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Utah's New Rio Tinto Center

The revamped museum of natural history in Salt Lake City is a feast for the senses.

Rio Tinto Center, Utah Museum of Natural History, Salt Lake City, image
Photo caption
Utah's Rio Tinto Center has grand architecture outside and dinosaurs inside.


Decay isn’t usually a selling point, but a musty aroma is just one sensation greeting visitors at the Utah Museum of Natural History’s new Rio Tinto Center in Salt Lake City. It wafts from the Past Worlds gallery, where a scavenger feasts on a dead dinosaur.

“Rarely in a natural history museum do you walk in and have all your senses engaged,” says Tim Lee, a senior exhibit designer. Upstairs, songs of migratory birds and a whiff of sulfur mimic the sound and scent of the Great Salt Lake. Visitors crank a handle to fill a tank and watch ancient Lake Bonneville reclaim the valley, engulfing the airport and state capitol. A ramp leads from the ground floor, where you walk amid the feet of huge dinosaurs, up to a level where you can look them in the eyes. “It’s a perspective not many of us have had,” says Lee, who stands just shin-high to the Barosaurus. Elsewhere, live lizards and toads look you in the eye.

Some 3,600 objects are on view in the new 163,000-square-foot museum, which gleams in the city’s eastern foothills surrounded by native plants and wildlife. “It’s the real deal just outside our doors,” Lee says. “And on the inside you dig deeper to learn more about the natural world.” (801) 581-4303,

Photography courtesy of Stuart Ruckman/NHMU


This article was first published in January 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.