A recent visit to STRATACA: Kansas Underground Salt Museum continues to rattle around my brain. I’ve always been a lover of caves and caverns, but the salt mines beneath Hutchinson, Kansas are a different beast. It was an addendum to a very particular mission that turned out to have more impact than I expected. Now, looking back on it a few months later, it has me questioning what it means to be “worth your salt”.
About the Salt Mine
The area toured is an older area that is now dedicated to tours and storage. It is quite dry and the temperature, as with caves, tends to stay quite constant. In the depths, you’ll find everything from some very well preserved garbage from nearly one hundred years ago to Hollywood costumes. The perfectly preserved, cardboard boxes for dynamite used to mark some paths were pretty impressive given their age. You’ll have to take the tour yourself to learn more.
There is a definite pattern to the mine. It’s like a waffle iron with tunnels crisscrossing, leaving large columns of material in between, acting as supports. In places, the salt has moved, causing the floor to buckle. In one place we were shown, the crews went a bit too high on the ceiling resulting in a significant collapse. All in all, it is a curious, dry, and eerie atmosphere all created for one purpose: Salt.
Worth Your Salt
I’m not sure this saying is as popular as it was in the past, but I do hear it often. What does it mean? If you are “worth your salt”, you are good at your job. One of the first things we learn about the salt mine is that the salt is not food-grade material. It has too many impurities and is used for things like salting roads to help with icing. There are even areas where the salt has so many impurities, it isn’t worth the effort to bring to the surface.
Perhaps when we say someone is “worth their salt”, we should define what kind of salt we’re talking about?
Rambling to a Point
So why bring this up today? For one, it is an interesting stop. Should you be in the vicinity and enjoy a bit of history, it is worth the visit. More importantly, at least for me, is the realization that being worth your salt is relative. Not all salt is ready for the table. There is even salt that isn’t worth throwing on the roads. Yet, if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that salt is always worth something, even if it is just supporting the ceiling over the tunnels leading to other salt.