Dinosaur Land, the roadside dinosaur equivalent of an animal shelter

It’s not really my intention to make my posts here have so many dang words in them, but this one is about to have a lot.

First of all, I don’t think there’s anything more quintessentially American quirk than a roadside dinosaur. They once filled the quasi- educational roadside forests and  mini golf courses and grassy knolls next to parking lots of America in every size and color, and they are, sadly, slowly following in the footsteps of their prehistoric ancestors to extinction.

90% certain this dinosaur’s name is Kevin

Secondly, this particular trip is extra important to me because I took it with my father. You’ll see him in some of the photos. Last year he got a cancer diagnosis and this was during a visit to him in the oppressive time between diagnosis and treatment when everyone is supposed to be pretending they’re not freaking out. I had a few days to spend there after a tour and as he always does, he offered the choice of activity to me, and cheerfully agreed when I suggested something that involved an annoying drive and nothing he was particularly interested in. Since these were taken he’s had surgical treatment, and been declared cancer free. At the time though, nobody knew what was going to happen, and it occurred to me that this could be our last adventure together. It won’t be, but had that ended up the case, I think it was a pretty good one.

There are precious few roadside dinosaur parks left in this cold world you guys.

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“Featuring over _ replicas from the past”

Dinosaur Land is in White Post, Virginia, which is maybe an hour and a half roughly west of Washington D.C. It’s now an actual place where people live with a Target and stuff, but I would imagine that’s relatively recent. Apparently what is now Dinsosaur Land started out as something called Dixie Trading Post or some such thing (there’s still an uncomfortable section of Confederate flag gifts of every description in the gift shop) back when the area was mostly farmland until they acquired the first Dinosaurs in the early 60’s

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At some point you could stand inside this

You can definitely tell which are the original dinosaurs, and as is often the case, the originals are the best. The mid to late 60’s marked something sometimes called the dinosaur renaissance in which the scientific community started rapidly changing it’s ideas about what dinosaurs actually looked like and how they acted. These early dinosaur acquisitions were pre/ early dinosaur renaissance and so the most wonderful thing about many of them is they are quite wrong

“I’m a T-Rex. Rarrrr”

he kind of looks like a pit bull

In spite of this they do make an adorable effort to make the park legitimately educational. I was way too excited but if I had a kid with me, I’d definitely force them to read the signs.

he does look like he’d be a sweet boy

zoomed in on this and learned that Pteranodon’s bony head crest might have worked as a stabilizer in flight

If becoming scientifically obsolete wasn’t bad enough, another factor in the extinction of the roadside dinosaur is their maintenance. As near as I can tell most of them are basically made from freakin’ paper maché. Later ones are fiberglass or some kind of combo of the two. Over time this doesn’t mix well with the elements and dinosaurs need constant maintaining in the form of having their forms patched and being repainted. A desert dinosaur might fare better (I’m looking at you, Pee Wee’s Great Adventure Dinosaur) but in Virginia humidity all of these specimens are at the very least covered in moss, at the most disintegrating. Dinosaur Land charmingly deals with damaged dinosaurs by simply making what’s wrong with them part of the tableau, so a whole lot of them are fighting to explain their “injuries”.

Everyone knows dinosaurs don’t have knees

The roughest dinosaur in the collection has a completely caved in side. He’s been flipped on his side and is in the process of being defeated by a newer and more anatomically correct Megalosaurus

This picture does look kinda epic from this angle though

Sometimes it’s just a matter of rearranging them and painting a little strategic blood around.

The dinosaur version of knocking your shin on a coffee table

Despite the name, Dinosaur Land also has quite a few creatures which are not dinosaurs at all. Some are original to the prehistoric forest (because who cares about a few hundred thousand years which would have separated species). Some are obviously rescues, probably from Mini Golf courses.

“Ssssssssssss”

I’m either really big or that plane is really small, it’s up to you

Dinosaur Land also gives less shits about timeline continuity than new Star Trek so I suspect they’ve been mixing the Pleistocene with the Mesozoic pretty much all along.

