High on the list of things to see and do in Saltillo is the Desert Museum. While Saltillo has an impressive number of tiny, free museums downtown, the Desert Museum is pretty comprehensive and well worth its reputation. In less than 4 hours, it gives the average visitor a reasonable understanding of this region.
Furthermore, there´s a little something for everyone. Which is good to keep in mind, as the first room, where they explain in painstaking detail what exactly constitutes a desert, is about as dry as a Mexican sugar cookie. (That means it´s pretty dry.)
But hang in there, because it gets much better. Saltillo is the capital of the state of Coahuila. Coahuila´s current license plates boast a ferocious T-Rex, because there have been some pretty serious paleontological digs just about an hour away from Saltillo, and throughout the rest of the state. Again, one of the beauties of the desert is that it preserves dinosaur remains.
The Dinosaur Hall at the Desert Museum is a sight. Visitors first view the life-size dinosaur skeletons from above, and then, after learning a bit more about the Jurassic age and whatnot, visitors amble among the dinosaur bones. Yes, some are replicas, but some are the real deal, and from this very state.
After the dinosaurs, there is a nod to Coahuila´s mining industry. The state´s current slogan, “Coahuila tiene energia” has little to do with Coahuila´s limitless potential for wind and solar power. No, it´s a boast about our coal mines. Which tend to entomb a number of miners every year.
The next few rooms are dedicated to the human presence in Coahuila, from a 10,000-year-old well-preserved footprint to the twenty-first century. As in any Mexican museum´s race through history, the focal points are the native Indians who lived in the area and how they used the land, the culture clash when the Spanish moved in, and the blending of both cultures in the current, mestizo Mexico.
Passing a small art gallery, the Desert Museum shows off Coahuila´s native animals, all preserved in taxidermied glory. I enjoy noting how they´ve captured animals in the middle of a hunt, posed forever mid-leap. However, my children are terrified of this room, so the last few years we´ve been running through here as quickly as possible. Also, it appears that a hunter who frequented African safaris donated much of his collection to the museum. There is a nice spot for photo ops with a stuffed lion, giraffe, and crocodile–despite the fact that such animals have never set foot in Coahuila.
Moving on from the dead animals, the Desert Museum mercifully has a small collection of live animals. Because, really–could one have a credible Desert Museum without a collection of 20 snakes? No, I don´t think so. Since this is an excellent museum, visitors familiarize themselves with a variety of snakes, learning which are poisonous, and which are not; which might live nearby, and which are safely tucked away in Asia.
But if snakes give you the willies, close your eyes, run through the hall, and take a few deep breaths by the turtle lagoon. That room is really a chance to showcase Coahuila´s native plants. The turtles make the display more interesting.
Outside, more animals await. First, the prairie dogs scurry about their colony. However, they tend to avoid the heat of the day, so you´re only likely to see them early in the morning or later in the evening–unless your midday visit is in January, of course. The museum also has two black bears, who were cubs rescued from forest fires in Arteaga four years ago. The cactus nursery is the place to get souvenirs, provided the cactus won´t be leaving the country. Finally, mountain goats bid visitors adios.
For smaller visitors to the museum, there´s an interactive fountain with water near the bear enclosure. Kids can climb on it, open and close gates on the fountain, channeling the water down various paths. On hot days, another patio pours water on visitors in the style of a desert storm. (So beware, unsuspecting adults! If you hear thunder, run for cover.) Furthermore, a museum tour can take the better part of the day, so there is a restaurant with a limited menu, for those who need it. Or want it.
For those with limited time in this area, I recommend the Desert Museum. It´s more or less a three-hour whirlwind tour of the region. And for those who have years here at their disposal, for pity´s sake–visit the Desert Museum at least once!
If you´re like me, you´ll come back for more.