Diggin' For Dinosaurs - New Mexico Museum
New Mexico Museum of Natural History, New Mexico
New Mexico's picturesque mountains conceal a great treasure: the rich variety of dinosaurs buried in their rocks. For the best overview of the state's paleontological history, visit the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque.
Even before you enter the building, you can tell that New Mexicans take pride in their land's ancient past. Outside stand two life-sized bronze sculptures, one of Pentaceratops - a horned dinosaur nicknamed "Spike," whose remains have been found only in New Mexico - and another depicting Albertosaurus, whose isolated teeth and bones have also been found in the state. Once inside the museum's lobby, you are confronted by a life-sized sculpture of the state's official fossil, the small, carnivorous Coelophysis.
The museum is laid out as a "walk through time" progressing from the formation of the solar system to the last Ice Age. You start your journey on the second floor in the Origins section, which describes how the solar system and Earth were formed. There, you also learn about New Mexico's oldest rocks, dating back 1.8 billion years, and the earliest trilobite fossils in the state.
Dinosaurs take over when the exhibit reaches the Age of Giants. The exhibit features three major skeletal casts: the stout sauropod Camarasaurus, the two-legged meat eater Allosaurus, and the spiny Stegosaurus. Also here are some vertebrae and a partial femur from Seismosaurus, perhaps the longest dinosaur ever discovered; it was found near San Ysidro, New Mexico, in 1979. A team led by the museum dug up a partial skeleton of Seismosaurus that measured nearly 100 feet long.
Next you step into New Mexico's Seacoast, a hall showcasing some of the marine and shoreline life from the Cretaceous as well as the period's dinosaurs. There's a life-sized model of a mosasaur, a reptile that swam the seas 75 million years ago, and replicas of plants that lived at the time. Other exhibits display fragments of dinosaur eggs, including the oldest known egg of a meat-eating dinosaur, found near Albuquerque by three-year-old David Shiffler. You also see fossilized impressions of dinosaur skin; the only jaw of a Tyrannosaurus rex found in the state; a cast of the T. rex skull from the American Museum of Natural History in New York; and the skull of a duckbilled dinosaur that may bear marks of an attack by an Albertosaurus.
From the seacoast hall, take the Evolator, which simulates an elevator ride through 38 million years of geological history in just six minutes. Downstairs, the final dinosaur exhibit is a fossil preparation lab, where you can watch volunteers chip more bones of Seismosaurus out of blocks of stone. Eventually, these bones will be assembled into a new permanent exhibit of this one-of-a-kind dinosaur. The preparators sometimes come out from behind the huge windows to answer questions. An interactive exhibit near the fossil lab replicates the booming sound that Parasaurolophus dinosaurs may have made with the resonating crests on their heads.
The rest of the journey through time takes you through the Age of Volcanoes, the Tertiary Period, when great eruptions covered much of the New Mexican landscape after the dinosaurs had disappeared. Evolving Grasslands describes how different plants began to spread across the landscape during the same period. Finally, you travel through a Pleistocene cave and enter the last Ice Age, inhabited by a 10,000-year-old mammoth from Tucumcari and the camel-like Camelops, a 40,000-year-old creature found in a sand and gravel mine within Albuquerque's city limits.