Friday, March 1, 2013

Into the Quarry Visitor Center

After an astonishingly long delay, I'll now return to Dinosaur National Monument, which Jennie and I visited briefly in June of 2012. In today's post, we'll enter the recently rebuilt Quarry Visitor Center, the home to the monument's most famous feature, the steeply inclined bonebed chock full of dinosaur parts. It is a small facility, but rich with paleontological goodness.

First, that quarry wall. I appreciated the focus on the history of paleontology offered by the monument, and this relic of the old Carnegie Quarry offers travelers a rare chance to see dinosaur bones in situ. It's a canny choice; it's easy enough for the layperson to pick out individual bits of anatomy, but it's not a Hollywood version of a dig (i.e. the perfectly articulated, lightly buried Velociraptor from Jurassic Park's opening scenes). Here, you stand on a spot where titans were entombed, and those visitors patient enough to ponder the sight will walk away enriched.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

The remodeled Quarry Visitor Center also includes a nice array of interpretive materials, fossil casts, and artwork, all of which come together to give visitors a well-rounded view of this slice of Utah's Jurassic heritage. In concert with the welcome center, this part of the park is well-designed to give the attentive visitor a deeper respect for the science of paleontology as well as its most famous subjects of study. The often back-breaking work required to interpret fossils is given its full due.

I loved watching a short silent movie dating from the twenties, Monsters of the Past, while I waited to board the shuttle to the quarry. The monitor sits amid a historical set piece which displays reconstructions of human artifacts and fossils as well as press clippings.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

The materials in the QVC flesh out the story of scientists and dinosaurs on this spot, separated by a vast expanse of time.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Fossil remains and paleontology history aside, one of the most exciting aspects of the new visitor center is the new mural by the Walters and Kissinger team. It is a masterful piece of work by Bob, Tess, and their dedicated assistants. This team included the multi-talented Jenn Hall of Clever Girl and Jeff Breeden, who provides an overview of the entire 86' of the mural at his blog. It is a magnificent sight, and I can hardly do it justice with photos. It must be seen on site, slowly, as tourists and children clatter around you. These details can only serve as an appetizer.

I love the pairing of this mounted Allosaurus displayed in front of its painted counterpart. As if they are hunting partners, stalking the same spot, but separated by a hopeless expanse of time.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

For those of us who love the history of dinosaur art, they provide this nod to a classic Charles Knight illustration.

Dinosaur National Monument

But the work is hardly stuck in the past, as this well-quilled Dryosaurus, menaced by a Torvosaurus, displays.

Dinosaur National Monument

Nor does the mural gloss over the more gruesome aspects of Jurassic life.

Dinosaur National Monument

Their work also serves to illustrate didactic panels which flesh out the Morrison ecosystem represented at DNM.

Dinosaur National Monument

The mural leads visitors to the Quarry Visitor Center's exit. After melting into Mesozoic reverie, imagining the smell of decay in the humid forest and the alien sounds of the saurian menagerie, you walk into the dry sunlight and the contortions of the Morrison and Cedar Mountain formations. If even a small percentage of the monument's visitors are struck by the poignance of deep time and our tenuous walk on its thin skin, the time, money, and effort spent by everyone who built this monument will have been well spent.

8 comments:

  1. The only time I've been to DNM was in 2007 and of course at that time the Quarry was closed. Now that I live in the same state I'm looking forward to getting back there. Thanks for sharing the rest of your visit!

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  2. Thanks for the great entry. I visited the quarry when I was 10 or 11, I won't say how many years ago it was. But the in situ scene was mesmerizing to me. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Looks like I need to get back there to see the new features.

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  3. Hate to say it, but I'm not a fan of the new mural--at least in the images I've seen of it. It feels more like a staid museum diorama to me then a portrait of an actual environment. In fairness, though, it may not translate well in photographs.

    Kudos to them for that diplodocoid in the background, though. They really manage to communicate the sheer size and elegance of the animal.

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    1. I admit to being a somewhat ambivalent about the mural myself. Some aspects of it are lovely, the vegetative detail in particular.

      However, I am definitely not a fan of the shrink-wrapped theropod skulls. No living archosaur looks like that unless it's very sick. It's as if there is a partial vacuum inside causing the flesh to be pushed into all the fenestrae by the external atmospheric pressure. (Perhaps theropods were walking barometers used by all the other dinosaurs to predict the next day's weather).

      Additionally, the first Allosaurus is perhaps as much a nod to Charles Knight as the second given that it is such a gutbucket. That Diplodocus doesn't have anything to worry about as the Allosaurus is clearly just on the hunt for a post-prandial cigar after having eaten an entire subadult sauropod.

      And yet, it's tail is so skinny, like it has virtually no M. caudofemoralis or M. ilio-ischocaudalis at all. It's very unbalanced and would have had to keep walking forwards lest it fall on it's face, inadequate leg retractors notwithsatnding.

      Still, those nitpicks aside, I'm sure the whole thing is both georgeous and impressive when you're standing in front of it.

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    2. I'm not saying it's perfect, but it is still magnificent, and I feel that the style is absolutely appropriate for the monumental nature of a mural of this size. I'm not sure that realism is the correct approach, or, more accurately, an approach I'd personally be drawn to.

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  4. @David

    After having read this review of what looks like a very new school/interpretive museum, I realized I may have been too quick to judge & too harsh in my judgement. If so, my bad.

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    1. I don't draw a strict border between old and new approaches, and personally favor something that embraces the needs of modern visitors and the possibilities of new media and technology while still depicting the history of paleontology and honestly showing how it is practiced. In my mecha-sue post I acknowledge the difficulty museums face today, and I don't begrudge them any approach they need to explore. Three years or so later, I still feel the same way, but I've been further seasoned by my masters studies in design, so I look at it as a problem that has not been solved yet. There are many paths not taken or not yet dreamt of. Something like the CMN sounds intriguing; I hope I can pay it a visit sooner than later.

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    2. I'm afraid I have to join those unconvinced by the mural. It all looks terribly flat and cartoonish to me, especially the poor cardboard Torvosaurus.

      Surely the Allosaurus in the inexplicable pink puddle is an homage not to Knight's Ceratosaurus but to the Allosaurus right in the middle Zallinger's (IMHO much better) YPM mural?

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