Tours take groups behind the scenes at Nevada State Museum

CARSON CITY, Nevada – Why is there an artificial mud pit on the second floor of the Nevada State Museum? How did a stuffed beaver get the name Gus? What is the oldest Native American basket in the museum’s collection?

Every museum has its secrets – locked doors, untold stories, wrinkles and quirks that tickle the visitors’ curiosity.

The Nevada State Museum is no exception.

Now in its 76th year in the building that once served as a United States Mint, the venerable museum has accumulated thousands of artifacts and specimens and an equal number of stories behind them. Stories run the gamut from the priceless (American Indian basketry) to the aquatic (ichthyosaur) to the peculiar (artificial bear poop).

And they are stories that often come out during guided behind-the-scenes tours available to small groups every month. The tours are offered by the museum’s Natural History and Anthropology departments – up to six in Natural History and up to 10 in Anthropology.

The natural history tour, led by curator George Baumgardner, PhD., Curator of Natural History, takes the group through the existing natural history displays and includes discussions of the museum’s plans for their redevelopment and expansion.

The displays range from the skeleton of a Columbian mammoth unearthed in the Black Rock Desert to that of a prehistoric ichthyosaur (large aquatic reptile) to taxidermy mounts of animals, including many not on public display.

Baumgardner not only talks about the creatures, but about how they were obtained, preserved and made available for exhibits and education.

The anthropology tour takes visitors into the museum’s Native American basketry storage vault, where many of the museum’s more than 2,000 historic baskets are kept in a climate-controlled environment.

Led by Eugene Hattori, Ph.D., Curator of Anthropology, the tour focuses on local basketry crafted by women of the Washoe Tribe and collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A highlight of the tour is the museum’s extensive collection of “degikup” baskets woven in Carson City and Lake Tahoe between 1896 and 1925 by famed Washoe weaver Dat-so-la-lee.

Baskets from other Nevada and California tribes are also featured during the presentation.

The behind-the-scene tours are held the last Friday of each month, except when state holidays or other considerations conflict. There is no additional cost for the tour beyond regular museum admission of $8 for adults. Two tours in natural history are held, the first at 10 a.m. and the second at 1:30 p.m. One tour is held in anthropology at 10 a.m.

Reservations are required and tour group size is restricted. To confirm tour dates and make reservations, call Holly Payson in the education program at 775-687-4810, extension 222.

Private tours can be arranged through the Natural History Department by calling George Baumgardner at 775-687-4810, extension 236.

Private tours and basketry identifications through the Anthropology Department are available by calling Eugene Hattori at 775-687-4810, extension 230.