Nine acres of natural habitats make up the Hutchinson Zoo, a place that nearly 160 animals—most of which are native to Kansas—call home. The zoo’s many exhibits feature local reptiles, birds, and mammals, a fossil pit where kids can dig for dinosaur bones, and the Wild Habitats Building that houses animals from afar, such as cotton-top tamarins, gila monsters, and mexican red-knee tarantulas. In the barrier-free aviary, visitors watch native Kansas birds flying untethered overhead while in the wetlands below, North American beavers gnaw old furniture back into the shape of trees. To keep the area's wildlife populations strong, the zoo's Cargill WildCare Center rehabilitates approximately 500 injured or orphaned Kansas-native animals each year.
The site of the present-day town of Ellis was first settled in 1867, when the Kansas Pacific Railway built a water station there and then bought the land. Within the next few years, a post office, hotel, and shops sprang up?again thanks to the railway?creating growth and contributing to the town that exists today. The railroad has been a part of Ellis since its inception, and the Ellis Railway Museum celebrates that history. The museum features artifacts and photographs of the railroad and trains from as far back as its earliest cow-shipping days. A meticulous, 5,000-square-foot model-train exhibit recreates that magic of the rails, and a miniature train outside the museum runs along a 2.5-mile track?known as the BK&E Railroad?that brings passengers to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and back.
There's a lot of history within Strataca at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum?about 275 million years' worth. It was way back then when the once mighty Permian Sea dried up, and its receding waters revealed something that would forever change the Hutchinson area: salt. Salt as far as a terrified slug's eyes could see. The mineral covered some 27,000 square miles, and it waited there for eons, until Ben Blanchard?an oil man?accidentally discovered it in 1887. Then salt companies began mining the area, eventually clearing out enough room for a museum, 650 feet deep within the Earth's crust.
To reach that depth, visitors travel down a mine shaft on Strataca's double-decker transport. And that ride is only the first of many. Surrounded by walls of exposed salt, the Dark Ride sends guests on a tram through the mine's exhibits on air flow, hazards, and history. The Salt Mine Express then journeys to an area of the mine virtually unchanged from the way it was 50 years ago. Aside from these permanent attractions, the museum also hosts special events, including its Salt Safari, which sends groups wandering through miles of dark tunnel with only a lighted hard hat.