Inside Discovery Guides: Why you should consider a museum tour with a concierge

by “Cretaceous” Chris Wells

The Houston Museum of Natural Science started small. Back in 1909, when the museum was founded, you could probably see everything we had to offer in 30 minutes. But since our opening, HMNS has been growing exponentially. These days, our main campus is the heart of an international network, bringing exhibits and lecturers from places like England, Egypt, Italy, and China. To see everything here would take at least two days, and that figure doesn’t even account for all there is to see at our Sugar Land campus or the George Observatory. Trying to decide what to do can be overwhelming for guests, but luckily, our staff has evolved alongside our institution.


Concierge Rigoberto Torres enjoys being the first to greet visitors to the museum, he said. “Once they come inside, we want to make sure their experience is good from the start.” Photo by Jason Schaefer.

The concierge service here at HMNS is like a mini travel agency whose services are free. All you have to do is walk up to the information desk, tell us what you’re interested in and listen to suggestions. It may seem like overkill, having staff just to explain what there is to see here, but consider this: our main campus covers four city blocks and contains 12 permanent exhibits and an ever-changing number of limited engagements visiting from all over the world. We also host a lecture series, adult education classes, multiple children’s education programs and much more. We have really interesting stuff, but it’s surprisingly easy to miss out.

Some visitors see the concierges standing at the information desk or sometimes patrolling the exhibits, and they don’t know what to think. Who are these people dressed in white shirts and black pants? They may look somewhat like used car salesmen, but they really aren’t here to sell anything. They’re here to help. Some members of the team have been with the museum for years, and they know the ins and outs of every department, so they can answer questions about membership, ticket sales, upcoming exhibits, you name it.


Concierge Rich Hutting explains to visitors Jullie Fugitt and Roy Hey why this Uintatherium might have looked so strange. She developed many different adaptations all at once. Photo by Jason Schaefer.

Some of the concierges, called Discovery Guides, offer tours of the exhibits. Every day, the Discovery Guides take groups through our two most popular exhibits, the Morian Hall of Paleontology and the Hall of Ancient Egypt. Each guide has spent countless hours studying the objects housed in our collections. The little plaques in the exhibits give interesting information, but the juicy details, the romance and intrigue, the struggle for life and limb… those you can only hear on the tours.


Corey Green explains illness in Ancient Egypt to a tour group of children. Egyptians used makeup to prevent flies from getting into their eyes, she said. Even men. Photo by Jason Schaefer.

Discovery Guides give interactive kid’s tours, too, where the children get to touch real fossils. On these special tours, the guides manage to explain what fossils are and where they come from without sounding like an audio version of paleontology textbook, so children and adults alike can walk away with a real understanding of the things in our exhibits.

The concierge team is blazing a trail toward providing better service to all who visit us at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Already, letters have come in calling us sweet and helpful, giving every guest the best experience possible. We are proud to offer a service not found in most other museums. A service that ensures there will be none of those awkward family photos where everybody looks tired and confused. Not when they’re at HMNS.

Editor’s Note: “Cretaceous” Chris Wells is a Discovery Guide at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Elixir – A History of Water and Humankind

Guest Blogger Brian Fagan, Ph.D., New York Times best-selling author of The Great Warming and Cro-Magnon comments on his career in archaeology and his interest in tracing ancient climate change, at his August 8 lecture at HMNS. Fagan also talks about his new book, Elixir.

I became an archaeologist almost by accident while at Cambridge University in England. By chance, I got a job working in a museum in Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia, and ended up spending seven years doing archaeological research in East and Central Africa. I was excavating ancient farming villages and helping write African history, which gave me a passion for sharing the past with the public.

Since coming to the United States in 1966, I’ve specialized in writing about archaeology for general audiences. This morphed into a long-term interest in ancient climate change and how it affected humanity. This has culminated in three books: The Great Warming, which describes climate changes 1,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon, about hunters in the Late Ice over 20,000 years ago, and my latest book, Elixir, a history of humans and water.

Elixir took me on a fascinating journey through 10,000 years of history—to Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia, to Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe, the world of the ancient Maya and the Arizona desert. I learned all about gravity, about brilliant Islamic water engineers, and the Inca of the Andes, who invested in water for eternity. Are these long forgotten efforts at water management relevant to our world. Most certainly they are and our journey ends in today’s world, where we face a quiet crisis of ever-scarcer water supplies.