Actually quite painful

Were their tusks really like this because I’d be scared too if my tusks were constantly pointing at my eyes

My personal favorite of these later era animals was the giant ground sloth. For one thing, I think this is the animal of the past science should be focusing on trying to clone. Secondly, someone had the idea when this was made to cover it in faux fur. After all this time outside it is absolutely terrifying, and that’s not even including its feet.

rethink your business plan Jurassic Park

Dinosaur Land was never the brainchild of one artist, so all of the dinosaurs seem to be in batches, but apparently once you’re known as the dinosaur people, people just try to unload all sorts of dinosaurs on you, and what kind of monsters turn away a homeless dinosaur. These guys, which either don’t make sense in terms of scale or construction, are apparently relegated to wandering the outskirts of the woods

look, I know science is important, but

man this guy looks out of place

The whole place is pretty small. The prehistoric forest probably took half an hour including photo ops, so if you’re reading this with the intention of actually going to White Post, don’t plan a full day trip. And don’t plan on eating anywhere near it. And do bring some money to spend in the gift shop.

If you love roadside dinosaurs and want to see more of them famous roadside photographer John Margolies ‘s portfolio was recently released by the Library of Congress and Atlas Obscura wrote a cool little article about his Dinos https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/roadside-dinosaurs-concrete-americana

Dinosaur land also has a website that’s actually amazingly slick. http://dinosaurland.com/

Until next time!

Oh hey y’all

I’ve always loved the weird. My roommate says this is the fault of my birth chart which attracts people born under my combination of planets to things that other people may find strange or dark. I don’t know if that’s true, but I suppose it’s as good an explanation as any.

If you haven’t, I recommend pretty much everyone read the fantasy masterpiece American Gods by Neil Gaiman (along with basically everything else he’s ever written). In the story, the Gods of the old world meet up at Roadside Attractions because they are places of power. In it, as authors often do, Gaiman managed to get a hold of something I could never quite organize into thoughts about my attraction to weird roadside Americana, aside from the fact that I always felt I was only inches from being able to understand what would drive someone to abandon everything and instead move to nowhere and build a castle out of bottle caps or something.

“In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew that something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

“There are churches all across the States, though,” said Shadow.

“In every town. Sometimes on every block. And about as significant, in this context, as dentists’ offices. No, in the USA, people still get the call, or some of them, and they feel themselves being called to from the transcendent void, and they respond to it by building a model out of beer bottles of somewhere they’ve never visited, or by erecting a gigantic bat house in some part of the country that bats have traditionally declined to visit. Roadside attractions: people feel themselves pulled to places where, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendent, and buy a hot dog, and walk around, feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.

In reading the epilogue of American Gods I was excited and shocked to learn that the Roadside Attraction much of the book takes place in was a real place. The House on the Rock in Northern Wisconsin. A bucket list was born in my heart.

For several years, I have been working as a tour manager for a rock band called the Biters, which has given me an incredible opportunity to travel the country. I began to seek out off the beaten path attractions to visit while touring. Mostly Cemeteries (my first love) and more “traditional” roadside attractions and urban exploration. The so-called travel bug got it’s hooks into me. Deep.

On a tour of the Midwest I found myself in Traverse City, Michigan. I’ve always associated Michigan with manufacturing and that famous Kiss Concert at a high school, but it turns out it’s also quite famous for its cherries. Traverse City once made a record holding cherry pie and kept the pan. We climbed in it for a photo. I suddenly realized some of world’s largest random objects had become a pattern and Beena and the big things was born.

The World’s largest cherry pie pan which once held the world’s largest cherry pie. Traverse City, Michigan

Roadside Attractions are a dying breed, they are inherently nostalgic. If I ever have children they may never get to see an old school mini golf course, a roadside dinosaur, or a wax museum. Their transience makes seeing them feel more important, and maybe almost noble.

So here are my adventures across America. It’s not the temples or castles or monoliths of older parts of the world. It’s the sad and the strange and the kitschy and the larger than life, which is pretty darn American if you ask me.