If you’ve got children, chances are reasonably good you’ve got a few dinosaur fans. That’s been helped in no small part by movies such as Jurassic World, Jurassic Park, and now The Good Dinosaur. Contributing writer Margot Black found some experiences and destinations that can help you and your kids dig deeper into dinosaurs.
Looking for a collection as majestic as the animals you’re searching for? The Smithsonian boasts one of the largest dinosaur displays in the country, with millions of fossils in its collection. The Last American Dinosaurs exhibit highlights life 66 million years ago in one of the most exciting and expansive displays curated anywhere in the world today.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles new Dinosaur Hall is one of the most extraordinary dinosaur exhibits in the world, and a premier dinosaur experience in the western United States. Inside are more than 300 real fossils, and 20 complete dinosaurs and ancient sea creatures. The Dinosaur Hall doesn’t just have fossils; the exhibition is also packed with multimedia stations where you can “excavate” specimens and watch never-before-seen footage of a real dinosaur hunting expedition.
Utah is famous for its dinosaur fossils, and the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum houses an extensive collection of fossils from many sites, along with impressive full-size replicas of prehistoric animals. The Field House is a great mix of education, experience, and fun. Many exhibits are hands-on, making it a great place to wander and enjoy. The garden includes a 20-foot Tyrannosaurus with six-inch, knife-like teeth, a horned Triceratops, six-ton Stegosaurus, winged Pteranodon, and other full-size prehistoric animal replicas.
In the region east of the Rockies, this state is home to the Montana Dinosaur Trail with 15 separate museums and field stations that help families explore the wealth of prehistoric artifacts found in the Great Plains. From nearly complete dinosaurs to the tiniest of plants, the fossils in The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum are known for both their beauty and scientific impact as well. There are adult and junior field programs called Dino Digs. Be careful to note open times. At publication time this museum is closed for winter.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center is located in Thermopolis, Wyoming and is one of the few dinosaur museums in the world to have its own excavation site within driving distance. The Museum has more than 30 mounted dinosaurs, a modern preparation laboratory, and hundreds of displays and dioramas. Weather permitting, the dig sites offer a rare opportunity to see an actual excavation.
These 130 full-sized metal artworks range from prehistoric mammals to historical characters and a 350-foot-long serpent that appears out of the ground. The sculptures were created when the late Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates, in Borrego Springs, envisioned the idea of adding free standing art to his property. The original steel-welded sculptures were created by Perris Jurassic Park owner/artist/welder Ricardo Breceda. Camels protect their young, elephants graze, and dinosaurs “run” through the desert dust. By driving, you will also see artworks of wild horses, saber tooth tigers, and desert tortoises—and all appear to be moving.
The American Museum of Natural History in New York City currently houses one of the greatest dinosaur fossil collections in the world. Founded in 1869, attractions include their Tyrannosaurus Rex exhibit where you can gaze upon its four-foot-long jaw, six-inch-long teeth and its massive thigh bones. The Glen Rose Trackway is a 107-million-year-old series of fossilized dinosaur footprints, which have been excavated from the bed of the Paluxy River in Texas. The museum also houses a dinosaur mummy, which is a fossilized imprint of the carcass of a duck-billed dinosaur. It’s one of the most complete pieces of Mesozoic dinosaur remains ever found, with this fossil representing one of the greatest discoveries in the history of paleontology.
The Field Museum in Chicago was founded in 1893 as the Columbian Museum of Chicago, and since then has spent more than a century in the pursuit of scientific knowledge about the world around us. Their star turn and selfie must-have is SUE, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever unearthed. SUE measures 42 feet long from snout to tail and 13 feet tall at the hip. She boasts 58 dagger-like teeth and a 600 pound skull. Visitors can also watch Waking The T Rex: The Story of SUE, a 3D movie, which explains how the world’s greatest predator was found in South Dakota. Their Evolving Planet exhibit takes visitors through four billion years of life on Earth, and in the summer they offer a two-day camp for young dino enthusiasts.
If you want to experience a fossil dig and paleontology first hand, check out the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in north central Montana. Established 20 years ago, the center organizes public dig programs, volunteer programs, and seminars. The Two Medicine Dinosaur Center also houses a wide variety of dinosaurs, invertebrate, and plant fossils, as well as cultural artifacts. The research collections include new species of dinosaurs and other prehistoric life. On permanent display in Bynum are some of Montana’s rarest fossil discoveries, including the first infant Maiasaura bones from the nearby Egg Mountain. You can book half or full day digs where you can learn fossil identification, surface mapping, and field search.
While this may not be the most scientific exploration, it’s a great family-friendly way to experience dinosaur-themed thrills and spills year round. Based on the original Jurassic Park movie, you can get up close to dinosaurs knowing that a hot dog and fountain Diet Coke are never too far away. Highlights include a 50-foot tall T-Rex, an 84-foot plunge to safety in a water raft, and a scary encounter with a 9-foot tall Velociraptor—not to mention plenty of dinosaur-related merchandise you can take home.
Usually the only dinosaurs you find in Las Vegas are sitting at the craps table, but if you head to the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, you can see something infinitely more interesting. It houses a 35-foot long Tyrannosaurus Rex that lowers its head and roars, as well as a Triceratops, Ankylosaur, and an impressive Ichthyosaur, a gigantic marine reptile that swam in the waters of prehistoric Nevada. They also have the amusingly-titled “Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation” exhibit, which unlocks the secrets of the world’s most preserved dinosaur in the flesh, the Dinosaur Mummy Leonardo. This 23-foot-long plant eater from the late Cretaceous period was naturally mummified before it was turned into a fossil.
Dinosaurs Alive is located in the largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest. The world’s biggest animatronic dinosaur park has more than 65 life-sized dinosaurs spread across 12 acres. From the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex to the soaring Pteranodon to the magnificent Mamenchisaurus, there are plenty of life-sized dinosaurs you can check out, including several you can control. Each of the full-sized dinosaurs is hand-carved and covered with skin-like materials, which makes them look very realistic.
For more family travel tips and destinations from Margot Black, check out:
- Exotic Family Experiences on a Budget
- Tips for Getting Your Kids Outside
- What Your Dollar Buys on Travel Booking Sites
By Margot Black for PeterGreenberg.com