Dr. Fagan will give a lecture entitled “Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind” on Monday, August 8 at 7 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Following the lecture he will be signing copies of his new book Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind and Cro-Magnon. Book signing by Brazos Book Store at HMNS.

Click here to purchase tickets.
Click here to read an author interview about Elixir.
More on Dr. Fagan
Check out Dr. Fagan’s appearence on the Daily Show, where he discusses  The Great Warming.

About Dr. Fagan
Brian Fagan was born in England and studied archaeology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was Keeper of Prehistory at the Livingstone Museum, Zambia, from 1959-1965. During six years in Zambia and one in East Africa, he was deeply involved in fieldwork on multidisciplinary African history and in monuments conservation. He came to the United States in 1966 and was Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from 1967 to 2004, when he became Emeritus.

Since coming to Santa Barbara, Brian has specialized in communicating archaeology to general audiences through lecturing, writing, and other media. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading archaeological and historical writers and is a widely respected popular lecturer about the past. His many books include three volumes for the National Geographic Society, including the bestselling Adventure of Archaeology. Other works include The Rape of the Nile, a classic history of archaeologists and tourists along the Nile, and four books on ancient climate change and human societies, Floods, Famines, and Emperors (on El Niños), The Little Ice Age, and The Long Summer, an account of warming and humanity since the Great Ice Age. His most recent climatic work describes the Medieval Warm Period: The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. His other books include Chaco Canyon: Archaeologists Explore the Lives of an Ancient Society and Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World and Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age gave birth to the First Modern Humans. His recently published Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind extends his climatic research to the most vital of all resources for humanity.

Brian has been sailing since he was eight years old and learned how to cruise in the English Channel and North Sea. He has sailed thousands of miles in European waters, across the Atlantic, and in the Pacific. He is author of the Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California, which has been a widely used set of sailing directions since 1979. An ardent bicyclist, he lives in Santa Barbara with his wife Lesley and daughter Ana.

When Fiction Becomes Reality [Steve Berry]

Some of the most compelling works of fiction rely heavily on reality (Jurassic Park, anyone?) New York Times best-selling authors James Rollins and Steve Berry are masters of weaving fact into fiction – and both will be at HMNS on Tuesday, Jan. 19 for An Evening of Thrills: How Science and History Make Great Thrillers.  They’ll each be signing their latest releases after the lecture; tickets are going fast – get yours here.  Last week, Rollins gave us a sneak peak in his own guest blog; this week Berry talks about the upcoming lecture.

Fiction into reality?   That’s a little backwards for me.   What I do is turn reality into fiction.  I like to find something from the past—the Amber Room, the lost Romanov children, Charlemagne, the tomb of Alexander the Great—items or artifacts you may not know much about (but, hopefully, would enjoy exploring), then weave a modern day tale around them.  The kind of stories I’ve always like to read have a mix of secrets, conspiracies, history, action, adventure and international settings.  So it was only natural that I would write that same kind of story.

Every novel for me starts as a treasure hunt.  I’m searching for bits of reality that somehow can be woven together into a coherent plot.

And it’s not easy.


In fact, the challenge is to find the most unrelated stuff as possible, then relate them  through a twist of the facts.  While doing this, I have to always keep in mind that I’m not writing a textbook, it’s a novel, whose primary job is to entertain.  But that doesn’t mean the reader can’t learn some stuff along the way.  I enjoy that aspect, and I’ve come to learn that my readers do too.  I’m careful, though, with my twisting, and I make sure the reader knows where I played with the facts by including a writer’s note at the end of each of my books.

In Houston, on January 19th, Jim Rollins and I will be discussing all of this.   Jim’s books are a little history and lot of science, mine are the other way around.  But we both definitely like to tinker with reality.  For me, every book involves around 200 -300 sources obtained from many trips to bookstores; lots of internet browsing; and at least one visit to a locale important to the book.   I have, for days, sat in a German Cathedral (The Charlemagne Pursuit); roamed an abbey in Portugal (The Alexandria Link);  scoured Paris (The Paris Vendetta); climbed citadels in southern France (The Templar Legacy); boated all over Venice (The Venetian Betrayal); and wandered through the Kremlin (The Romanov Prophecy).

But that’s all part of the job.

So drop by January 19th to the museum at 6:30 and spend an evening with me and Jim Rollins.  Have your questions ready.  See you then.

An Evening of Thrills: How Science and History Make Great Thrillers will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 pm. Both authors will sign copies of their latest works after the lecture; copies will be available for purchase from Murder by the Book. Tickets are available here.