Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Nestled along the Bighorn River, located near the centre of Wyoming is the small town of Thermopolis, and in the middle of Thermopolis is the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. Driving into town you certainly get the feeling Thermopolis knows it’s on to a great thing as hints about the museum are everywhere.

There’s a dinosaur statue along the main road and dinosaurs signs everywhere. My favourite thing is the giant green dinosaur footprints stomping along the road to the museum’s front door…genius.

Driving about the museum I have to say it doesn’t look like much from the outside, basically it looks like a large airplane hangar- indeed that’s probably what the building is because the treasures inside certainly need a lot of space.

I work at another dinosaur museum that resembles this one in many ways. It’s mostly a single room that people get to walk around in, so I truly appreciate what this place does. The dinosaurs themselves create the galleries, as each is a spectacular as the next, so you find yourself looking in awe and one beast, only to turn about or walk a few steps and find yourself face to face with something else equally as inspiring. I really like the museum.

Amongst the amazing specimens on display are a Maiasaura feeding a nest of hatchlings, the first ever Albertaceratops, and the rare Therizinosaurus and a T.rex skeleton (Stan I do believe) attacking a Triceratops. Along one wall are a number of ichthyosaurs, a long necked elasmosaur and a pliosaur.

There are local species such as Maiasaura and the small saber-tooth cat, Dinictis.
There is a wonderful Asian display containing specimens such as a sprinting Velociraptor turning on a Protoceratops, a Tuojiangosaurus and a fearsome Monolophosaurus attacking the incredibly tiny sauropod, Bellusaurus.
There are the standard species, Coelophysis, and extremely rare species, ‘Jimbo the Supersaurus, an enormous 106ft sauropod that dominates the middle of the display and is the reason for the size of the building. This thing is huge (one of the largest sauropods ever mounted), and even better, you get to walk around it, a 360 degree view, and not even that you get to see it standing by some of the larger predators- and just how tiny they are by comparison.

Just as spectacular and important is one of the museums smallest specimens, the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx. As far as I know this is the only actually specimen of this iconic species in the US (and I’m proud to say the 3rd one I have seen after the Berlin and London specimens….which now that I think about it may actually be both counter-parts of the same specimen).

 This one is not behind bulletproof glass like the others and you can get rather close to it. The lighting also makes it easy to see the fossil in detail.

One display I really like and haven't really seen in any other museum is the display of eggs here. These have been peeled back and prepared in such a way that you can see the tiny little bones that had been protected inside the hell for millions of years.

Another great species is Bambiraptor, the first I have seen in all the museums I have ever visited.

One corner of the display has a large window through which you can watch people preparing fossils. Wyoming is of course a hotbed for dinosaur fossils and there are a number of operating quarries near the museum where specimens are collected for preparation. When I was there they were working on a new Camarasaurus. The museum also runs digs that the general public can join in for a fee, also there’s an opportunity for people to help prepare fossils and for students to do courses which I believe end with university credits (I would look into this properly rather then just trust my memory).

The museum is open 7 days a week, from 10-5, and is closed on some holidays. The prices also vary during different seasons so for opening and prices I suggest you check the museum’s website if you’re headed that way.

The sun sets early during winter in this part of the world and we had a long way to drive to our hotel so we were back on the road, leaving behind a museum full of some of the world’s most important fossils from all over the world. Indeed the Wyoming Dinosaur Center consistently tops the best dinosaur museum’s you can visit in the states, so if you’re planning a holiday to the west, I suggest this destination must top your list.

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