Last weekend, we visited the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. We traveled from Chicago to Iowa (2.5 hours car visit). I have a quick question for you the reader, how do you pronounce Dubuque?? Is it Dabuke, Dubuke, Dyubyuke, Dabyuke or other such countless variations!! My kiddo says it is pronounced as DUB-yook, thanks kiddo.
Anyways, there were two buildings there with the same museum name and we were confused as to which one is the museum. It turned out the buildings were both a part of the museum with first one being the fresh-water wing and the second one being the salt-water wing. We (two of us + two kids, 5 year old and an 8 year old) began with the second wing just for giggles!! Before we enter this wing, lets look at the tickets, the entrance tickets were $19.95 per adult, $14.95 per kid (ages 3-17 years) and $17.95 for senior citizens but if you purchase them online, you save $2/ticket, so go for it and save those $$s. You can buy food with those savings from the salt water wing restaurant: https://www.rivermuseum.com/plan-your-visit
Are you ready to enter the wing now?? Okay, let’s fly in! The key attraction on the bottom floor was touching the stingrays (there were 3 kinds of stingrays, do not recall the types). They normally allow to feed them but thanks to COVID, feeding and few of the exhibits were partially closed. The stingray exhibit is called “Down in the Delta”. There was some line with 6 ft. distancing followed, but there was a big globe which we could watch while waiting in the line. The globe showed how much environmental damage we do as humans with sea levels rising alarmingly due to our “I don’t care” attitude.
Once our family’s turn came, we each washed our hands as a protocol before touching the slimy stingrays and then washed our hands yet again before heading out of the exhibit. There was a small hand wash place within the exhibit, not much organized in terms of who goes first, people leaving or people entering, it was just go by the flow and show common courtesy (which is becoming increasingly rare these days). Once out of that exhibit, we followed arrows on the floor on where to go next and we saw some lobsters and different kinds of fishes.
We headed upstairs next where the 4D theatre was still closed, the river behind the museum was all covered with snow and people were ice-fishing there and literally walking on the frozen river, it was a beautiful view from up there. There was a separate area where toys from the olden times were displayed. Our favorite ones were the cute dolls, an old wooden doll house, a carriage followed by a cage with animals like horses, tiger, dogs, elephants all off to a circus, a teddy bear named after president Roosevelt, there was also a cute mini kitchen with stove.
Next to visit was the Riverworks splash where kids got a little wet since there were no raincoats provided with half of the exhibit closed. The most fun part there was the exercise bike to gather water in a bucket on the top and once you have exercised enough (which the kids did, this lazy mumma was just watching them!!), that water falls off in the form of rain with a splash. Also, building dams in waterworks was fun which showed how water dams contribute to store water. That was it in the salt water wing, but it still took us about 1.5 hours to cover it. All this walking around made us hungry and we had some food there then – grilled cheese sandwich, milk, tater tots and fries.
Next up was the Fresh water wing. Both the buildings are connected via an external plaza but since it was February and cold, we went via car instead, smart thinking he he. The first thing on entry was the tornado cube as if the cold weather and wind outside wasn’t enough! Kids were blown away experiencing the windy tube; it was fun looking at their expressions from outside. There was no way I was getting in that windy tube. The big entrance area had a museum store and Backwater Marsh exhibit which had plenty of big and small turtles, beautiful birds and a striped skunk.
There were also two frogs fighting for one insect, it was like a live discovery channel which the kids enjoyed watching. The Otter Habitat was another fun exhibit, luckily we got to see some swimming otters which the kids followed from one end to another, we had heard that sometimes those otters are hard to find while they are still napping. There were also rattlesnakes (creepy, hiss!), big blue catfishes in the main channel (from Wingdam) along with other big ones.
