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New Mexico’s magical history tour

The Wonder on Wheels mobile museum is a retrofitted 38-foot RV featuring 300 square feet of exhibit and curriculum-based programming. (Source: New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

There’s a lot of land to cover to get through New Mexico’s 33 counties.

Yet, the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs Wonders on Wheels mobile museum accomplished the feat in 2017.

The mobile museum featured paleontological resources from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in a traveling exhibit called “Dinosaurs of New Mexico.”

And 17,430 New Mexicans took part in it over a seven-month period.

“We were the first,” says Margaret Marino, director of the NMMNHS. “(The DCA) felt the dinosaurs would be a nice way to start the program. We had staff help with development of the design and structure of the space and how other museums would use this space.”

Marino says the traveling exhibit helped children learn how fossils were formed, what paleontologists do, what dinosaurs ate, how they lived, and their habitat.

“We tried to pick things that kids would know about,” Marino says. “Dinosaur skulls, the vertebrae. Things that would capture the attention and then lead to the asking of questions.”

Curriculum was developed by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science for the traveling exhibit. (Source: New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs)

Marino presented the information during a NMMNHS executive board meeting in November where the board was impressed with the work that was put in.

“It’s such an amazing thing to get this out to the rural communities,” Marino says. “We are talking about small communities that never really have access to museums. It helps enrich the lives of the students. That’s been the focus.”

Marino says three educators traveled with the WoW exhibit. All of the information given was in line with state educational standards and taught at a fourth- or fifth-grade level.

“What we wanted to do was capture the imagination of the visitors,” she says. “We are the only natural history museum in New Mexico. The museum always strives to be a statewide institution. We currently have some collections in Carlsbad and those will be going up to Farmington.”

In fact, during the inaugural run, the mobile exhibit visited 40 schools, 27 libraries, four tribal schools, eight tribal libraries, three tribal youth centers, and participated in two tribal events and seven other events.

The tour started in Hobbs in Lea County on April 17 and the run ended in Santa Fe on Nov. 25 at the New Mexico Museum of Art centennial celebration.

WoW logged just under 500 hours – 498.5 to be exact – serving school students and adults in rural parts of the state without access to museums.

During the eight months of traveling, 13,144 children and 4.286 adults toured the “Dinosaurs of New Mexico” exhibit.

The WoW is a specially retrofitted 38-foot RV featuring 300 square feet of exhibit and curriculum-based programming.

Under the program, the WoW brings specific exhibits curated from one of DCA’s eight state-run museums to public schools and libraries in communities throughout New Mexico.

This year, WoW’s featured exhibit is from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.

It will present a unique look at the 24 Native American tribal communities of New Mexico, told through the eyes of Pueblo, Apache and Navajo children.

The upcoming exhibit was guest curated by Dr. Jessie Ryker-Crawford (Ojibway) and Dr. Shelley Valdez (Laguna Pueblo), president of Native Pathways, a nonprofit educational company.

The program is supported by the J.F. Maddox Foundation, the SP and Estelle Yates Family Foundation, The Chase Foundation, and the New Mexico Public Education Foundation.

Staff members worked on putting together the “Dinosaurs of New Mexico” exhibit, which traveled the state in the Wonder on Wheels mobile museum. (Source: New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs)

Marino is happy with the results of last year’s inaugural tour.

“It turned out beautiful,” she says. “The communities had a chance to experience it. And they didn’t have to pay for anything. It’s taken a great deal of support to get it off the ground. It’s been great to see students get the opportunity to spend an afternoon learning about what the museum offers.”

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