STRATACA — Kansas Underground Salt Museum showcases the geology, history of mining and today’s uses for the underground space.

Visitors to Strataca will see the mine and museum artifacts, as well as take a subterranean adventure on a tram ride.

“We’re the only underground salt museum in the western hemisphere,” said Mary Clark, Interim Director for Strataca and the Reno County Museum. “The rides are in the part of the mines that hadn’t been developed so it’s just as the miners would have seen.”

Salt was discovered southwest of Hutchinson in 1887 by a land developer looking for oil.

The original salt mine shaft is located just northwest of Strataca and is still used by the miners today. Now known as the Hutchinson Salt Co., over 500,000 tons of rock salt is removed each year, primarily used as road salt.

To this day, Hutchinson is known as the “Salt City” and its rich heritage is apparent in many local traditions.

Today’s attraction stems from collaboration between the Reno County Historical Society and the two business entities that exist in the mine: the Hutchinson Salt Co. and Underground Vaults and Storage.

At Strataca, museum visitors don safety gear, board a double-decked elevator and take a 90 second ride down 650 feet in the dark.

“The hoist itself is cool. It’s the darkest dark you’ve ever seen, but when you get out, it’s nice and bright in the museum section. There’s a lot of exhibits,” Clark said.

When the elevator car arrives at the mine level, visitors can explore salt mining galleries and a display of Hollywood movie memorabilia from Underground Vaults & Storage, a company using portions of the mine as secure storage.

The 40-minute guided dark ride is a tour conducted on a tram. There are frequent stops to point out formations, exhibits and abandoned equipment. Since everything brought into the mine is left in the mine, the mine acts as a time capsule. Visitors also have an opportunity to select a rock from the active salt mine as a souvenir.

In the late 1990s, when business owners decided a new elevator or hoist was needed, a partnership was formed that resulted in the development of the museum. Strataca opened to the general public on May 1, 2007.

The space includes the Event Center, which is home to Murder in the Mine interactive dinner theatre events and is a popular venue for community celebrations.

“We use the Event Center for business meetings or weddings,” Clark said. “It’s a very unique wedding space.”

In January 2008, Strataca was voted one of the “Eight Wonders of Kansas.”