Our first impression of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History was a good one: it was cool in there! Also the stuffed elephant they have standing proudly in the lobby is very impressive. The bag inspection at the door felt a little less good—we could wish the checkers could have shown a little more patience and kindness, but then I understand that they're dealing with a lot, so I can give them a pass.
On a Sunday afternoon the place was a little crowded, which explains our error of doing everything backwards: just inside the door we headed straight for the closest cool thing we saw, some giant fossil animals. But it turns out they were mammal fossils, and as we proceeded through the exhibit we passed into dinosaurs, then eventually to the origins of life. The boys enjoyed some very well-made film presentations, and the big skeletons were interspersed with small, but very detailed, dioramas showing the animals as they looked with skin, which we appreciated.
We also went backwards on the second floor. As soon as we got up the stairs I rushed us over to look at the Hope Diamond, then we moved on to a few rooms of cut gems alongside the minerals they're made from. Through the other side of that we entered a wonderful space made to look like the inside of a mine—it was so realistic it was hard to believe we weren't deep in the bowels of the earth. Then the next section was on volcanism and plate tectonics. The Hope Diamond is actually kind of underwhelming—though I did enjoy learning about its history—but the other gems were very arresting. So was the world's largest flawless crystal sphere.
There was tons more that we would have loved to see—we were there for three hours and could easily have enjoyed a visit twice as long. As it was we were trying to leave for maybe fifteen minutes, but kept getting distracted by "one more thing!" Maybe we'll go back some day. How about in ten years?