Under the Snow Exhibition

Under the Snow exhibition

When I entered the Under the Snow exhibition at the High Desert Museum on a busy weekend, I thought of one word: engaging. I watched young children dash from one part of the gallery to another, voicing their excitement the whole way. Adults paused and pointed out interesting facts and features. The interactivity of the displays drew everyone in. This exhibition, created by High Desert Museum staff members, displays information in English and Spanish.

Boy at High Desert Museum

Under the Snow presents information on twenty species of wildlife, plants, and fungi on large and small screens. They live in the area beneath the snow called the subnivium. The snow provides insulation, maintaining a steady temperature even when it’s below freezing outside.

The subnivean zone provides warm shelter for wildlife, a place to store their food, and a place to hide from predators. Animals create tunnels beneath the snow, linking them to areas where no snow falls, like beneath fallen trees.

When you step into the gallery, an animated snowy landscape covering a wall like a mural in motion catches your eye. Visitors can see the movements of creatures living both above and beneath the snow. Delicate animated snowflakes drift across the floor at your feet. You can wander through a “forest” of pillars wrapped in rough bark and draped with greenery.


At one station, visitors can touch a landscape to find out more about specific animals living there. Some animals featured, such as the Snowshoe Hare, blend into snowy environments by developing white coats in winter. Great Gray Owls use their sense of hearing to detect prey moving beneath the snow. Wildlife have adapted to the temporary habitat created by the snow.

Under the snow

Up close wildlife

Smaller animated screens feature individual animals in a burrow or nest cavity. These include a Great Gray Owl, a Snowshoe Hare, and a small rodent called a Pika. I saw kids giggling and grinning after touching the screens to make them move.


Snow accumulates over winter months in the High Desert. When snowfall melts, the runoff recharges groundwater reserves and increases the flow in streams and rivers.

However, if there is less snowfall, shorter winters or more extreme temperatures, flora and fauna suffer. Since the 1950s, snowpack in the Intermountain West has decreased by 20 percent. Warming temperatures could lead to an added loss of 50 percent.

Exhibit at High Desert Museum

These changes will have direct effects on wildlife. Temperature extremes will affect plant growth and health. Animals dependent on plants for food and shelter will experience hardships. A thinner layer of snow will provide less insulation from extreme temperatures for animals living in the subnivium. Wildlife species who turn white in winter, like Snowshoe Hare and Ermine, may change color too early in shorter winters, making them easy targets for predators.

What can you do to help?

  • When recreating in the snow, stay on the trails and out of closed areas.
  • Avoid interacting with wildlife at times of the year when they need their space to survive.
  • Support forest conservation efforts, such as leaving snags and clearings. Forests with varied structure have higher snow accumulations.
  • Act locally and think globally. Contact your elected representatives and remind them to fight climate change.
Under the snow

This article was written for the February 2023 issue of High Desert Voices, a newsletter created by volunteers at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon.

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