Finally, after fifteen posts we’ve reached the conclusion of our 2016 Terror Dave Road Trip! Are you sick of it yet? Because at this point of our vacation we sure were…and of each other too for that matter. I was reminded of that while going through all the photos from those last couple of days and noticing how whenever we’d photograph one another in front of a dinosaur, we’d angle the camera so it looked like the other was being eaten. Talk about passive/aggressive photography!
Alrighty, let’s wrap this up, shall we?
By the time I stepped out of the car, my legs were so stiff from the extended drive, I literally lumbered to the museum like a member of The Walking Dead. Fortunately my middle-aged aches and pains were subdued by my childhood excitement over seeing replicas of a Styracosaurus (relative of Triceratops) and a Daspletosaurus (relative of T-Rex) standing outside the entrance. If only life-size dinosaurs could replace plastic flamingos and dress-up geese as America’s most popular lawn ornaments.
It was obvious they backed up their slogan as a “new species of museum” by showcasing the latest finds and theories; something already evident by how vibrant that aforementioned Styracosaurus was. Modern research suggests dinosaurs were actually quite colorful as opposed to the drab green and brown depictions seen in popular culture.
As for newer species, there were plenty of those too, including one that Paleontologists refer to as the “Chicken from Hell.” The Anzu wyliei was discovered in the Hell Creek Formation (which overlaps Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) in 2014. It’s notable for being the first complete skeleton of a feathered dinosaur in North America. Who knew the horror host Svengoolie’s prehistoric rubber chicken, Kerwyn, was so cutting edge?
In addition to dinosaurs, large prehistoric mammals were also on display, such as the giant short-faced bear and Jefferson’s Ground Sloth. I was reminded once again that some of the most amazing animals once roamed these parts.
This museum also had a replica of the T-Rex “Stan” which we’d seen the week before at a museum in New Mexico. Despite being cast from the same specimen that resides at The Black Hills Institute of Geological research in South Dakota , this “Stan” was displayed in a running pose.
Stan was so dynamic, you could easily sidestep the smaller skeletons that were also in the room, including a rather controversial one. For decades, Paleontologists have been duking it out to determine the true identity of Nanotyrannus. When this small Therapod was first discovered in the 1940s, it was considered to be its own species and named Gorgosaurus. Later finds would have scientists speculating whether this really was a new species or simply a juvenile T-Rex. Is Nanotyrannus a full grown species of pygmy T-Rex or merely a teenage Stan? Both sides offer compelling arguments to reinforce their positions and it’s unlikely to be settled anytime soon.
So what really made this museum stand out from the others? Well that would be their special collection of sea monsters, of course! Personally, I’m fascinated by the ocean even though it scares the crap out of me. I’m pretty sure it stems from when I was a kid and saw JAWS because I have this recurring nightmare of being stranded alone in the ocean, treading water, and then suddenly feeling something brush up against my legs. Obviously sharks instill both fear and awe in many of us but, millions of years ago, there were far deadlier creatures swimming in the ocean’s depths. This museum dedicated a lot of space featuring both bones and replicas of some; a one-two punch that I thought was fantastic. One fearsome example was Tylosaurus which I mentioned a couple of posts ago. Tylosaurus was an aquatic reptile from the Mosasaur family a.k.a what you saw leaping out of the water in Jurassic World (but probably a lot less trainable). Replicas of Mosasaurs and other aquatic reptiles from the Cretaceous period literally hung from the walls in this museum!
They also featured one the most frightening boney fish to have swum the Cretaceous seas, Xiphactinus (pronounced zih-FACK-tih-nuss). If its size didn’t intimidate you (up to twenty feet long) than its fearsome teeth certainly would.
One of the most famous examples of this fossil is on display in Kansas. Their “fish within a fish” specimen shows a nearly intact 13 foot Xiphactinus with a six foot fish fossilized in its stomach. The prehistoric terror was clearly a victim of gobbling up more than it could chew. I loved this museum’s life-sized recreation of Xiphactinus alongside a skeletal one because it proved that thing was just as frightening dead as it must of been alive.
The presence of a Coelacanth in this exhibit, though certainly appropriate, was a bit disconcerting. As mentioned in a post I did awhile back on Cryptozoology, it’s an example of a prehistoric fish that was believed extinct before being found very much alive.
The last room we stopped in featured a wall of vintage monster movie posters which made us feel right at home. This was definitely the perfect place to end our 2016 road trip.
The next day we drove to the airport early for the flight to Chicago. Once there, we said our goodbyes before David hopped on his second plane back to Rhode Island. After two weeks, I really missed my kids and rushed to get my luggage so I could reunite with them.
While waiting for my bags to materialize on the conveyor belt (which at Midway Airport, offers plenty of time for reflection) I remembered an old conversation I had twenty years ago with my ex wife shortly after we’d gotten married. She wanted to give me fair warning that when she turned forty-five years old, she planned on traveling the country with her best friend. Ironically, years after our union soured and we reached our mid-forties, it would be me who would fulfill that fantasy. I smiled as I retrieved my last bag, and headed out to the car.
Photos by both Terror Daves (Albaugh & Fuentes)