Museum of Natural History – Eugene

Museum of Natural History


After the morning routine of peeking one sleepy eye through the blinds hoping for the off chance that a few clouds have declined to take their part in the regular rainy day parade, and realizing that they are all there and accounted for, it is easy to just flop back on the pillow, pull the blanket up and settle into hibernation.

Two tossed, turned and utterly overslept hours later a hopeful eye pokes out again. The sun still has not appeared and the sky looks more threatening than it did earlier. You turn to the ceiling for answers, but after staring for a while you notice it has failed to deliver any enlightenment except the sound of rain hammering home it’s message… you better find some indoor activities today.

You pull yourself out of bed, drag a foot about 15 steps to the couch and flop down to begin an assessment of your daily priorities. The T.V. is staring at you from across the room. You sigh and turn to look at the water streaking down the window.

Listening to the chaos outside one might be very thankful they have a roof over their heads, a heater chugging away and a nice pair of boots in case they want to go sloshing out into society. They might also wonder how people survived in this rainy climate before the advent of rubber footwear and central heating. How did they keep their clothes dry? What did they wear for shoes? How did they keep their shelters from falling in the onslaught of a winter downpour? They certainly didn’t have a T.V. to keep their mind off the weather, but they did have many other things to keep them busy and many ways to ensure survival. The Museum of Natural History is a great place to find the answers, learn a thing or two and keep dry and entertained for the afternoon.

The museum is located on the east side of the University of Oregon campus and is something to behold. The building, constructed in 1987, is an exhibit in itself. Made entirely of native cedar wood and adorned with copper sculptures of northwest salmon, bear and raven, the structure reflects the local climate and environment. The landscape is beautiful, covered with native trees, flowers and bushes and guided by paved pathways to make the area pleasant and comfortable for all visitors. Seeing as on this hypothetical day it is raining however, the best sights are indoors.

Founded in 1936, The Museum of Natural History houses exhibits and displays artifacts found in the northwest region to help visitors and researchers get an idea of the lifestyles, culture, geography and geology that fashioned the area we know today. The museum is home the oldest pair of shoes in the world, found embedded under layers of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mt. Mazama 7,500 years ago. The eruption caused such a devastating impact it left behind what is now the deepest lake in America and one of Oregon’s most beautiful and treasured attractions, Crater Lake. The woven sandals, dramatically offset by a pair of Tevas, give viewers insight into the materials that were available and the techniques used to weave these and other articles of clothing along with tools like baskets and jugs.

An entire exhibit is devoted to looking at the structures built by different cultures in the many climates and areas of the country. For example, fishermen living in Alaska thousands of years ago could have had their homes wiped out by the constantly changing ocean tides and harsh climate. They adapted to the area by using their resources though, building their shelters on stilts made out of tall pieces of driftwood and covering their widows and doors with walrus and whale skins, which must of made their living room scent very lovely.

Looking at the models of these amazing structures a visitor might be enticed by the ancient lifestyles and cultures and wish for similar ease in their own lives. No honking cars blocking up the roads, no crashing computers that lose important work and especially no threat of nuclear war. Turning to leave the exhibit one then might notice the full remains of a saber-toothed cat and the enormous bones and tusks of a mammoth and mastodon looming up ahead and decide that they are quite happy with the trials and tribulations of the modern world.

The Museum of Natural History is full of cool stuff. A visitor can take a tree tour and get acquainted with the over 4,000 tree species on the campus alone and see how the University was landscaped over the past hundred years. Currently the museum is displaying a cartography exhibit, showing the many conceptions mapmakers developed when charting the unknown expanses of North America for the first time. A map from the early 1700s showing the northwest area as "Parts Unknown" and California as an island is particularly amusing and proves that the modern world isn’t as different as we imagine it to be.

There are many other interesting things to see at the museum, but I am not going to tell you about them because you are going to go yourself and that would ruin the fun. Stop in Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5:00 pm. Need more incentive? There’s a gift shop!

Museum of Natural History

  • Location: 1680 East 15th Avenue
  • Address: 1224 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403
  • Phone: (541)346-3024
  • Fax: (541)346-5334
  • Email:



If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.

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