Confession: I’ve been internet stalking the Cook Museum of Natural Science for what might be years now. So when they finally held their grand opening earlier this month, I couldn’t wait to hop in the car with Matt and head north.
There’s so much stuff this museum gets right! I love its modern, airy design; the entry is happy, light, and welcoming. And quite possibly the coolest chandelier I’ve ever seen greets visitors just inside the front doors.
Every single employee from cashiers to docents was outstanding - helpful and well-informed, present and friendly but never intrusive. They were kind to my goofy little boy, even when he wanted to sniff the arctic fox pelt and commented on its “pungent, dog-like scent.”
Sometimes visiting a space that’s designed to be engaging for kids can be overstimulating, leaving you feeling like you’ve been hanging out at a daycare rather than a place for learning. But The Cook Museum manages to strike exactly the right balance between being exciting and interactive for all visitors and somehow calming and contemplative at the same time. The lighting is just right, the spaces are big enough to be accommodating yet small enough to feel cozy, and there are tons of things to discover, climb through, and try out.
The museum’s nine current exhibits, focusing on a range of topics from oceans and outer space to insects and rivers, are thoughtfully curated and take advantage of technology in clever ways. For example, in an area dedicated to learning about being a naturalist, visitors can scan tags attached to items such as jawbones, shells, skulls, and pelts. Scanning brings up a screen that identifies and provides more information about each animal. Another exhibit contains a kinetic sand table with a projector mounted above it. Every two minutes the projector displays a different type of map over the sand. Matt had a blast building volcanoes and rivers in the sand and using a small disk to create storms over sections of the map. Best sandbox ever!
After dropping a little change in both the gift shop and the fountain outside, we headed off in search of lunch. My phone told me The RailYard was only a six-minute walk away, so we hoofed it down 2nd Avenue, passing the Princess Theatre on our way. We would later take advantage of the theatre’s marquee to escape a brief rain shower.
The RailYard, a farm to fork spot serving southern comfort food as well as craft beer and cocktails was a hit! Matt had mini corndogs, while I ordered The Usual - a pressed sandwich filled with grilled chicken, cheddar, bacon, spinach, and ranch. YUM! Service and food were both excellent, and we will definitely be back because there’s a ton more tasty-looking stuff on that menu.
At that point, it was almost time to head back home, so we trekked back to the car. We wanted to bring something from the trip back home to share with Erik, so we stopped on the way at Big Bob Gibson’s for some takeout brisket so we could see what those awards are all about. I’m still not sure. What am I missing?
With a quick detour through the Dari Delite in Hartselle for a couple of swirl cones (I’m a sucker for ice cream/food shops with old school signage and misspelled names), we were back on the road and headed home. It was a very good day trip indeed!
North Alabama is always a blast! We will be back to Decatur in the very near future. What else should we explore next time?