Dinosaurs Stalk the Southland Again

The Sangers are free-lance writers and photographers

Dinosaurs hold an eternal fascination for children and adults. Most of us never get to know much about these ancient creatures, other than what we see in the movies.

That's especially true in Southern California, because most of the area was covered by ocean during the dinosaurs' 150-million-year reign. Our most ancient animals are Ice Age mammals such as saber-toothed tigers and mammoths that lived here as recently as 10,000 years ago, long after the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.

Surprisingly, there are a number of places nearby where you can see skeletons or replicas of dinosaurs, and animated dinosaur shows are visiting four places in Southern California in the next few months. (One of these, the Dinamation exhibit, is in Victorville now to Nov. 26, in San Bernardino Dec. 9 to March 4, and in Ontario March 17 to May 28. See accompanying listings for details.)

Following are a few of the places dinosaurs have been spotted in recent weeks:

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has perhaps the best collection of dinosaur skeletons in Southern California. When you enter the museum, you can't miss the huge skeletons of an allosaurus and a duck-billed dinosaur frozen in combat in the middle of the foyer. A nearby fossil hall has skeletons of a double-crested dinosaur and a duck-billed corythosaurus. The Ralph M. Parsons Discovery Center, an interactive treasure house with multisensory exhibits for children, features a camarasaurus (chambered lizard) mounted on a wall and uses videotapes and touchable casts of dinosaur bones to help kids learn about the giant animals.

The Dinosaurs! exhibit, which (then called the Kokoro Dinosaur exhibit) drew huge crowds two years ago, will return to the museum from Dec. 16 to March 18, 1990. Scientifically designed, three-quarter-size animated dinosaurs twist, bend and growl at visitors, giving more meaning to the skeletons on display nearby. You will see a mother triceratops with three young, an adult apatosaurus (formerly misnamed "brontosaurus"), and a nest of hatching eggs and babies. Be sure to compare the animated 15-foot-tall tyrannosaurus rex with the full-size skull of the real animal in the museum's foyer.

The Dinosaur Shop near the museum's south entrance has a full selection of dinosaur items, including glow-in-the-dark skeleton T-shirts, books and models. Museum members can hold dinosaur birthday parties in the Discovery Center.

San Bernardino County Fairgrounds features robotic dinosaurs that move, roar and blink their eyes at visitors viewing this exhibit, sponsored by the San Bernardino County Museum Foundation (ends Nov. 26). The automated creatures were designed by San Juan Capistrano-based Dinamation International Corp. with the help of paleontologists, to ensure that the dinosaurs are as scientifically accurate as possible.

Although the three-horned triceratops, the plated stegosaurus and the two-legged parasaurolophus are built to half-size scale, their enormous sizes are still impressive. Even the baby apatosaurus seems huge. As you walk through the panorama, stamp your dinosaur passport with a picture of each creature. A computer program about dinosaurs, a pit for digging fossils and dinosaur art projects involve kids at the exhibit.

San Bernardino County Museum will feature Dinamation's dinosaur exhibit when it moves to the museum's new Exhibition Hall as part of the hall's grand opening in December. As at the Fairgrounds show, the robotic animals will be displayed in a setting with lifelike imitations of vegetation that grew during the time of the dinosaurs.

Interactive displays in the Exhibit Hall and in the Discovery Hall (a children's learning center) will provide educational enrichment for the show. Of particular interest is a robot with eyes and teeth that children can manipulate to see how the animated dinosaurs work. Elsewhere in the museum, be sure to see a display of dinosaur footprints, among the few ever found in California. Dinosaur-themed items are on sale in the museum's gift shop.

A second Dinamation show, featuring animated undersea dinosaurs, will open at the museum March 23. Although less known, these marine dinosaurs existed at the same time as their land-based cousins.

Jurupa Mountains Cultural Center offers, every Saturday at 9 a.m., a special program for families, "Collecting Rocks With the Dinosaurs." A nature hike through desert gardens takes participants to a hilltop site that contains life-size replicas of seven dinosaurs, measuring 47 to 90 feet long. There, kids learn about dinosaurs and collect ancient rocks that have been "seeded" into the sand. Participants identify fossil and mineral specimens that they collect to take home. In the center's Earth Science Museum, you will see an ichthyosaur skeleton, two baby dinosaur skeletons, a tyrannosaurus rex footprint, and a large dinosaur egg that still has an embryo in it.

Raymond M. Alf Museum is a circular stone building on the campus of the Webb Schools. In the museum's Hall of Life, which traces the history of living organisms with fossils and archeological artifacts, kids can touch real dinosaur bones and casts. Docents stationed at a touch table encourage children to hold an ankylosaur skull and bones from a tyrannosaurus rex. Downstairs, the Hall of Fossil Footprints has many dinosaur tracks and a fiberglass cast of a brontosaurus footprint that is so big a child can sit in it.

San Diego Natural History Museum has as its signature--and towering over visitors--a huge allosaurus skeleton with a fine display of sharp teeth. Visit the glassed-in lab, where budding paleontologists can see professional scientists at work preparing fossil specimens. The scientists may be working on the armor-plated nodosaur skeleton, discovered near Carlsbad in 1985, one of the few dinosaur skeletons found in Southern California.

Paleontologists talk to visitors and answer questions. Elsewhere in the museum, you'll find a giant mosasaur (aquatic lizard) in the Ancient Seas exhibit.

Knott's Berry Farm offers a seven-minute ride back in time to see 15 fully animated dinosaurs and what they might have looked like in the flesh. Aboard a Los Angeles trolley car in the "Kingdom of the Dinosaurs," visitors encounter a 32-foot-long apatosaurus, a flying pteranodon and a family of triceratops. This ride is not only fun but also educational. The amusement park used paleontologist consultants to design an authentic ride, ensuring that dinosaurs are depicted in groups with others that existed during the same time. A further sense of realism is assured with sounds of dinosaurs squawking and roaring, heat from a nearby volcano, and a jungle of plants from the Mesozoic era. At the ride's exit, DinoStore Digs sells a large array of dinosaur-themed items.

Knott's offers an educational program for schoolchildren in the Dinosaur Discovery Center next to the ride. Part of the park's Adventures in Education series, the program includes lectures, preparing fossils with paleontologists and a ride through the dinosaur "Kingdom."

Disneyland offers a train ride to visit the age of dinosaurs. Just hop aboard the Disneyland train between the Tomorrowland Station and Main Street Station. You will ride slowly past scenic dioramas where dinosaurs roam and roar in a lifelike display. Although the animals are smaller than actual size, they give children a good idea of the way the world might have looked when dinosaurs were the dominant animals.

Dinosaur Gardens at the Wheel Inn features "Dinney," a 45-foot-high apatosaurus, and "Rex," a 55-foot-high tyrannosaurus rex, both of which are easy to spot from Interstate 10 just west of Palm Springs. Dinney, which was completed by designer Claude Bell in 1975, houses in its belly a gift shop and a small museum of Southwestern memorabilia collected by Bell. Plans for a snack shop and spiral staircase inside Rex were put on hold after Bell's death last year. Still, a stop to just look at the huge desert landmarks will be a memorable one for young children.

Museum of History and Art Ontario will feature Dinamation's animated dinosaur show when it moves to this museum from the San Bernardino County Museum on March 17. Six of the moving half-scale dinosaurs will be on display in the history wing of the mission-style museum, including stegosaurus, triceratops and a baby apatosaurus. Hands-on exhibits near the huge creatures will help children learn more about dinosaurs. A store in the museum will sell dinosaur-themed items.

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