Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Museum @ Black Hills Institute

Two weekends ago I travelled out to western South Dakota to the Black Hills, the quintessential vacation spot in this area. Ok, maybe not so much "quintessential" as "only" vacation spot in this area. That is, if you'd like to see something other than vast monocultures of corn and soybeans in every direction. The Black Hills area is basically one big tourist trap, but the scenery is beautiful and some of the attractions are well worth seeing.

This trip centered around a family reunion with various events spread over several days, but we still had time to pick a few things to see and do while we were there. I had way more picks than were realistic for the time we had. So I skipped over the Mammoth Site, Wind Cave, and Badlands National Park (all of which I've seen previously, albeit quite a few years ago) for my first choice: the Museum @ Black Hills Institute in Hill City.

Museum Entrance

Let me just say that despite how unassuming this looks from the outside, and how small the building actually is, this museum is AMAZING! Do consider your source: I've never had the opportunity to visit the large museums that are regarded as the best in America (The Field Museum, Smithsonian, etc.) so I can't compare. But wow, this museum is absolutely packed from floor to ceiling with wonders of natural history. I could have easily spent an entire day here if I would've had the time.


The biggest draw here is the actual Stan the T. rex. He is certainly impressive! I couldn't stop walking around him and just gazing up in awe. The information included in his displays was excellent. You can take a look here and here and view it in larger sizes. The layouts could certainly use some improvement (grid system, please?) but they weren't too bad. I especially like the excavation illustration showing the way the fossils were found.

Two Tyrannosaurs

As if Stan wasn't enough, there's another huge Tyrannosaurus!

Tyrannosaurus rex, Etc

This one was labelled more like the rest of the exhibits here. The actual information given was great throughout the museum. The cast replicas were identified as such, and the current location of the original bones was also usually included. This T. rex wasn't labelled with a name, but later I looked up its specimen number (MOR-555) and found that it's nicknamed the "Wankel Rex" or "Devil Rex." 

The Wankel Rex was surrounded by a herd of smaller dinosaurs, including Chirostenotes, Thescelosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Struthiomimus, Edmontosaurus, and the Senckenberg Mummy. I suppose the fact that they're all just sitting on the floor in a group with no backdrops or anything might seem boring to some visitors, but I felt much more up close and personal with these dinosaurs than I've experienced at any other museum I've been to. Many of the dinosaurs' heads and tails extended right over the little chain that cordoned off this grouping. It was really satisfying to get to observe them so closely.


The Chirostenotes is a cast composite of two similarly sized individuals found in Harding County, SD (Hell Creek Formation).

Struthiomimus, Etc

Struthiomimus...and friends.

Tyrannosaur Skulls, Etc

There were enough Tyrannosaurid skulls on display to make anyone stare in a state of childlike wonder, especially once you realize that many of them are from well-known specimens like Black Beauty, Duffy, and Jane. Also note the ammonite fossils in the photo above; there's a huge collection of ammonites spread all over the museum.


This Bambiraptor was posed so dramatically. Here's another angle. I also stared at that Hyacinth Macaw skull (to the right) for an inordinate amount of time. My lifelong obsession with Psittaciformes rears up in the most unexpected places.


The last thing I expected to get to see here were some of the newer fossils from China, but there was a whole area behind glass dedicated to just that. They were casts of course, but they were beautiful. The detail of the feathers is so incredible. Above is Confuciusornis.

Elaine's Skull

This skull, from a Camarasaurus named Elaine, is still in its original plaster field jacket.

I took way too many photos to share them all here, so visit my Museum @ Black Hills Institute Flickr set to see more. But only if you live too far away to actually visit it in person! Your $7.50 admission fee gets you in for an entire year. Huzzah!

If only Sue could've been here. Oh, Sue...


  1. Holy cow, that's an impressive collection of fossils!

  2. Amazing! I love the fact that they're packed in there so tightly. I'd have spent a lot of time at the Bambiraptor mount, too.

  3. It really was impressive to the point of being overwhelming - too much to take in all at once!