Budding paleontologists, take heart: while no dinosaur bones have been found in Virginia, good Old Dominion claims to have the largest number of tracks found in a single site in the world. You can travel far and wide in search of Stegosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex; here are some day trips to consider:
White Post, VA
(Now open for 2008!)
OK, so Dinosaurland is as fun for me as it is for the kids. It’s been open since March 1, and I’ll be taking the kids west over the mountain, as Loudouners say, to my favorite dinosaur attraction in the region so far. A shady forest trail winds around dozens of creatures including a giant King Kong in whose outstretched hand your kids can sit, a 20-foot king cobra, 70-foot octopus, and so much more. Be aware, though, that some younger kids can be put off by a few gory scenes of dinosaur fights and feeding off each other. Admission is something like $5 (they reserve the right to change rates, their Web site says), but you’ll probably end up spending more because your self-guided tour begins and ends in their everything-dino gift shop. No food allowed, but there’s a McDonald’s kitty corner from it at the intersection of Routes 277/340/522. Good for a morning or afternoon day trip; not enough to keep the kids occupied the whole day, though.
Maryland Science Center
Inner Harbor, Baltimore
The center devotes an amazing, huge hall to Dinosaur Mysteries, where kids can dig and drill for fossils, gape at three-story-high dinos (both skeletons and full-skin casts), color half-sheets of paper with dinosaurs printed on them, check out a nest of dinosaur eggs and measure tracks. That’s the free stuff; the gift shop has the best stocked dino section outside of Dinosaurland, including unique items such as cute dinosaur shoes for little dino hunters. Good for an all-day trip, since the rest of the center, including an IMAX theater, is just as entertaining.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
The Museum of Natural History is always good on a rainy day, or on a sunny day for that matter. We go about every two months and we still keep discovering something we hadn’t seen before. But the area of interest is the Hall of Paleobiology on the first floor. Free and open to the public daily except Christmas. Check out the Web site for info about dinos and dino research at the museum and around the world. Last time we were there, you could only get hot dogs from vendors outside or eat at the museum’s Atrium Cafe or Fossil Cafe, both of which have overpriced cafe food. On the weekends, go early (they open at 10 a.m.) to get street parking otherwise you’ll be circling forever.
Delaware Museum of Natural History
The two-hour drive to this small museum is worth it only if your kids are fanatical about dinosaurs. Through April 27, the exhibit Bizarre Beasts Past and Present features authentic cast skeletons of dinosaurs, realistic animal reconstructions, and genuine fossils to touch. The museum’s annual Dino Days on Dec. 27-28 are very popular, but you’ll be jockeying for space with thousands. No joke—their site says they had 2,595 visitors at last year’s event. You can spend the morning here, then travel up the road to Longwood Gardens, which just opened a new Indoor Children’s Garden.
The Museum of Culpeper History
This small museum in the cool town of Culpeper claims that it’s in this county that the most dinosaur tracks in a single site have been found. Inside, there’s a KidzCorner devoted to dinosaurs, including “Cully,” the town’s paleobiological mascot. They offer a one-hour tour that includes info on the dinosaurs that once lived in the area and left tracks nearby. Haven’t taken the tour, so can’t vouch for it but it would be a great little stop on a day tour of downtown Culpeper, which has great restaurants and shops. Check their Web site for tour fees, hours of operation and more info.
Virginia Museum of Natural History
Alas, you’ll have to wait till next Jan. 12, when the museum celebrates its 3rd Annual Dino Day with music, games, food and fun activities. But if I was down that way anyway, I’d still go to check out their 40-foot Harvest Foundation Great Hall where a cast of an allosaurus skeleton stands guard and where you can watch real live paleontologists work on really old bones.