A week or so ago, we had a family experience that ranks up there with THE BEST EVER. Maybe even number one on the list.
Last year (so, more than a year ago), we bid on and bought the "Behind the Scenes tour at the American Museum of Natural History", at the charity gala that I've been working on. One of my friends had done it through another charity auction and raved about it. I thought it would appeal to everyone in our family, and we ended up being the only bidders so we paid the minimum (which was still pretty pricey).
Well, when I opened the envelope, I found out it needed to be after 5 pm on a weekday. That's a challenge during the school year, so I put off contacting the museum. And then I didn't get around to it all summer. And then the school year started again. And then.... eventually my friend contacted the guy again about offering it at THIS year's auction, and nudged me to get it together. So I did.
I don't know that I can adequately describe our tour. Our guide was Carl Mehling, who was absolutely delightful. He's a research assistant who manages the fossil collection in the Paleontology Department. Imagine someone with the enthusiasm of a 5-year old for dinosaurs, and you'll be close. We went up to the prep lab, where we took no pictures because most of it hasn't been published yet, and got to talk to one of the museum's preparators. He was absolutely fascinating and answered all of our questions, including, "what do you major in for college to get a job like this?" (Art and biology, actually.) We saw fabulous specimens in various states of prep, saw the tools, talked about the different kinds of rock and challenges that preparing fossils can present, and how very LONG it can take. Months and months - the most important skill for the job is patience. If you watch this video from the museum, we saw that very ankylosaur skull in its "finished" state in that lab.
From there, we went downstairs in the world's biggest elevator (not really, but it was REALLY big), to the "Big Bone Room". I do have a few pictures from there, but I need to contact Carl to see if I can "publish" them. However, I found this video on the museum website, so you have to imagine us there in that storage room. (the 2nd video on the page has better views of the Big Bone Room, though we weren't in the room with the T-Rex model) Those shelves are on tracks in the floor, and have cranks to move them because they weigh thousands of pounds. William got to turn the cranks - gears are your friend! Some of those bones are absolutely huge, I kept telling the kids, "stand next to this so I can take a picture." We absolutely grilled Carl with questions (Poor guy. JC adored dinosaurs when he was younger so we've actually read a fair amount on the subject). He was great, though. I'm sure we kept him much longer than he expected, but we did eventually wrap it up and head back up to the public part of the museum.
After we said good-bye to Carl, all three kids said something to the effect of "that was SO COOL!!"
They were right.