This past Sunday was the last day to visit the "Dino-Roars!" traveling exhibit at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, so I'm long overdue for a blog post on it. The exhibit featured several animatronic dinosaurs, some large and some baby/juvenile sized. The Great Room of the Zoo, normally used for banquets, weddings, and other events, was transformed into a prehistoric wonderland for several months.
The lighting was dramatic - dim and moody, with spotlighting on the dinosaurs - but my photos suffered for it. The movement was powered by pneumatics (by one large air compressor, as far as I could tell), so in the background of the dinosaur calls and roars were the muffled sounds of hissing air and clicking metal parts if you listened for it.
Onward into the exhibit! The first dinosaurs seen upon entering the room were a pair of dueling Pachycephalosaurus. It may be a bit of a cliche to see them portrayed butting heads this way, but it's still undeniably cool! They both moved up and down a little and opened and closed their mouths. The one on the left made lunges forward with its upper body and grunted loudly at its adversary. I thought these two looked good overall, with the exception of maybe the eyes - it seemed strange that they appear to be squinting.
Next on the tour was a huge Pteranodon hanging from the ceiling overhead. I couldn't quite capture the whole thing in my photos. The body was covered by fabric, giving it the appearance of having "peach fuzz". The sign beneath it also briefly explained about how pterosaurs were not dinosaurs. Excellent.
On the opposite side from the pachycephalosaurs and Pteranodon was a family of Maiasaura: a mother, three juveniles, and a large nest of eggs and hatching babies. The juveniles made cute cooing, calling noises (somewhat less cute when hearing it for 8 hours at a time, but still cute nonetheless). These Maiasaura won over many children who initially were scared of the dinosaurs when first entering the exhibit. They seemed to be a favorite among younger kids.
The definite favorite among most older/non-scared children was the Albertosaurus. The head moved and the mouth opened to let out a mighty roar every minute or so. Beside it was a Euoplocephalus, which swung its tail defensively at the Albertosaurus. Bunny-hands aside, the Albertosaurus was quite impressive!
Everything is looking pretty good so far, right? Well, it wouldn't be a true classic animatronic dinosaur experience without at least one display that makes paleo-literate folks face-palm. The scaly, naked pack of Deinonychus bringing down a hapless Tenontosaurus was by far the most unfortunate part of the exhibit. These clever girls stepped straight out of a time capsule from 1993. I sighed a bit every time I laid eyes on them. More recent research and discoveries about dromaeosaurs are one of the things that pulled me back into my obsession with dinosaurs after a hiatus of several years, and of course I want nothing more than for others to be inspired the same way. But hopefully, in the end, the interest in dinosaurs overall that the exhibit has generated for visitors far outweighs any outdated information.
The last dinosaur to see before ending up in the dino gift shop was Apatosaurus, an adult and juvenile. Though technically neither one of them were adult sized, the larger of the two did seem very big while standing next to it. The "hands" were the typical inaccurate elephant-feet reconstructions, but the tails were lifted well off the ground at least. These were my personal favorites of the entire exhibit. Just look at those faces! I think I found them so endearing because they vaguely reminded me of one of my favorite movies as a kid - Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.
Since I'm working part-time as a seasonal (temporary) summer employee at the zoo, I had the pleasure of spending quite a few days working as the dino-keeper while the exhibit was there. This mainly involved ringing up visitors for the entrance fee and dino gift shop items, but also gave me a chance to occasionally talk with people about the dinosaurs on slower days. I always had at least one great interaction, usually with children, throughout the day that made the more menial parts of the job well worth it. Some of the most memorable were kids that would tell me about their favorite dinosaur they saw, and then wanted help finding that particular dinosaur amongst the plastic models. I sensed the slight annoyance of more than one parent as their kid(s) and I enthusiastically rummaged through toys, talking excitedly about all the different dinosaurs. I'm usually not that great working with children, but in this setting it was truly fun. My highest goal was to make the experience as memorable as absolutely possible for the kids. I couldn't help but think that if any of the children I talked to are anything like myself, they will not only remember the exhibit fondly, but also still have those dinosaur toys many, many years later.
More photos, along with a few short video clips of the movement of some of the dinosaurs, can be found on my Flickr.