The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center is an awe inspiring, educational, and fun place for people of all ages to visit. Backed up to the beautiful Teton Mountains, the visitor center helps prepare guests for everything they will experience while visiting the natural beauty of the parks system. The 22,000-square foot discovery and visitor center opened in Moose, Wyoming in August 2007 after a multimillion dollar partnership with congress and multiple local arms of the national parks system.
It was designed using “green building” architectural techniques, with energy efficient windows, recycled materials, replanted vegetation native to the area that was saved during construction, and hydronic heating. It is open from March through November.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
Any stop at Craig Thomas should start primarily with the visitor center. Before even entering the building, guests are awed by the natural beauty that surrounds them. This includes the Teton Mountain range which is visible directly behind the visitor center. The face of the building was designed to face the mountain range as part of the center’s mission to both inspire and educate. The interior was engineered to be both inspiring and innovative, it is built with significant symbolism like the silhouette of the peaked roof that was designed to mimic the jagged mountain landscape, the symbolic winding Snake River throughout the center, and the floor to ceiling archways that represent the cultural history of the valley.
There are many different interactive and innovative exhibits designed to reach out to guests on a deeper level than many other visitor centers. These include high tech exhibits like the “video river,” as well as the more low-tech exhibits designed for children, all created to reach a wide variety of interests and age groups. The exhibits make use of a variety of interwoven themes while following that symbolic high tech “video river” - which is a series of clear video screens embedded in the floor that also are accompanied by a soundtrack. The river acts as a guide through the following themes.
Place - This theme discusses the formation of the mountain range (going back billions of years) and how things are still constantly in flux due to the fault line located underground. Watch the animated video, touch some of the ancient rocks, and view the diorama to learn about some of the many animals, plants, and environments located just outside the doors.
People - Going back over 11,000 years to the original occupants of the land (nomadic Indians), this theme explores the human story of the park through stories of the many different people who have lived on the land. It also makes use of a variety of life-sized human sculptures of those people - American Indians, explorers, fur trappers, etc.
Preservation - The final theme discusses the importance of preservation of the area and the history of how the park was created to further those goals.
The discovery and visitor center are an excellent place for field trips, as it gets students out of the classroom to learn about nature while actually experiencing it firsthand. Each field trip is led by park rangers who guide students through educational curriculum that is designed to fit in with state standards. They are offered free of charge but must be reserved ahead of time by calling or emailing the center. There are also seasonal programs, especially in the winter, that can include snowshoeing and snow related weather curriculum. Programs can be anywhere from an hour to four hours in length and are all adaptable to the grade level of the students attending. This is a great way for students to learn about local geology, history, and ecology in a hands-on way and is an incredibly effective way to engage them in learning to preserve this important part of local history. All students, teachers and adult chaperones are required to sign an educational waiver before entering the discovery and visitor center.
There is a small bookstore located at the visitor center for guests to peruse. All purchases made there will go right back into supporting the visitor center as well as the programs located all through the national park. The money is also used by the parks system to create new publications that help guests better understand the nature they see while visiting.
Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, 1 Teton Park Road, WY, 83012, Phone: 307-739-3300