The Witte Museum

By Kaila Lancaster

"Where Nature, Science & Culture Meet"

Pictured: Photo courtesy of Witte Museum

A recent ad for the Witte Museum in San Antonio states, “If it happened on Texas land, water or sky, you can experience it at the New Witte.”

That pretty much sums it up. Don’t believe me? Buckle up, readers. You’re in for a wild, educational and fun ride.

The Witte Museum — pronounced like “witty,” in case you were wondering — has always been a staple in San Antonio’s vast collection of museums, tourist attractions and historic sites (insert obligatory “Remember the Alamo!” here). It first opened its doors on October 8, 1926 — if you do the math, this museum has been in business for almost 91 years.

The original Witte Museum was a hub for Texas scholars, researchers, artists and the general community, all while managing an operating budget of $100 a year. Now guests can explore the new Witte, a culmination of a $100 million effort to expand the museum’s 10-acre campus. This massive renovation required a partial closure of the museum for two years. It just reintroduced itself to the world March 4.

“Families are amazed by the new Witte and its ability to showcase the region, dating back to the dinosaurs. We are thrilled to see visitors of all ages interacting with 3-D printed media decks, Texas wild animals and lab explorations,” said Witte president and CEO, Marise McDermott.

The new Witte offers hands-on learning and adventure at every turn. Who doesn’t love a good adventure?

You’ll discover that this museum does not devote its energy and resources to one thing. It’s not just a natural history museum. It’s not just an art gallery. It’s not just a children’s museum, and it’s not just a museum that focuses on Texas or American history — it is all of those things. If I were to rename this museum, I’d call it “The All of the Above Institute of Pure Texas Awesomeness.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to name museums. Moving on.

As you enter the new Witte, you are greeted with a dose of “wowza!” and a heaping helping of natural history. The H-E-B Lantern, part of the orientation gallery, features a giant replica of a Quetzalcoatlus — Gesundheit! — a flying creature from the late Cretaceous period. This winged dinosaur’s remains were first discovered in Texas in 1971. The replica of this creature takes your breath away as you stand below its incredible wingspan. You might feel smaller under its shadow, but that’s just the introduction you need to the Witte — Texas’ history and culture are so much bigger than any one individual.

The Witte features a plethora of natural history exhibits, including the Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery, the first permanent dinosaur gallery in the history of the museum. No museum visit is complete without beholding gigantic dinosaur skeletons. Visitors learn about the dinosaurs that dwelled in Texas more than 110 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.

This gallery is home to a full-size skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex, the quintessential predator of the age of the dinosaurs. Another skeleton of a Deinosuchus, a giant crocodile that lived in the coastal marshes, is also on display, and a meat-eating Acrocanthosaurus skeleton and footprints from the Government Canyon State Natural Area can be found to demonstrate how the ancestral Gulf of Mexico covered San Antonio.

The Ethan Walsh Deep Ocean Exhibit welcomes guests to learn about the depths of the seas that once covered much of Texas 90 million years ago. Each exhibit is equipped with interactive 3-D printed media decks, much like our resident Mayborn Museum’s interactive computers and information stations located throughout.

The Dinosaur Gallery also features the Dinosaur Lab, where guests can excavate dinosaur bones and learn how paleontologists study fossils. As you might expect, this section of the gallery is popular with the kiddos, but since I am 23 going on 12, I have decided that the Dinosaur Lab can be a meaningful learning experience for all museumgoers.

Discover an ancient Texas culture in the Kittie West Nelson Ferguson People of the Pecos Gallery. Hunter-gathers who lived thousands of years ago are front and center in this exhibit, where guests can encounter life-sized dioramas of ancient camps. This exhibit expands the entirety of the second floor of the new Witte. The gallery features a variety of interactive shelter overhangs and dioramas — learn about these ancient peoples’ sacred spaces, their hunting and gathering habits and their art. You will absorb information that has been in the works since the Witte opened 90 years ago; researchers have been gathering artifacts and visiting prehistoric sites for years and years.

The McLean Family Texas Wild Gallery showcases the natural landscape, wildlife, flora and fauna of our great state. Visitors can also walk through dioramas that feature an animated Texas sky. It is as close to the great Texas outdoors you can be without sacrificing the chill of modern air conditioning. And the cherry on top? The enhanced Mary West and Richard Traylor Sounds of South Texas feature is narrated by the king himself, George Strait.

I have never been so fascinated with flora and fauna.

Kids’ activities abound throughout the entire museum, making the Witte a perfect stop for families. The H-E-B Body Adventure is one of the most notable interactive hubs for youngsters. The Body Adventure strives to increase young guests’ health IQs as they make their way through four floors of health-and-wellness-centric fun. Young guests can select a “buddy” to be their virtual guide through different activities. Fun fact: while these buddies aren’t physically present in the adventure, they are all real San Antonio residents of diverse ages, backgrounds and body types. Activities in the H-E-B Body Adventure include cycling through a San Antonio river landscape, running across a motion-capture screen to receive an energy score and much more.

The Witte Museum not only houses exhibits on natural history and ancient cultures, but it also showcases Texas art. The Russell Hill Rogers Texas Art Gallery is currently host to art exhibits that showcase pieces by Texan artists from the “early days” to now. It is a celebration of the museum’s rich history of dedicated curators, including women who shaped the Witte’s impressive collection through strategic purchases. This particular exhibit is on display until May 29.

No tourist attraction is complete without a stop at the gift shop. The Bolner Family Museum Store offers unique educational trinkets and treasures to remember your time at the Witte Museum. Getting hungry? The museum also boasts of a market inside the historic Ruiz House, a stop laden with food, snacks and beverages.

This museum is worth the approximately 181-mile trek to San Antonio. The Witte Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is reasonable: $12 for adults, $9 for children ages 4-11, and children 3 and under are admitted for free. Seniors and military tickets are $11.

Remember the ad I mentioned at the beginning of this article? “If it happened on Texas land, water or sky, you can experience it at the New Witte.” Do you believe me now? Did you ever doubt me? Now that you’ve read what this place has to offer, it’s time to pack up your car and your kiddos and skedaddle south down Interstate 35.

Happy road-tripping!

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