Taking a tour of a salt mine? On the surface, it seems like a strange way to spend a day. What could be so interesting about seeing miners dig salt out of the ground? After all, it's not like taking a tour of a location steeped in history such as the Alamo or the Tower of London. Or a famous government building such as the White House. Or a tour of an interesting city such as San Francisco.
But a salt mine? You'll be surprised…
WIELICZKA SALT MINE IN KRAKOW, POLAND. I saw a segment on the Travel Channel about this unusual tourist attraction. The mine consists of a lot more than just the tunnels and pits where they have been extracting salt for approximately 700 years (one of Europe's oldest salt mines). It was opened in the 13th century with commercial mining discontinued in 1996 but it continued to produce table salt until 2007. This is a unique tourist attraction and is listed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list.
The tour is spread out over the three upper levels of the mine complex, ranging from 64 to 135 meters (208 to 439 feet) below ground. You'll need to take nearly 400 steps down to the mine but there is an elevator that returns visitors to the surface. Tourists can walk the 3 kilometers (1.8 mile) trail through a collection of objects related to the mine and mining industry over the centuries. You'll see underground lakes. But perhaps the most surprising and fascinating feature of this salt mine is all the works of art made by the miners themselves over the centuries, hand hewn entirely of solid salt—statues, frescos, beautifully adorned chapels including one very large chapel with chandeliers and staircases made entirely of salt along with other hidden treasures. In addition to the spectacular works of art, the complex has a reception room used for private functions including weddings.
The salt mine reaches a depth of 327 meters (1065 feet) and is over 287 kilometers long (172 miles) with the tour covering only a small portion of this total area.
STRATACA IN HUTCHINSON, KANSAS, USA. Interactive dinner theater below ground in a salt mine? Scout campouts below ground in a salt mine? A large Hollywood film storage/vault facility underground in a salt mine? An event center underground in a salt mine? Yes to all of these…and more.
This salt deposit was formed approximately 275 million years ago when the Permian Sea dried up. This is one of the largest salt deposits in the world covering 27,000 square miles in central and south central Kansas. Adjacent salt deposits extend the entire area to include parts of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle and south eastern New Mexico for a total overall of 100,000 square miles. The purest portion of the main salt vein is 650 feet underground and is still being mined. Strataca (when first opened for tours was called the Kansas Underground Salt Museum) has access to about 300,000 square feet of the mined out area.
Salt was discovered southwest of Hutchinson in 1887 by a land developer who was drilling for oil as a means of increasing land sales. Instead of oil, he struck salt. Strataca is located in the original Carey rock salt mine.
Even though the mine tour existed earlier and a large storage facility had been there since the 1940s, in 1999 the Reno County Historical Society recognized the importance of preserving and presenting to the public the Hutchinson salt story. Today's museum is the result of a collaboration of the Historical Society and two businesses that already existed in the mine—the Hutchinson Salt Company and the Underground Vaults and Storage. In addition to storing a vast number of original Hollywood movies (such as the master prints of Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz), it also stores millions of documents and items from around the world in a secure and environmentally conducive atmosphere.
The newly revamped and renamed Strataca was opened to the general public May 1, 2007. Their first Murder In The Mine interactive dinner theater was held in 2007 as was their first underground scout campout. The Visitor Center opened in July 2008. And in 2013, they launched The Salt Safari Adventure Hike.