one of the largest in the world and the purest portion of the salt vein is 650 feet underground and is still mined today.  Salt was discovered here in 1887.  In 1999 a portion of it was opened to the public for tours.

Some fun facts:
  - it is 650 feet below the surface
  - It takes 90 seconds to descend
  - there are 150 miles of tunnels
  - 4 tons are mined every 3 minutes
  - The original shaft was started in 1922
  - The salt deposits are 250 million years old

This double decker, 6 ton hoist holds 30 people and takes you down 650 feet below the surface.  Everything below comes down this way.  That means cars, tractors, railcarts, tracks etc come down here.  Some of the larger equipment and cars have to be taken apart and rebuilt once down below.  If you are very claustrophobic you may want to reconsider this tour. 
We chose to take both tours, $21 and $13 for adults.  This includes different train and shuttle rides as well as the museum.  Kind of confusing on the tours but definitely worth it to take both.  Both took 3 hours.  We loved it!
The salt dust was weird.  It felt damp and like talcum powder but it was dry and did not stick to you.
It's hard to imagine that you are actually under part of the town of Hutchinson down here.  The above map shows you the years that were mined.  Once an area is mined, they never go back into that area.  Tracks are taken apart and reused, lighting, etc.  The tunnels may be miles long but they leave 40x40 foot "pillars" to hold it up so it won't collapse.
Once you get down you can wander around a section to view equipment, storage area and a gift shop while you wait for your tour.
Old cutting saw.
Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs filmed here.
"What goes in the mine, stays in the mine".  Hard to imagine this was more cost effective, but it was.
What do they do with all that empty room once they finish with mining?  They use it for storage.

Millions of data tapes, boxes of Hollywood movies and props and documents are stored down in this salt mine in Kansas.  Think "Fort Knox".  Miles from disaster, 650 feet below the surface within 400 feet of solid rock.

This display cracked me up because I used to work with computer equipment like this in the 80s!
Mr. Freeze costume worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman & Robin, 1997.
Batman costume worn by George Clooney in Batman & Robin, 1997.
Natalie Cook Racing Suit worn by Cameron Diaz in Charlie's Angels, 2000.
Superman costume worn by Dean Cain, 1993 - 1997.
Boxes of movies from the show "Friends".

Different layers of salt and minerals in the mine.

Before the tour started we got to try our hand at mining the old fashioned way.

Here we go.  The temperature is 65 degrees so you may want to bring a light jacket.  Much nicer down here than the 100 degrees above.
Here's a video of a portion of the shuttle ride.  Click HERE if you can't see it.

Bathroom facilities for the miners.

One of the hundreds of tunnels with part of the 40' column on the right.
Thousands of empty boxes of explosives line the tunnels.  It's strange to see dust and footprints of the miners that haven't been disturbed in 50+ years.

Layers of iron in the salt.

It was very interesting to hear the entire process of the mining operation.
Most ceiling heights were 10 - 12 feet high.  Everything is pretty uniform down here.
Large deposits of crystallized salt.
When our tour guide shined his green lazer pointer at it it lit up beautifully.
Once a tunnel was finished they would spray paint the date on the wall.
Some of these tunnels are crazy long!  Could you imagine playing Hide & Seek down here?
An old propeller from one of the fresh air shafts.
One of the old trucks that had to be taken apart to fit in the elevator hoist then reassembled down below.
While the ceilings don't collapse entirely, they do have shelves break off.  They keep careful monitoring of the movement.
At one point you are given a small bag and with the flashlights they give you you can collect salt crystals to bring home.  Just rinse the dust off and you can varnish it for a decoration or use it in your salt grinder.  We've been in underground lead, gold and silver mines besides other caverns but I think this was our favorite.  We highly recommend this unique tour if you are in the area.
As we left Hutchinson we pass another grain storage.  I swear these keep getting bigger and bigger.

Next Up we venture to the Center of the US!


  1. We were in the salt mine there on our transcontinental US-50 trip in 2019…pretty darned cool place. Lots of cool stuff in Kansas along Route 50.

  2. Very cool place to visit. Did Steve stop the tour to use the toilet?

  3. I can see why people might not want to take that tour if they are at all claustrophobic. After looking at your pictures, although it is interesting, I think I will pass.

    1. Only the elevator was a bit weird. Once underground it felt big and open.

  4. We passed through there a few years ago, but passed on the tour. Yes, I am a bit claustrophobic.

    1. Just the elevator was a bit cramped. The mine felt big and open and cool air.

  5. I love unique tours like this!! Thanks for sharing all the interesting information. Good to know if there's a disaster above ground that Batman's suit is safe :-)))) Seems like the perfect way to spend a hot summer day.

    1. It really was awesome! Perfect place to store stuff!

  6. As a kid I toured salt mines, back then they didn't do the storage stuff but what a great way to reuse the place. I remember those computers from my college days.

    1. We sure had a blast on this tour. Definitely a great place to store things of great importance!

  7. Not sure I want to take Dave by those grain bins.

    1. :-) They kept getting bigger and bigger! I'd love to get a tour of one of those facilities!


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