“Ho, ho, ho!” is now ho-hum. How do you get the family through the largely snow-free (translation: “bleak”) Piedmont winter? Where can you find a glimpse of still-distant spring?
Try Durham, specifically the Museum of Life + Science, at 433 W. Murray Ave. It’s a two-hour drive to where the family can enjoy “winter lite” and also bask in a heated glass pavilion filled with live butterflies.
The campus is an educational playland of more than 70 acres. There’s a downsized outdoor railroad, the Dinosaur Trail, a farmyard with live animals and other outdoor displays.
Through Jan. 19, the two-story main building is featuring “Frozen Over,” a winter-themed, kid-oriented indoor exhibit. Visitors can build snowmen out of white felt, go inside a mock igloo, toss “snowballs” at targets, explore patterns of snowflakes and skate in their socks across a synthetic ice rink. Activities at this seasonal pop-up exhibit are suitable for all ages; family play is encouraged.
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Ready for spring? Head over to the Magic Wings Butterfly House, a 35-foot-tall glass conservatory done up like a rainforest – the temperature is set at 80 degrees – and filled with hundreds of live and exotic butterflies, including many species from the South American tropics. You can see them emerging from their chrysalises and resting in trees and flying around you.
New butterflies are released daily, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Up for more interaction with animals? Go outside at 2 p.m. and walk down the boardwalk at Explore the Wild – a wetland habitat – where zoo keepers will show you black bears, red wolves and ring-tailed lemurs and explain how the critters are cared for. At 2:30 p.m. daily, you can watch keepers at the butterfly house’s Insectarium feed giant spiders, poison dart frogs and other hungry predators; at 3:30 p.m. any day but Thursday, keepers in the Farmyard will show you how they take care of the alpacas, pigs, donkey, goats and more.
Enjoy the museum’s other exhibits throughout the day; the facility also has a cafe and coffee bar.
General admission includes pretty much everything (20-minute train rides into the museum’s backwoods are $3.50 extra).