California Jurassic

So in yet another chapter of locating all the dead things in Los Angeles County, Elaine and I went to the Natural History Museum to see their new Dinosaur Hall. Now Elaine actually likes dinosaurs so there was no dragging this time. She came along willingly.

The new Dinosaur Hall replaces the old Rancho La Brea Tar Pits Hall which had never been the same since the Page Museum (which is actually at the Tar Pits) stole all its best exhibits. The Rancho La Brea Hall had been close and dark, filled with bones turned yellowish black from lying in tar for thousands of years.

This room was nothing like that.

The ceiling had become one giant skylight, crisscrossed with support beams. Rounded windows ran along the outside walls. Hundreds of key lights shone down on strategic points of dinosaur anatomy. Stepping from the muted lighting of the hallway was a bit of a shock.

It was so bright in there, I wanted to put on my sunglasses.

The first room looked a little like a dinosaur SigAlert. (For those not from California, a SigAlert is officially a traffic tie-up lasting half an hour or more. Unofficially, it is a good excuse when you are late to a party. “I’m sorry, there was a SigAlert on the 405.”) A Triceratops ambles along in front, a Mamenchisaurus is right behind, sticking its long neck clear over the Triceratops in a futile attempt to reach the door. Now, granted, neither one of them would fit through the door, but if it were a race, I guess the Mamenchisaurus would be the winner because even though most of it is behind the Triceratops, its nose is in front.

At least that’s the way it would work at Santa Anita.

Anyway, some smaller dinosaur whose name I’ve conveniently forgotten is pulling up along the Mamenchisaurus’s flank, hanging on for third. And I’m thinking “That’s a heck of a lot of dinosaurs per square foot.” Cool and all, yet it was hard to concentrate on just one animal, to truly appreciate the wonder of it.

I remember seeing a Mamenchisaurus in Chicago, all alone in a darkened room, the only lighting on the dinosaur itself. I just stood there staring. I had never seen anything so long and so beautiful in all my life. The interlocking vertebrae of the neck, the huge ribcage, the long whiplike tail.


But here, same dinosaur, much less impact. Yes, he did stretch from one end of the room to the other, but his tiny head was battling with the way more impressive Triceratops and his back end was lost under a suspended mosasaur. Still massive, just much less dramatic.

Most poignant fossil of the day goes to the mama mosasaur with the jumbled vertebrae of her unborn baby scattered below her ribcage. Neatest/creepiest fossil goes to the turtle shell mounted so you can clearly see the turtle’s ribs fanning out on the inside of the shell. I didn’t know that turtles’ ribs were part of their shells.

I’m still kind of weirded out by that.

But I think my favorite was the Triceratops placidly blocking the way of all the other dinosaurs. Sturdy, determined, daring anyone to try and make him hurry.

Lord of his domain.

Until that Mamenchisaurus catches up with him and squashes him flat.


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