If you’re like most grown-ups without kids, you probably haven’t been to your local natural history museum since junior high. Yawn, you say? Well, you might be surprised. Sure, you can still find those creepy dioramas with lifelike stuffed animals. And of course there’s the scintillating hall of minerals, which was actually kind of cool the first time you saw it, but may not inspire a repeat visit.
One area that’s received a facelift, at least in Denver, is the dinosaur exhibit. In the past few decades, paleontolgists have made some interesting discoveries. Dinosaurs, it seems, are the ancestors of birds, not reptiles as was previously assumed. Ok, so maybe that’s not news to you…but did you know that we’ve only discovered about two percent of all the dinosaur species that ever existed? For instance, the gigantic vegetarian puertasaurus was discovered two years ago in Argentina. And the bambiraptor, a one-foot high miniature menace discovered in 1995, is currently on display as part of a special exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
This special exhibit also features new information about how dinosaurs walked, including a 1:7 scale moving t-rex that, even in such a diminutive form, still caused me to shiver as I watched it pace. Also impressive is the full-size tyrannosaurus skeleton, mounted much closer to the ground than the one at the museum’s entrance, making it possible to imagine how easily a grown person could fit in its mouth! And if you’ve never seen a triceratops skull, now’s your chance to realize how huge these animals were.
Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries runs through January 4. The next free admission day is December 7. If you go, I highly recommend making time for two other permanent exhibits. The multi-level exhibit, Prehistoric Journey, is as impressive, if not more so, than the special exhibit. Lots of bones, but also dioramas (yay!) with creature features you’ve never seen before. You should also seek out the small, but fascinating collection of gem carvings created by Russian artist Vasily Konovalenko. Look for it on Level 3, wedged between the Botswana and South American dioramas.