Arizona Museum of Natural History

Arizona Museum of Natural History

The Arizona Museum of Natural History is an unheralded treasure located in downtown Mesa. A dinosaur sculpture near the entrance alerts one to an emphasis of this museum. Inside large dinosaur representations are supplemented with fossil casts examining their likely history from 230-65 million years ago during the Mesozoic Era. I especially liked the representations of triceratops and stegosaurus. I learned that the coelophysis lived in Arizona during the Triassic period and the amphibious buettineria perfecta was found in the American southwest during the same period. We eyed a bowfin and garfish in an aquarium; the garfish closely followed certain visitors. The Museum currently has a special exhibit, “Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies.”

Olmec Colossal Stone Head

Olmec Colossal Stone Head

An interesting video display suggested the evolving nature of the earth’s land mass over millions of years to the present. We learned about meteorites such as the one that formed Meteor Crater in northeast Arizona. Did you know that between 1977 and 2000, the number of minerals first identified in Arizona increased from 48 to 81? This museum has a display showing each one. In an outdoor exhibit one can pan for gold.  We learned that rattlesnakes only live in North and South America. Did you know that Arizona is the home to more than half of the world’s species? Another interesting area of the museum explored the cultural legacy and contributions of the Hohokam people. We found especially interesting the display about their irrigation technology. A Mesoamerica display includes an Olmec colossal stone head along with smaller ceramics such as a protoclassic standing male effigy.

Mesa Jail Cell

Mesa Jail Cell

The museum’s biggest surprise was the Mesa jail from 1937 to 1975. This jail was originally opened in 1894 as part of the Maricopa County Territorial Jail. In 1936 what exists today was moved to serve as a county facility and Mesa city jail. Male prisoners slept on bare steel bunks with no bedding. There were only 19 bunks yet at times, especially on weekends, as many as 70 men were housed while waiting for arraignment. The Arizona Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit.

Advertisements