Visiting the Natural History Museum of Utah sparks fantasies of a dinosaur revival

Story and photos By Chris Vanocur

Dinosaurs will once again roam the Earth. Yes, you heard right. They likely will be reborn when Antarctica or some other subzero place melts, and these cryogenically frozen ancient creatures will roar back to life. Or, perhaps, some sort of Jurassic Park cloning will be secretly created by mad scientists. Just imagine, an “Indominus rex” or an “Indoraptor” being created in a test tube in a Jurassic World-like lair of a diabolical villain.

Please do not disregard my prediction as crazy speculation. After all, my intuitive powers are both uncanny and legendary. Dinosaurs will be coming back. It’s that whole circle-of-life thing. Once these prehistoric creatures stomped this planet, even in Utah. Then, they went away. But, return they shall.

This Nostradamus-like prognostication came to me as I wandered through the Natural History Museum of Utah. It was a cold, inversion-plagued day in January, and this gem of a Utah museum beckoned. Being from the Cretaceous era myself, I found myself naturally drawn to the museum’s popular Past Worlds exhibit.

Canis dirus, or dire wolf, lived during the Ice Age, more than 12,000 years ago

But even before I got to the museum’s dinosaur-land, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the impressive Paleontology Preparation Lab. Through large picture windows, visitors get to see the museum’s dinosaurontologists (not a real word) at work. Here, staff members painstakingly clear away rock, sand or dirt from fossils. I found myself transfixed watching these experts do their “dirty” work.

If you’ve never been, or haven’t been in an ice age or two, the museum is both creative and well-conceived. I was particularly impressed by the interactive displays, including the option of using my phone as a mobile guide. I also found myself captivated by an area with a glass floor. Walking over it, I could peer down and view variously strewn dinosaur bones. It’s was like having a Pterodactyl’s-eye view of an actual archeological site. It was so life-like, I even worried I might fall through the glass and find myself landing in the sand next to the bones of a Gryposaurus.

The reconstructed bones are so authentic looking, an unusual thought crossed my “humanazoic brain” (this is another made-up phrase). I wondered if, through their bones, these dinosaurs were secretly smirking at me and other museum-goers. Do they know man will one day become extinct just as they are? Maybe it won’t be an asteroid that knocks us off as was thought to be the dinosaur’s fate, but instead rising temperatures, waters and other climate-change ills already underway. If you believe scientists and not climate-change deniers, things aren’t looking too great long-term for Homo sapiens on this planet.

Then, of course, my prehistoric fantasies took their next absurd step. I pictured the museum’s dinosaurs moving around and talking to one another after everyone goes home. Kind of like that movie, Night at the Museum. I strongly suspect that humanity’s demise and the dinosaurs’ resurgence would be frequent topics of the discussion.

An artist’s rendering of Lythronax aegestes, a carnivore with quills that measured 24 feet long and 5,500 pounds

Now, if you want to do your own research and debunk my theory of a dinosaur revival—or if you simply want to see a terrific Utah attraction—the Natural History Museum of Utah is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. The price of admission varies depending on how old a dinosaur you are.

At the end of my visit, I was pleased to find a small and cozy museum café that sells hot beverages and snacks that even a Saltasaurus would enjoy. There is also a museum store with some cool toy dinosaurs.

Now, coincidentally, a few days after my museum visit, I found myself on a Caribbean cruise. One of the movies on the ship was Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Several parts of the movie leapt out at me. The first was when Bryce Dallas Howard talks about the miracle of seeing a dinosaur for the first time. This is how I felt seeing the dinosaur reconstructions at the Natural History Museum of Utah. They are truly miraculous sights to behold.

The second part that resonated with me came from the character played by Jeff Goldblum at the end of the film. He warns a congressional committee in Washington that dinosaurs were here before us and, if we’re not careful, they will be here after us.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Natural History Museum of Utah
University of Utah, 301 Wakara Way, SLC