Ok, so we can pretty much all agree that a real-life Jurassic Park is a bad idea. Even if it's on an island. But, just because real, live, man-eating dinosaurs are a bad idea doesn't mean we can't experience what it might feel like to walk among prehistoric beasts. Dinosaur parks are popular attractions that have their roots in the roadside kitsch of the 1950s, although the first was London's Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, built in 1854. Basically, even since the discovery of dinosaur species, humanity has been intrigued by what we know about them. Part of the fun of visiting dinosaur parks is seeing various artists' interpretations of dinos since we really do know very little about them. Here are some dinosaur parks that will take you way back in time!
Ossineke, Michigan is home to the 25-acre Dinosaur Gardens, which offers a fun trip to prehistory. Guided tours take you around the lush swamp in a van or wagon, and past the 26 exhibits, including the brontosaurus you can go inside, and the pteranodon nest. Probably the coolest history here, though, is the fact that many of the dinos on display were built between the 1930s and 1960s, using a mysterious, durable-yet-moldable material the creator called "cement plastic". Not only are the dinosaurs being refinished, but the attraction also now features gemstone mining, mini golf, and a frozen yogurt bar.
Hidden within the primordial forest of Dinosaur Land are, of course, giant fiberglass dinosaurs... and King Kong is in there too somewhere, just 'cuz. This 60's-era roadside stop features all of your favorite dinosaurs, including stegosauruses, Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Triceratopses, Apatosauruses, and more. There are about 50 giant statues here, all ripe for weird photo ops. There's some nice info on the dinos here as well, and it's a great little stop for a picnic and to stretch your legs while on the road.
Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida actually features animatronic dinos that move! Encounter a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Stegosaurus, a Pterodactyl, and a Triceratops. A fossil dig, gemstone mining, talks with real paleontologists, plus a fossil museum featuring remains that can be found across Florida round out the experience. You'll get to see oddities like trilobites and an Allosaurus foot claw!
This Dinosaur World is the Kentucky location of the one from Florida, conveniently located right near Mammoth Cave National Park. They also have a massive gift shop with tons of dinosaur-themed goodies and loads of educational material as well... and, of course, geodes, gems, and other odds and ends.
For a totally different take on dinosaurs, check out Kentucky's Creation Museum. The exhibits here take the viewpoint that everything in the Bible is the literal truth (as opposed to other Christians, who view the Bible as allegorical.) Whether or not you agree with Creationist beliefs, they do have a great display of dinosaurs (which they believe co-existed with humans). Keep in mind that some of the facts presented here conflict with what most scientists believe, but if you're just in search of some cool dinos (and an awesome Allosaurus skeleton), a visit here can be interesting and quite fun.
The George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden features over 100 dinosaur replicas, animatronic figures, fossils, bones, and more. Dinos that are native to Utah are prominently featured here, which is pretty unique, since the Beehive State has produced tons of prehistoric artifacts. There's a playground near some dinos outside, and more dinos inside the museum. This one is especially engaging for kids, with tons of hands-on and interactive exhibits and things for them to do.
The Cabazon Dinosaurs. Where did they come from? Why are they there? How did they survive the giant meteor that hit Earth roughly 65.5 million years ago?
Like so many roadside icons, the Cabazon Dinosaurs were built to attract people to stop at a restaurant-- the Wheel Inn Cafe (the eatery may now be closed, but the dinosaurs live on!) The restaurant's owner, Claude Bell, happened to be a well-respected sculptor who had done work for Knotts Berry Farm and the like, so in the 60's, he decided that putting up a few monstrous dino statues would be a good way to grab people's attention.
The first dino that was erected was Dinny the Apatosaurus. Dinny is actually more than just a honkin' big concrete statue-- he's also a functioning building with a gift shop inside his belly. It was built from a steel frame covered in metal and then blasted with sprayable concrete. Bell then hired a friend to paint Dinny for the low cost of $1 and a case of Dr. Pepper. When it was all said and done, Dinny is 45 feet tall, 150 feet long, and took 11 years to build. Original plans for the apatosaurus also included eyes that glow in the dark and had it shooting fire from its mouth-- and you thought the dinos in Jurassic Park were terrifying! Maybe a good thing that didn't work out. The next dinosaur built was Mr. Rex, who was (you guessed it!) a giant Tyrannosaurus rex-- his special feature was a slide going down his tail, but it's since been filled in with concrete. Boo.
The Bell family sold the site in the 1990's. The new owners are young Earth creationists who believe that the world was created in 7 days, per the Bible, and reject the scientific theory of evolution, like those behind the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Ironically, Bell created sculptures and frescoes inside Dinny that show an evolutionary and naturalist theory of the world, which now exist next to signs outlining creationism. While that belief has been woven into the site, they've also expanded the Cabazon Dinosaurs to include a fossil dig, open air museum, and several other statues, as well as continuing to operate the gift shop inside Dinny.
There's no denying that the dinosaurs are iconic. The dinos' fame was solidified after they were featured in the cult hit Pee Wee's Big Adventure-- it's where Pee Wee meets Simone, and the two watch the sun rise from inside Mr. Rex's mouth (visitors can actually go inside Rex's mouth!) The dinos were also featured in the music video for the Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"... and none of that is taking into account the numerous travelers who drove past the attraction, especially as kids.
Port Orford's Prehistoric Gardens were the lifelong dream of CPA/mill machinery supply shop owner E.V. Nelson, who chose the site based on its lush, prehistoric woodland feel in the 1950s. He spent several years researching and creating the figures, and the park has been in the family ever since. A 20-minute walk into the forest takes you past 23 massive dinos, including a 46-foot tall brachiosaurus and a pteranodon with a 27-foot wingspan. The signs near each creature provide fun facts and interesting info on the dinos you'll see, and you get to learn about the unique temperate rainforest biome you're exploring as well.