I got to the Museum of Natural History even before it opened so I could take a tour of the museum. I had been there before, briefly, but wanted an inside look at the many (seemingly unconnected) exhibits. Unfortunately, because of the inauguration and snowstorm, there was no guide to give me a tour. Undaunted, I went to the more interesting exhibits in the museum and grabbed a bite to eat before moving onto the Mall.
I started in the Gemstones exhibit, where natural and cut versions of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other crystals are on display. Most notably is the Hope Diamond, one of the most recognizable gems in the world and also one of the most precious. Harry Winston purchased it and several other jewels in this collection and donated it to the Smithsonian to start a National Gem Collection.
I also went to the new Orchid Express exhibit, which replaced the Baseball in America exhibit. While the orchids on display were stunning, I didn't understand the connection to the trains running through. There was also a lack of interpretation in my opinion, leaving the thousands of individual orchid types without explanation.
Two photographic exhibits caught my eye. One was the Nature's Best contest winners on the ground floor. The elevator operator told me to check out the owl on the end - the cutest thing you'd ever seen he said. These photos were submitted to the Nature's Best contest, the largest in North America. Or so a gentleman informed me as he passed by. Turns out that one of his photos was a winner! I guess he had come to see it on display with many others - his was of the polar bears. The second exhibit was of National Geographic Portraits. Some of the magazine's most notable portraits are on display in chronological order. The most haunting, in my opinion, is their most famous - of the young woman with the amber eyes (seen below in one of my pictures).
Best of all during my visit was the free film in the auditorium. "Pale Male" is the story of a red-tailed hawk who took up residence on a Fifth Avenue building in NYC. This documentary was fully entertaining - check the website to see if it or other free films are playing during your visit.
The remainder of the museum is full of dinosaur and mammal skeletons. Most are old and dated (some of the stuffed mammals were shot by Teddy Roosevelt) and are nothing your child hasn't seen at a zoo. Check out the Orkin Insect Zoo for up-close encounters with bugs and tarantulas.
The museum is, of course, free and on the Mall near the Archives/Navy Mem. metro. The food court is expensive but has good café fare. Expect $8 a meal at the food court.