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NMSU Zuhl Museum reopens for visitors Feb. 18

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For folks who have missed seeing the wonder of ancient fossilized creatures, the glimmer of giant geodes filled with amethyst or other dazzling minerals amid a forest of polished 280-million-year-old petrified wood, it’s time for a visit to New Mexico State University.

The Zuhl Museum at NMSU will reopen its doors for visitors between 12 and 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18 after being closed to the public since the beginning of the pandemic. The museum then will resume regular hours from 12 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and every second Saturday of the month.

The Zuhl Collection includes more than 1,800 fossils, minerals and petrified wood donated to the university by Herb and Joan Zuhl in 2000.

COVID-19-safe procedures will be in place for the safety of the public and staff. All visitors more than 2 years old must be masked at all times and are expected to follow onsite signage and guidance from the staff.

“We promise it is worth the wait,” said Tiffany Santos, the collection’s director. “We took this time to do some major renovations to the exhibits. If you have visited us in the past, the museum has become a whole new experience.

“The History of Life Gallery and the Wow Gallery both received major upgrades, and new pieces are on display, including ‘Sid’ the giant ground sloth, ‘Archie’ the only known fully restored skeleton of Archeria crassidisca in the world, and ‘Beulah’s Gate,’ a gorgeous Arizona-petrified wood board cut slab that includes amethyst geodes and a spectacular knot with brilliant rainbow colors. It is the last specimen purchased by Herbert Zuhl for the collection.”

Wood becomes petrified when it is buried quickly near a water source with no access to oxygen, then minerals form in the empty spaces to harden to rock, preserving the wood. The Zuhls viewed collecting and polishing the petrified wood as an art.

“We have the largest and finest collection of petrified wood on display not only in the country, but in the world as well,” Santos said.

The Zuhl Collection was initially housed in the Zuhl Library until the museum was established. The museum, whose construction was funded entirely by the Zuhls, was founded 17 years ago in a building that had formerly housed the NMSU Police Department. The Zuhls provided $600,000 to fund the expansion of the Zuhl Museum in 2017 to create a space to house and display more of the collection. A $200,000 gift establishing the Zuhl Museum Curators Fund supports a curator to build on the museum’s outreach and education efforts and maintain the collection.

Herb Zuhl died last year at age 98. Joan Zuhl died in 2016 at age 90. The Zuhls planned their permanent collection to be used for education and research for generations to come.

Prior to the pandemic, the Zuhl Museum attracted as many as 4,000 visitors in a year. Santos looks forward to seeing tour groups and student field trips return to the museum.