Skip to main content

Big Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History

Field notes from a 3-mile walk inside the American Museum of Natural History

Most everyone has fond memories of field trips, those exciting adventures that promise escape from regular school. Art museums, aquariums, and historic sites are frequent destinations, but often the most thrilling trip for school age children is the natural history museum. Dinosaurs! Taxidermied bears! Dioramas! How lucky are the children of New York to have the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) as a field trip destination. As the largest natural history museum in the world, the monumental building on New York's Central Park West is overwhelming in its abundance of treasures. Plus, there's a bonus planetarium!

If you were to visit the AMNH on a weekday morning, plan on sharing the museum with hundreds and hundreds of young, often loud, and overly stimulated school-age New Yorkers. You will find them in every room, in every gallery, in every remote square foot of the museum. If quiet contemplation of large mammals from other continents is your thing, then I highly recommend a visit later on a weekday after lunch. In the late afternoon, some children will still be around, of course, but as they are generally shorter than adults, at least you can look over their heads. And, anyway, the exhibits are big. In many cases, very, very big.

Titanosaur, Wallach Orientation Center, 4th floor.


A big new addition to the museum is a colossal fiberglass cast of a 70-ton dinosaur discovered in the Patagonia desert in Argentina in 2012. The creature, a young one of uncertain gender, cannot even fit in the room in which it is housed. The colossal size and the unusual shape of the Titanosaur add to an ever-curious field of scientific inquiry. Several of the original fossils, including an eight-foot femur, are on display.

Margaret Mead's Cape and Thumb Stick, Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, 3rd floor. 


The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) was so in demand during her later years that one of her assistants booked her appearances for years in advance. This tidbit may be gleaned from a video that plays in the introductory room in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples. Known for her groundbreaking fieldwork in Samoa and New Guinea, Mead worked in the museum from 1926 until her death in 1978, serving as a curator for many of those years. Mead was often seen in her dramatic red cape carrying her forked walking stick.

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Moai Cast, Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, 3rd floor. 


Thoughts of Easter Island always conjure the great row of monolithic figures known as moai. Made famous in the movie Night at the Museum, this particular Easter Island deity is based on a cast made during a museum expedition in 1934-1935.

Aztec Stone of the Sun, Hall of Mexico and Central America, 2nd floor.


Mistakenly thought to refer to the Aztec calendar, the sacrificial stone depicts sun symbols of Aztec cosmic mythology. The original stone is housed in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

Hall of Asian Mammals, 2nd floor. 


A group of Asian elephants serves as the centerpiece in a beautiful wood paneled room with Asian-inspired windows. As with many other animals represented in the museum, the beauty is accompanied by the poignant reminder that many of these creatures are endangered.

Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, 1st floor. 


The entrance of the museum on Central Park West opens up in the rotunda. Stop and pause here before entering other galleries. At the center is a dramatic encounter between a Barosaurus dinosaur, protecting its offspring, from an aggressive Allosaurus. The walls are covered with large murals depicting Theodore Roosevelt's public life and expeditions along with quotations from his writings.
 
The Great Canoe, Grand Gallery, 1st floor. 


Occupying the Grand Gallery, the 63-foot-long canoe embodies the artistry of the Native American peoples of the Northwest Coast. The canoe, carved in the 1870s, is in the room adjacent to the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians. The dimly lit hall dates from 1900, the oldest in the museum, and highlights the collections and research of one of the museum's most famous curators, anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942).

The Dzanga-Sangha Rain Forest exhibit, Hall of Biodiversity, 1st floor. 


The dense rain forest in Central African Republic serves as home to many forest elephants, gorillas, and other species. The creation of a national park and forest reserve helps protect the inhabitants of the forest from encroaching agricultural and mining operations.

Giant Blue Whale. Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, 1st floor. 


The 94-foot fiberglass model of a great blue whale continues to dazzle as one of the most famous symbols of the museum. Again, the replica serves as a reminder of the fragility of the species.

Big Bang Theater, Cullman Hall of the Universe, Rose Center for Earth and Space, Lower Level. 


On the lower section of the Hayden Sphere, viewers can stand and look down into a concave screen to watch a presentation about the birth of the universe. Narrated by actor Liam Neeson, the brief film explores the stunning cosmic explosion and the mysteries of "dark matter." The exit leads to a spiral pathway that marks milestones in the history of the universe, including the extinction of the dinosaurs.

On this youthful, 3-mile walk in the American Museum of Natural History, we have come full circle.


Subway Mosaics, outside the museum, entrance to museum on Lower Level. 


If visiting the museum via subway, enjoy the mosaics representing extinct and living animals.

Resources:
Location: Central Park West at 79th Street
Best time to visit: Weekday afternoons.
Food: Museum Food Court on the lower level and 3 cafes.
Museum website: http://www.amnh.org/
Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Subway: B (weekdays), C at 81st St.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from February 25, 2016.






Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Update: As of March 12, 2020, many New York arts institutions have temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Please see this post for announcements of reopenings.
On August 14, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that low-risk cultural activities, museums, aquariums, and other low risk cultural arts can reopen in New York City on August 24. 

Come back to this page for any updates about reopenings.
(Currently CLOSED) Several museums in New York City are open on Mondays, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney.
This list has been expanded to include free or pay-what-you-wish hours.


American Museum of Natural History Central Park West and 79th Street
See the post, Big Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History.
Cooper Hewitt
2 East 91st St.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave

Jewish Museum 1109 Fifth Ave

Metropolitan Museum of Art 100 Fifth Avenue
See the post 25 Things To Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of …

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

The Company of Nature: Walking With Butterflies in Fort Tryon Park

If wandering the empty urban canyons feels a little lonely and depressing, a better idea would be to head to the nearest park. This past Saturday, a day that was sunny but not too hot, Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan turned out to be the perfect place to not only satisfy wanderlust but to rediscover the company of nature. Butterflies were there. Hundreds of butterflies - Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies, Black Swallowtails, Cabbage White Butterflies, and Silver Spotted Skippers, among them. Moths, too, although I have not yet learned their names.  The Heather Garden is situated just beyond the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. With seasonal plantings, the garden is always a serene spot.  Observing butterflies involves watching their interaction with blooming flowers and shrubs. The Tiger Swallowtails are easy to find and found here in significant numbers. Just look for the Butterfly Bushes. The Cabbage White Butterflies are here in abundance, too, though not as showy as the swallow…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk.



One such essay, "Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer, Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the advantag…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

As the pandemic crisis improves in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their re-openings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED August 14, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many favorite local destinations have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.
On August 14, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that low-risk cultural activities, museums, aquariums, and other low risk cultural arts can reopen in New York City on August 24

Openings     
Phase 4 began in NYC on July 20. Stay outside! (Forward.ny.gov) NO indoor dining!
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department o…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…