Discovery Park of America

This attraction in Union City, Tennessee, is part science center, part natural history museum and part regional culture and art showplace

An architecturally stunning building you might expect in a big city stands out amid the soybean and cotton fields of Tennessee. It’s the focal point of Discovery Park of America, an attraction that is part science center, part natural history museum and part regional culture and art showplace. There’s even an earthquake-simulation demonstration and a 199-foot-tall tower with an observation deck at the 120-foot level.

Inside, 10 galleries offer plenty of  hands-on exhibits and experiences, along with a 20,000-gallon aquarium, Native American artifacts, military equipment, vintage automobiles (such as a 1916 Ford Model T and a NASCAR Chevy that Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove), a replica of the Wright brothers’ first airplane, dinosaur skeleton casts and real fossils. Genuine fossils on display include “Ian” and “Kimberly,” pleasant-sounding names for gigantic reptiles called mosasaurs that ruled the oceans millions of years ago.

Among Discovery Park’s coolest experiences is an earthquake demonstration that explains how a whole lot of shaking made the Mississippi River flow backwards in 1811 and 1812 to create Reelfoot Lake. (Located 22 miles away, Tennessee’s largest naturally formed lake is famous for eagle watching and great fishing.)

Large-scale attractions await visitors outside. One is a train depot modeled from two rural Tennessee stations. A steam locomotive, a coal tender and a caboose are displayed next to it. After exploring the depot and trains, check out The Settlement of almost a dozen pioneer log structures that includes a farmhouse, a smokehouse, a doctor’s cabin and a hog barn. The Children’s Discovery Garden features outdoor musical instruments — bells, chimes, metallophones and drums — just waiting to be played. 830 Everett Blvd., Union City, Tennessee 38261, 731/885-5455, discoveryparkofamerica.com