Date of this Version
Ecotourism on the Prairie (April 22, 2019)
Most people probably do not know that salt deposits hundreds of feet thick lie buried beneath large parts of western Kansas, western Oklahoma and a small part of the northeastern Texas Panhandle. Native Americans and early European explorers found that where the salt deposits came near the land surface (for, example north of Hutchinson, Kansas) salt is dissolved by ground water and increases the salinity of rivers, streams, springs and ponds. This salty water was used as a salt source by these peoples. The Hutchinson Salt, a 275 million-year-old Middle Permian deposit, was discovered in an exploratory drill hole in 1887. The Carey Salt Company began mining the purer, lower part of the 325-foot-thick salt beneath South Hutchinson in 1923. The Hutchinson Salt Company purchased the mine in 1990 and currently processes between 500,000 and 750,000 tons of salt per year, mostly sold for use as rock salt and cattle supplements. Mining continues today, north of a large mined out area leased long-term to Strataca: Kansas Underground Salt Museum and to Underground Vaults and Storage, Inc., which uses its 1,665,000 ft2 of leased space to store such things as documents, films, art works and other items under constant humidity of 40% and temperatures ranging from 68-73° F. Strataca has year-round tours of parts of the abandoned mine as well as a gift shop and a museum featuring mining history and equipment as well as artifacts from and information about the UV&S stored items. Open dates, times and tour costs can be found at the Strataca web site. The tour, my third salt mine so far, was a lot of fun and may be the experience of a lifetime for many people who have never previously been in a mine. My group of geologists had a four-hour tour and got to see many things that the public does not. As we prepared to walk back to the lifts to take us back to the surface, we were passed by many families with children off on a Sunday afternoon adventure. The kids were having a lot of fun. One caution -- the tour is not for the claustrophobic.