(Go to Part One)
Dinosaur Land has added a number of additional statues since its opening back in 1964. Most of the additions have been carnivores (or herbivores being eaten by carnivores in life-sized dioramas of ancient life and death battles). I’d be curious to find out how many of the newer carnivores were added to the park after the huge success of the film version of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1993, which helped make Velociraptors part of every red-blooded American boy’s fantasy life.
The park certainly suffers from no shortage of meat-eaters now. Newer dinosaurs include a Gigantosaurus, a Dilophosaurus, a Velociraptor (star of the movie), a Megalosaurus, and an additional Tyrannosaurus, this one trying to take down a Titanosaurus. The park also added a few herbivores, including a Styracosaurus and a mother and baby Stegosaurus. (More fantastical additions have included a 60 foot-long shark, a 70 foot-wide octopus, and King Kong, I suppose to keep the 13 foot-tall praying mantis company.)
Oddly, one of the original figures has disappeared, the “cave man” (possibly a homo erectus, to try to judge from an old photo, but more likely a figure from the artist’s imagination). Possibly he was just too anatomically incorrect (but the 70-foot octopus and King Kong have remained?). Or maybe some overly exuberant children tried climbing up his back or yanked on his arms, toppling him over and smashing him beyond repair? I would bet on the latter, given my own children’s behavior (Asher, my middle son, admitted to breaking off one of the giant ground sloth’s claws while hanging on it; I sheepishly handed over the broken finger to one of the staff).
Each child that attends Dinosaur Land receives a free copy of a wonderful booklet on the park’s recreations that was originally compiled and printed back when the attraction first opened in 1964 or shortly thereafter (the girl in the miniskirt on the rear cover, standing next to the Tyrannosaurus, makes me think the photos in the booklet might come from a little later, perhaps 1966?). It contains photos of the original 27 statues — dinosaurs, other prehistoric animals, and two oddities, a giant praying mantis and a giant king cobra. Especially eye-popping is to page through this little guide and see how comparatively desolate the park appeared in the mid-1960s compared to its lush foliage today. Back then, all of the trees in the park were saplings, none taller than five feet. Today, forty-five years later, the trees are all fully grown and provide dense shade above most of the animals’ heads. It is also intriguing to see how the paint schemes have been changed over the years on the original animals, such as the Dimetrodon, the Oviraptor, the Pachycephalosaurus, and the Stegosaurus. All of them have become much more colorful since their original unveilings.
A 1993 article on Dinosaur Land in the Hampshire Review listed the park’s annual attendance at between 18,000 and 20,000 visitors per year, or an average of 50 visitors per day. That would roughly match the level of attendance I saw during the couple of hours the boys and I explored the park on a Sunday afternoon. About half a dozen families with 3-5 members wandered in while we were there, along with another four or five moms pushing a toddler in a stroller. There were a few ten or fifteen minute stretches during which we were the only guests present. Which was wonderful.
Despite the four scenes of carnage and combat (a Gigantosaurus munching down a pterodactyl; a Megalosaurus feasting on an Apatosaurus; a battle between a Titanosaurus and a Tyrannosaurus; and, if memory serves, another Tyrannosaurus facing off against a pair of Triceratopses), the park is exceptionally peaceful and quiet, inviting silent contemplation of the ancient beasts (and the fanciful creatures mixed in). I enjoyed as restful a Sunday afternoon with the boys as any I can remember. That, by itself, was well worth the $17 we spent on admission to the Prehistoric Forest.