ONE of the last things a motorist expects to find along a...

salmagundi

February 16, 1993

ONE of the last things a motorist expects to find along a rural interstate highway is a gem of a museum. There's one on the new I-68, the vastly improved replacement of U.S. 40 west from Hancock into West Virginia, formally opened in August, 1991. It may not be worth a 90-minute drive from Baltimore just to visit it, but it is surely worth a stop or a detour if you are in the vicinity.

The Sideling Hill Exhibit Center is on the westbound side of the highway (but accessible from the eastbound lanes), 6 miles west of Hancock. Its premier exhibit is the hill itself, or rather a 360-foot-deep cut into it that reveals a spectacular geologic feature known as a syncline. Produced by the collision of two continents 230 million years ago, the multi-colored, U-shaped layers of rock reveal the outer strata of our planet.

Alongside the cut, visible from the highway but better viewed from a pedestrian bridge across it, is the exhibit center itself. Operated by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, it contains exhibits explaining how the layers of rock were deposited or created by natural forces during the geologic ages and diagramming the adjoining syncline. An animated film strip describes the clash of the continents that wrinkled the earth, forming the mountains that pushed 350-million-year-old rock near the surface.

Lining the walls of the three-story center are stuffed examples of Western Maryland wildlife -- from a black bear to a fox squirrel. Well-written, informative panels describe their habits and habitats.

By spring, state officials expect, 1 million people will have visited the center. It's open every day of the year except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, till 6 p.m. in the three summer months and till 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Don't go on a foggy day -- the cut itself can be blanketed from view.

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