Museum shows highlight of Freedom Days events

Mike Easterling
The exhibition "Wolves and Wildlands in the 21st Century" will open Sunday, July 3 at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park as part of the city's 30th annual Freedom Days celebration.

FARMINGTON — While Fourth of July celebrations typically bring to mind images of flashy outdoor activities, one of the highlights of the city’s 30th annual Freedom Days celebration this year will be the opening of two new exhibitions at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

Coinciding with the annual Family Freedomfest at the museum on Sunday, July 3 will be the opening of “Wolves and Wildlands in the 21st Century” and “Peregrine Falcons: From Endangered Species to Urban Bird.” Both exhibitions were organized by the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota and have been touring throughout the country.

“We have brought these two exhibitions together under one title we’re calling ‘Predators,’” said Jeffrey Richardson, the museum’s curator. “We haven’t intermingled the stories, but it is a chance to talk about wildlife in the 21st century.”

Richardson said the wolves exhibition is designed not only to help humans understand wolves, but also to focus on wolf-human interaction. He said it explores the role of the wolf in the ecosystem and the balancing act required when the two species meet.

The show features five samples of real wolves, each mounted and stuffed through the taxidermy process. The wolves are of different species that come from a particular part of the country — Arctic, Mexican, Red, Rocky Mountain and Great Plains. A mounted and stuffed coyote is also part of the collection.

Richardson said the exhibition is rounded out by text panels, graphics and photographs, but the real star of the show is the stuffed wolves themselves. When museum personnel began unpacking the show last week, he said they couldn’t help but be wowed by the animals, even in their unanimated state.

“It’s quite spectacular,” he said. “To see them in the wild is one thing, but to see them up close is quite another. … It’s quite striking. They’re a beautiful animal, and I think it’s going to help people appreciate them by getting to see them so close.”

"Peregrine Falcon: From Endangered Species to Urban Bird" opens a four-month run at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park this weekend.

The falcon exhibition is even larger, Richardson said, and focuses on an animal that is the fastest in North America, perhaps even the world. He said the bird was brought to the brink of extinction by human activity and use of the pesticide DDT, but peregrine falcons survived and now thrive — not just in wilderness areas, but in urban centers.

“This exhibition is a little bit more thematic in nature,” Richardson said. “It focuses on peregrine falcons in history, wildlife photography and art, along with the decline of the falcon.”

The exhibition relates the tale of so-called “celebrity” falcons, or birds that have become a fixture in urban settings and achieved a degree of fame as a result. It features additional falcon art and artifacts, as well as nesting games for children.

Richardson acknowledged that the twin exhibitions will be a bit of a departure for museum visitors who are more used to seeing art shows, but he thinks they’re still a good fit for the facility.

“One of the unique things about the Farmington Museum is that a lot of the exhibitions try to be very eclectic,” he said, noting that part of the facility’s mission is to generate excitement in the community.

The “Predators” shows are something that might typically be found in a natural history museum, but Richardson believes local patrons will react enthusiastically to the chance to see two such elusive and noteworthy species up close.

“Here in Farmington, where we have the backdrop of the Animas River and a good portion of people live lives devoted to being outside, these are two perfect examples of what happens with human-animal relationships,” he said.

“Predators” will remain on display through Oct. 29.

Later this summer, the museum will open another exhibition that complements the “Predators” exhibitions well, Richardson said, referring to the “Coyote Tales” show featuring the wildlife photography of New Mexico’s Ann McMahon. That exhibition will consist of 20 pieces printed on canvas. It opens Aug. 22.

Landyn Torres watches fireworks with his friends and family July 4, 2015, at San Juan College in Farmington.

The “Predators” exhibitions are traveling shows, which means there were considerable costs involved in bringing them here, Richardson said. For that reason, there will be an admission charge of $5 for adults and $3 for children to see them.

“Because we do so many free exhibitions, we realize some people may be reluctant to pay for one,” Richardson said. “We don’t take that lightly. But we are obligated to charge when there is a significant charge to bring a show here.”

Museum officials will have a children’s drawing station and a mounted and stuffed falcon positioned in the museum lobby as a bit of a preview for what the “Predators” exhibitions have to offer, he said.

“We want people to understand they are getting two really fantastic shows for a very, very small fee,” Richardson said.

Kourtney Beyale, center, competes in an ice cream eating contest on July 3, 2015, at the Family Freedomfest at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.

The museum is normally closed on Sundays, but it will be open all day on July 3 to mark the opening of “Predators” and perhaps draw visitors from the Family Freedomfest taking place on the museum grounds from 5 to 8:30 p.m.

That annual event features an ice cream eating contest, and music by San Juan College’s Company, the Delbert Anderson Trio and the Kissmah Brass Band. The day’s activities conclude with a fireworks display at 9:25 p.m. that originates on Sullivan Hill.

Those events are only part of the Freedom Days celebration, which stretches across five days this year. It begins on Thursday, June 30 with a production of the musical comedy “The Addams Family” at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater and continues for the next four days with dozens of attractions.

The annual Gem & Mineral Show presented by the San Juan County Gem and Mineral Society at the Farmington Civic Center is one of the top draws, according to Tonya Stinson, executive director of the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, which organizes Freedom Days. She said it attracts thousands of visitors from around the region. The show begins Friday, July 1 and continues through Sunday, July 3.

Isaac Nargo, 5, enjoys a carnival ride at the Freedom Days Party in the Park on July 4, 2013, at Brookside Park in Farmington.

Another perennial Freedom Days favorite is the Party in the Park, which will be take place from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Monday, July 4 at Brookside Park. In addition to food, entertainment, vendors, a petting zoo, live music and games, it will offer a skateboard competition at 11 a.m., a water balloon fight at 2 p.m. and a pizza-eating contest at 3 p.m.

Freedom Days activities will conclude with the Freedom Days Electric Light Parade at 9 p.m. that day on Main Street downtown. Entries for the parade will be accepted until 5 p.m. Thursday, June 30. Entry forms can be downloaded at and returned to the Farmington Chamber of Commerce. A complete Freedom Days schedule also can be found there.

Stinson said the July 3 fireworks display is expected to be a little larger than normal this year to commemorate Freedom Days’ 30th anniversary.

Everyone seems to have their favorite Freedom Days event, Stinson said, but all of them are designed to be family friendly and cost little or no money to attend. She said Freedom Days was envisioned by local merchants three decades ago as a reason to keep people in town over the long holiday weekend, and while no marketing surveys have been conducted to determine how successful it has been in meeting that goal, Stinson thinks it certainly passes the eye test.

Participants march down Main Street July 4, 2015, during the Freedom Days Electric Light Parade in Farmington.

She said the parade alone never fails to draw a big crowd, and she was particularly impressed last year when a monsoon downpour threatened to ruin the event. To her surprise, she said, the sidewalks of downtown filled up with people just minutes before the parade was scheduled to start, and the rain hardly dampened their spirits.

“People stepped out from wherever they were hiding,” she said. “It rained on the third and the fourth last year, but we still managed to get things done.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.