When faced with whether to go upstairs or downstairs at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History, guests inevitably beeline to the lower level—drawn by strange moans and wails. You almost expect to find a scene out of Jurassic Park, but the noises are actually part of an interactive board that lets visitors hear the range of sounds wild black bears make when crying for a lost cub, moaning in fear or huffing when threatened.
Most of the museum is filled with quieter displays, both expansive and focused, that blend beautiful backdrops, taxidermy and intricate special effects like wildflowers sculpted from wax. Minnesota landscapes and creatures are well represented and include birds in big woods and prairies, wolves along the rugged North Shore, and moose and mink in northern forests.
This is a natural history museum from the early 1900s that appeals mostly to detail-oriented visitors and families who enjoy an I-Spy-like challenge of finding hidden nests, sleeping fawns and goslings in the diorama grasses. More active groups should head to the huge Touch and Feel room with skeletons, seashells, furs, fossils, live snakes and plants. There’s also an exhibit area with modern interactive displays such as Dig It! The Secret of Soil, and a popular ExploreDome screening movies about the solar system and surrounding universe. The third level includes nature-inspired works from a guest artist. Don’t miss stepping into the room off the lobby to learn about the painstaking process that goes into creating each diorama. It’s a lost art from the predigital world.
Allow at least 45 minutes to see the exhibits. Admission is free on Sundays.