Driving between the Springs and the mountains, you might have passed a building with a sandy exterior and sculpted dinosaurs roaring, frozen in time. Someone had pointed it out during my freshman year as a Creationist dinosaur museum and I groggily nodded, not quite understanding what that meant.
Now, almost two years later I’ve finally found the moment to go to The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, and, to borrow from Macklemore’s repertoire of brilliant lyrics, it was f—ing awesome.
In my determination to find out if this dinosaur museum is, in fact, Creationist (as the legend has it), I made the 30-minute trek up I-24 to Woodland Park.
I approach the desk manned by a petite woman in safari gear. I ask, maybe a bit too abruptly, “So, is this a Creationist museum?”
The woman falters, her mouth sticky. “No… not really. Although we do discuss the topic with church groups.”
Myth: Busted. Did you hear that? It is not Creationist in the slightest and hasn’t been all along.
The first thing I see when I enter the first room is Dexter, my tour guide, followed very quickly by the skull of a Triceratops and a giant T-Rex. It’s kind of like walking into Jurassic Park, only the dinosaurs aren’t alive. In fact, the triceratops skull that greets you when you walk in hasn’t been alive for approximately 66 million years.
Dexter, in his safari vest with two pens clipped into the front pocket, leads us around the museum. He starts off the tour by distinguishing dinosaurs as reptiles whose feet are directly below their hips, with S-shaped necks, tails one-third the length of their body, and that walk only on their toes.
He leads us through the first section showing us different skeletons, occasionally quizzing us about whether the bones poised in front of us are dinosaurs or not. Let’s just say, I pass with flying colors.
But besides boosting my self-esteem, the museum illustrates the excavation process. Strewn about in the exhibits are many field jackets, burlap, and plaster casts, used to remove fossils from the ground, which accompany the various dinosaurs, fossils, and bone casts.
Dexter led us past the Pterosaurs (think Pteri from the animated movie, “The Land Before Time”) to possibly the cutest, yet still completely terrifying, predator ever, the Bambiraptor, or ‘baby thief’ in Latin. We spend a good amount of time hypothesizing how quickly a pack of them could eat us alive. Dexter produces a claw and passes it around to the group, making sure we note how sharp it is.
The museum is incredibly hands-on and most of the things we look at during our tour are presented with a mold of a bone or a field jacket and, sometimes, genuine honest-to-goodness dinosaur bones. There are also various stations around the museum that encourage visitors to touch (like a mold of a fossilized imprint of dinosaur skin). This is what makes the museum go from good to great.
We turn into another room where a giant long-necked dinosaur takes over the space.
“Its tail actually wraps into the other room,” Dexter says, gesturing back out the door we came in from. We scurry to verify that, sure enough, the dinosaur is huger than huge.
In the middle of the same room stands a Christmas tree with presents wrapped in metallic paper tucked underneath. I ask Dexter what the deal is and he admits with a smile that he will be playing Santa Claus this year for the kids that come to visit.
The conversation shifts to the idea of Doomsday (this is off script from our tour, I’m sure, but we pry). Our guide tells us how the dinosaurs went extinct and lists off different sizes for asteroids and his assumed impact on our population. We all agree that if an asteroid is coming, Antarctica should take one for the team, then we move back into the main room.
We mosey through the rest of the rooms, ‘ooh’-ing at Stan, the giant skeleton of a T-Rex and ‘aah’-ing in the following room that focuses on ancient aquatic reptiles. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer density of the museum because it’s pretty well packed with a great selection of literature and artifacts.
The hallway before you exit, on the left side, is lined with more fossils and informational plaques, but on the right are windows into the workshop. The Museum is a face for Treibold Paleontology, which has created dinosaur casts for over 150 museums and universities around the world. Before I leave, I snag a word with JJ Treibold, one of the owners of the museum and Treibold Paleontology.
“We built the museum as a showplace for the collection of buyers that we have all over the world,” Treibold says in her office, tucked in the back of the gift shop. “You know, we’ve been in the paleontology business for 25 years, finding and collecting dinosaurs, bringing them back, then selling them to museums and other institutions.”
Treibold Paleontology is a big deal in the world of dinosaurs. They have a deal to be the exclusive licensed agency to make cast replicas of dinosaurs with the London Museum of History, among many other museums. They were the first company to find remains outside of the skull for Pachycephalosauruses (also known as “domeheads” in “The Land Before Time”).
Treibold walks me out, but I linger through the giant gift-shop, filled with rocks, and fossils, and novelty T-shirts, kid’s costumes, globes, masks, and signs.
“It’s probably the largest dino gift shop in the U.S., if not the world,” Treibold says proudly, and I can’t blame her. There are tons of cool things catching my eye that the five-year-old in me demands to have.
It’s a shame there is a campus myth that this dinosaur museum is Creationist. I can share from my personal experience, no one will try to convert you or argue against the theory of evolution. So, next time you’re driving through Woodland Park and your friend shows you the Creationist museum, tell them what’s up, and then schedule a date to go and visit.