Bayou (meaning a body of water in a flat, low-lying area) had a big alligator resting, there was a seating area from where it could be seen resting along with an alligator snapping turtle. For a moment I thought, Bayou was a kind of an alligator!! Thanks to the informative reading there which told me otherwise. Also, we were wondering why is the alligator snapping turtle kept with the alligator in the same area with it since it could snap/eat the alligator. We found out from our visit to “Wetlab” next where the lady explained to us that those turtles do not eat the alligator, they are just really strong turtles who look like alligators, there was a bone display of that turtle outside the exhibit. It was quite fascinating to look at. Besides that bone structure was a tiny handle below it on the wall. My curious kids turned the handle/knob to see what happened and there was a…. boom, I was almost scared when they showed me what happened, a pop-up pretend fish came out and since it so suddenly and unexpectedly came out, it scared us all!
Hopping on to the next destination, it showed the history of Mississippi river, the massive flood in 1965 and a pictorial map of all the places through which the river flows through. Next up was experiencing the sounds that birds/insects make with a peek-a-boo and interactive set up.
We then entered the favorite part of the museum which kids enjoyed the most, thanks to the lovely “Wetlab” lady who was so enthusiastic to share her knowledge with them, I feel bad I forgot her name. There were several microscopes set up to study different cells of onions, insects among others. There was a unique button display which showed how buttons were made out of sea shells in olden times, they were the most sturdy buttons, the more rings on them showed the more they had aged. There was a pretty bird egg display with small and big, colorful and black and white eggs of birds like Robin, Bald Eagle, Hawks, Catbird, Hummingbird, Bobolink, Dove, Woodpecker and many others.
There was also a very interesting display on what Scatologists do, I had no idea on what they do until I looked at it, there were all kinds of poop in there, ugh! Scatology is the study of feces and poop is also called scat. I guess there are people out there curious enough to do this important job for us, kudos to them. There was a display on insects (big and small), zebra mussels which we found were good and bad both. Then there was a beaver display with its skin along with wood that it chewed on. My daughter had a very interesting question which the wetlab lady said that she would have to google on. Here is the question she had asked: why do beavers chew on wood, is it because they were teething or something? I just googled it to check and she was so right, since the beaver’s front teeth grow all the time, a beaver needs to constantly chew the food to trim the teeth down. Nature is so interesting only if one has time to learn more about it or even look at it for that matter, I sometimes get to see the views outside my house only when my spouse takes those pics and shares with me, you need to have an eye for that beauty and take the time out to enjoy the nature. Coming back to Wetlab, we also saw live crayfishes in Wetlab, one of which bit the Wetlab lady while she was telling us all about them. She was fine with that tiny bite but my son got scared there for a moment saying he would not want to touch them. Crayfishes just look like mini lobsters, I would never want to touch them just by the way they looked, they looked red and scary and lobstery! We then saw some old shells in the Wetlab drawers, snake’s shedded skin, feathers and much more. There was just so much to learn in that lab which looked so little in size as compared to all the other exhibits that we had seen but just had the world of information hidden in there, kids loved it and I was happy to see them ask such good questions.
Our visit there ended with the kids-zone upstairs which was half closed unfortunately. Kids liked the pulley train there which taught them about Newton’s third law: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, Forcegravity=mmassaaccelaration”. While my daughter pulled the rope sitting inside one side of the train bogie, the other side of the train with my son in the bogie moved backwards (rope-pulley motion). So gravity equaled muscle in this case. There were also tangram puzzles, dinosaur and other wooden puzzles and a giant 3D ant puzzle in the kids zone along with some music creation utilizing tubes set up like a piano.
All in all it we spent about 4.5 hours in the museum including lunch time and it was a fun learning day out, a good change in this cold weather and COVID environment. Out of both the wings that we visited, the Fresh water one wins and that is where we spent more time, especially in the Wetlab. All the museums have something new to teach and not just to kids but for us adults too. It was a joy to look at the kids having joy and see them curiously exploring the new and fascinating world that we live in. When I started writing this particular page on heartbeat, I checked their pulse on what all they remembered from their visit and what they liked the most. Wetlab which I thought may be boring for them actually turned out to be the favorite part of their visit!