FreshPlans checked out Strataca, a museum at a working salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas. We had the opportunity to go 650 feet down below the surface and see part of the mine. We learned a lot about salt!
There are still salt miners working in Hutchison, mining salt used on icy roads. This part of the mining industry, the nonmetallic mineral mining and quarrying industry, is not expected to grow in the future, but it’s essential work right now and an important part of the history of Hutchinson.
In fact, it’s an important part of the history of the Midwest, way back when it was under water. If your school is located in the middle of North America, chances are good that the land where it sits was once under the Permian Sea.
If so, you might have salt somewhere in your neighborhood, too.
The salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas, is part of the Permian Wellington Formation, formed about 275 million years ago when the Permian Sea dried up. At 27,000 square miles, this is one of the world’s largest salt deposits.
The deposit was discovered in 1887 by a prospector who was looking for oil. He didn’t find oil, but he did find salt. By 1923, the salt mine we visited was producing salt commercially. It still turns out about 500,000 tons of rock salt each year.
It’s called “rock salt” because the salt is in rocks.
This giant piece of salt is fun to touch. The walls and ceilings in the salt mine are also made of salt. We got to ride in a little train through a part of the salt mine that is no longer in use. There we had a chance to see the places where the miners worked, the miners’ bathroom, and even a part of the mine where layers of salt had fallen from the ceiling to the floor. It was interesting to think about what it might have been like to work in a salt mine.
The Kansas Salt Museum at Strataca has some great resources for educators.
Here are some more online resources for a study of salt in the context of basic chemistry:
- A lesson on dissolving salt in water from PBS provides hands-on experience with ideas about solvents, solutes, and solutions, with study materials for high school students.
- Study Ladder has a whiteboard presentation on the subject of salt production.
- ScienceNetLinks has a lesson that uses salt to work with magnification. If you’ve got magnifying glasses and microscopes on hand, this lesson gives you a simple way to put them to work.
- The University of Colorado offers a Java simulation with lots of resources on salt and sugar solutions.
If you have a chance to visit Strataca, you should. If not, think about our field trip and spend a little time exploring salt in your classroom. Lunch will never be the same!