Are you indoors or out? That's the question you might ask when you enter the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, set in the heart of downtown Raleigh.


Yes, there are walls, floors, and other clues that say you're inside a building. But there are signs to the contrary too. Birds. Bugs. Big whales. The museum staff wants you to be overwhelmed by the fabulous diversity found in North Carolina's great outdoors. As the largest natural history museum in the Southeast, this one gives you four floors filled with dioramas simulating North Carolina from the mountains to the ocean.

"North Carolina's Natural Treasures" is a small gallery near the first-floor entrance. Here you meet plants found only in North Carolina as well as salamanders--the state is home to 58 species.

Stroll along a Carolina salt marsh and shoreline, then walk under a 65-foot skeleton of a blue whale. Watch the 17-minute movie Wilderness North Carolina in the auditorium. Make time for the gift shop too.

The second floor takes you to the heart of the museum, an elaborate two-story diorama representing Carolina from mountains to sea. A 20-foot waterfall tumbles into a trout-filled pool lined with trees and rocks and populated by turtles.

The third floor has our very favorite place, the "Terror of the South," set into a dramatic, three-story glass dome on one corner of the building. Lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, and the gaping dagger-toothed jaws of an Acrocanthosaurus lunge for their 50-foot-long dinner, a plant-eating sauropod. Meanwhile, three-winged pterosaurs circle ominously overhead.

Again, are you inside or out? Is it 110 million B.C. or A.D. 2001? If you catch yourself wondering, then Roy Campbell and the museum staff know they've accomplished a big part of their mission.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences:11 West Jones Street, Raleigh, NC 27601; (919) 733-7450 or

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: free.

This article is from the May 2001 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.