Diggin' For Dinosaurs - LA County Natural History Museum

Ringing the dinosaur skeletons are text labels and beautiful color illustrations describing the people behind the project, the natural history of the two animals, and other forms of life at the end of the Cretaceous. From here, enter the Dinosaur Hall just beyond the foyer to see more dinosaurs. You'll first walk through a marine exhibit complete with the sound of surf. A 30-foot plesiosaur (the bright yellow label cautions you that this is "NOT a dinosaur") is mounted here, along with a giant pterosaur (also not a dinosaur), and some really huge clam and oyster fossils. A geological chart orients you in time before entering the next hall, which announces its all-star cast with a red neon sign proclaiming, "Dinosaurs!"

Highlights of the hall include a cast of the complete skeleton of a Mamenchisaurus from China, the longest-necked dinosaur ever discovered, some very realistic, life-sized models of Allosaurus and Carnotaurus, and real fossil skulls of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus. Big purple labels, looking a bit dated, give brief descriptions of each fossil animal and how it was collected. You might consider bringing an eight-year-old along to help with pronunciation, however, because the labels don't provide guidance with tongue-twisting scientific names.

The Carnotaurus model deserves special mention. Created by palaeontology artist Stephen Czerkas, this full-scale model took seven years to make and was the first sculpture created of this recently discovered dinosaur. It was an especially curious-looking creature, with ornamental studs on its skin and bull-like horns atop its head. A cast skeleton behind the sculpture, together with some model plants, complete the scene.

Many of the fossils are mounted as they would have appeared in the field or lab. A rare baby duckbill, Edmontosaurus, is partially encased in plaster, its head twisted around in a death pose. Another larger duckbilled dinosaur is displayed with an impression of its horny beak, a feature not usually fossilized. A changing exhibit displays a fossil skeleton in a protective field jacket and shows how fossils are received and prepared in a working palaeontology lab.

There are some other inventive mounts here. A cast of Armargasaurus, a member of the sauropod group, is laid out on the ground in all its 50-foot glory. Except, as the text label points out, there's something missing. Visitors are left to figure it out for themselves, but it's not hard to guess that the creature is sans skull, a common condition of fossils from this small-headed group.

If you like primal scenes, you can find another pair of fighting fossil skeletons, this time Allosaurus and Camptosaurus locked in staged battle, with a razor-toothed Allosaurus model posed nearby.

Everyone knows that Hollywood is the special effects capital of the world, but the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is blissfully free of show biz. It's all dinosaurs all the time. It's great for the kids but the adults will love it just as much. On your next trip to La-La Land, don't miss the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It's really a great day of fun and education.

Continued in: Diggin' For Dinosaurs - George Page Museum

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