Have you ever been to a museum, theater, or a science fair? I imagine everyone’s been to at least one of those. What do you get when you mix all of those together? Well, you get the Discovery Park of America! Last Friday, my family and I took a day off to visit this $80 million dollar facility located in Union City, Tennessee, very near the Kentucky border. That’s quite a drive from our home in La Grange, Tennessee, over two hours actually. But once we got there, the long drive was worth it!
When we got there, we were actually an hour ahead of our schedule, meaning we had a bit of free time before the first event began. So first, we explored the main building of the park. Honestly, I don’t know what I expected it to look like, but it couldn’t have been as cool as it looked in real life! When we first entered the huge building, the first thing I noticed was the enormous shark mouth right in front of the door. I recognized the sharp, finger-long teeth to be those of a Megalodon instantly. We actually found one on our North Carolina vacation a couple of years ago and I’ve been fascinated with them since then! Although I have seen several of these huge sharks’ mouths over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how big they get!
The most popular attraction of the entire park was right behind the Megalodon teeth… it was a forty-eight foot metal statue, spanning the two uppermost floors of the Discovery Center. From atop the statue, you can see the lobby of the Center below, but that’s not all. Inside the statue’s head is a slide, that leads down the legs onto the second floor below! I have to tell you, being 14 years old, I don’t spend a ton of time on slides anymore, but this one was one really cool slide! My brother, Gage, took a video going down the slide. It was so much fun, I went down a second time and would have gone down again if we had enough time!!
Once inside, I spent my hour in various places around the building. I began my tour at the aquarium section, a small but immensely diverse part of the park. It was also, quite possibly, one of the most popular parts of the park. There were fish, turtles, snakes, you name it. Across the room was the earthquake simulator, the native american exhibit, and the civil war artifacts. One of our favorite displays was the WWII exhibit. From tanks, to heli’s, to uniforms, to mines, they had it all. We loved seeing the WWII exhibit but the best part was the helicopter (as you can tell from brother Gage’s smile in the picture). There, in the middle of the room, they had erected an actual helicopter. You could access the cargo hold, the cockpit, and other parts of the vehicle as well. We are in Civil Air Patrol and we all have a growing obsession with all things military and especially flight equipment!
After we had finished touring the WWII area, it was almost one o’clock, which was when the first event began. This event, which just happened to be the earthquake simulator mentioned earlier, was right next to the aquarium. Inside, was a widescreen TV, like a theater. But instead of chairs to sit in, there were rails. I continued to wonder how it worked right up until the movie began. Then, the floor began to vibrate and move around under my feet, as a clip of an earthquake began to play. Throughout the movie, I continued to feel the frequent rumbling, and the occasional spray of water as a wave crashed against the shore. That simulator was something else! I loved how the simulator made you feel like you were in the middle of the action, like you were the one experiencing the earthquake shown in the movie.
After we finished the earthquake simulator, we still had a bit of time to explore the rest of the park. Believe it or not, throughout the whole first part of our trip, I still hadn’t even visited the first floor! So now I took the time to enjoy all the exhibits on the first floor, a lot of which had something to do with natural history. I thoroughly enjoyed the rock and mineral exhibits! I’ve always had a fascination with geology, to the extent of filling up my bedroom with rocks and gems. As much as I would’ve wanted to have a few of these rocks on display in my room, I’m not sure they would fit! There were huge pieces of amethyst in one of the exhibits that were almost seven feet tall! There were numerous other exhibits on the ground floor as well, such as a library, an automobile exhibit, prehistoric creatures, and more. I had just finished visiting all of these when it came time to go to the next event, The Interactive Starship Theater.
The theater itself looked like just that, a theater with an enlarged screen. But once you get a closer look, you’ll notice that there are controls on the arms of the chairs. These controls are how the players interact with the simulator. Throughout the simulation, there are five separate tasks that have to be completed by either the Engineers, Scientists, or Passengers. Of the thirty people in the simulator, eight people were chosen to be pilots. Against all odds, somehow all of us (well my two brothers and I) got a chance to be pilots. Several of the tasks included studying the sun, repairing a probe, and exploring the rest of the galaxy. We spent almost an hour in the simulator, performing the various tasks required to complete the mission. Eventually, the mission was completed and we finished exploring the galaxy. After we finished the simulator, it was almost three o’clock.
That meant it was time for our final and possibly my favorite event, going to the top of The Tower.
The Tower juts twelve stories out of the roof above the central building, which is also known as the Discovery Center. We took the glass-walled elevator all the way to the top. I had an amazing view up there. I could see the whole park, a highway in the process of being made, and the landscape far beyond that. Almost just as impressive was the glass floor. It gives you a weird feeling, when there’s only three inches of glass separating you from safety and a long fall to the ground. But I really enjoyed it, going up there and getting to see so much of the land. I almost couldn’t leave when it was that time.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Discovery Park of America, it was an experience I won’t soon forget. I highly recommend you plan a trip to the Discovery Park of America! But try to make it a weekend visit! There was so much more to see and do that we didn’t have time to experience… Things like:
- a tree maze
- a grist mill
- a train depot
- a restored century-old chapel
- and even more!
Oh well, that gives me something to look forward to when we visit next time!