Dinosaurs in the Morrison area
When I was a geology student at Virginia Tech (I earned a minor in the subject), my first professor had me memorize the geologic time scale. The most interesting part to me was, and still is, the K-T boundary. Known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, it marks the end of the 135-million year reign of dinosaurs on this planet. Dinosaurs once roamed the area in and around the small town of Morrison, Colorado. The Morrison Natural History Museum tells the story of those dinosaurs.
Not only does the museum tell the dinosaur’s story, its staff concentrates on finding more Morrison-area fossils. Its researchers also prepare the local finds for further scientific study–a painstaking process that once started on a large fossil, can take weeks to finish. You’d think that scientists already know everything there is to know about dinosaurs, but they are the first to admit, they don’t. Paleontologists, for example, are still working out whether or not the numerous, known fossils of Allosaurus represent separate species or even separate genera. (This is factoid I gleaned from one of the museum’s mounted informational displays.)
That is why the museum continues contributing to paleontological knowledge. As researchers like these continue to discover and analyze new fossils, their knowledge about dinosaurs improves, and ultimately their conclusions about them change. That’s just a few more reasons why I found this small museum so interesting.
The visitor experience
From my own experience, I find that many people are interested in dinosaurs and what happened to them, and this small museum can help you understand more about the debate that surrounds that mystery. As you pull into the parking lot, don’t be misled by the building’s small size. There is an engaging learning experience housed within what appears to be the confines of a small building.
Jurassic Park has nothing on this place. OK, so the movie and the museum have two distinct purposes: the movie entertains us; this museum teaches us. It is there to help us learn about these majestic creatures that lived on this planet millions of years ago.
As one visitor wrote in the museum’s guest book:
“The museum is the perfect size for young, inquisitive minds – not overwhelming or too time consuming.”
–Becky J., from the MNHM guestbook.
Young mind or not (mine isn’t), you will come away with that much more knowledge about dinosaurs than when you went in. For example, I was unaware–or most likely forgot–that two of the most fearsome dinosaurs, Allosauras and Tyrannosaurus lived nearly 80 million years apart. They never roamed this planet at the same time.
I recommend the guided tour. Starting on the first floor, you will see the Jurassic exhibit that contains casts of Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus bones, and dinosaur tracks. Light touching of the real dinosaur bones is allowed and encouraged. Upstairs is the Cretaceous exhibit, the Ice Age exhibit, and the paleontology lab. Amid many other artifacts, you will see a cast of a triceratops skull. You know the one, that iconic dinosaur that is sometimes depicted in cartoons with someone riding it as if he is a cowboy. You may even get a chance to help prepare some of the fossils in the lab.
As a result of this museum’s emphasis on local paleontology, this is a unique educational experience, even in the world of natural history museums. Count on spending two hours for your tour as you will want to absorb and experience everything The Morrison Natural History Museum has to offer. Now, after spending two hours in this museum myself, I feel more than motivated to memorize the geologic time scale again. And this time, I will not forget it.