At 4,973 feet, Black Mesa is Oklahoma's highest, driest and coolest point, featuring plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the state, said Peter Tirrell, the museum's associate director.
The 2,000-square-foot diorama is the first to be installed in the museum's Hall of Natural Wonders that deals with ecosystems in the western part of the state.
“Black Mesa is a well-known, dramatic area with spectacular scenery,” Tirrell said.
The diorama is designed to reflect the scenery with an enclosed display area that includes a naturalistic walkway where museum visitors pass under large cottonwood trees through a shortgrass prairie habitat alongside a stream.
The exhibit features dozens of mounted and cast animals, including mule deer, pronghorn antelope, a mountain lion, prairie dogs, jack rabbits and a badger, along with many species of birds, including eagles and vultures.
Visitors will get an underground look at a prairie dog burrow, view a cross-section of a seasonal lake and learn about the interactions among animals that live in this environment.
A design team with Chase Studio, a professional exhibit fabrication company based in Missouri, has spent most of the past two weeks building the exhibit on site.
Chase Studio, which has designed exhibits for more than 250 museums and nature centers around the world, also constructed the Paleozoic gallery in the museum's Hall of Ancient Life, as well as other nature dioramas in the museum's Hall of Natural Wonders.
The Black Mesa exhibit is one of the most interactive of the museum's exhibits, Tirrell said.
Touch-screen computers allow visitors to test their knowledge, answer questions and dig deeper for more information. The computer interactives include recordings of bird songs and frog calls, photos of animals and habitats, and maps of where species are found.
Other exhibits in the Hall of Natural Wonders include the mixed-grass prairie, the oak-hickory forest, a walk-through limestone cave and an Ozark mountain stream.
“When I originally envisioned the gallery, I saw a single place where people could instantly experience the wealth of nature in Oklahoma,” museum Director Michael Mares said. “With the completion of the Black Mesa exhibit, the vision is complete.”
The Black Mesa exhibit is funded by Whitten-Newman Foundation. Opening day Saturday will be celebrated with free admission, also provided by Whitten-Newman Foundation. The museum, 2401 Chautauqua Ave. in Norman, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.