Not just dinosaurs ~

Hypacrosaurus

Hypacrosaurus, a duckbill dinosaur of the late Cretaceous

The second day of my trip I also went to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, in Thermopolis. Unfortunately, I was so sleep-deprived that I couldn’t do it justice, which was a shame. This is a fantastic museum house in what is essentially an enormous pole barn. Why is something like this in Thermopolis? Because dinosaurs are being excavated here! The center raises donations to support its excavation work on a nearby ranch, as well as its preparation work, which museum visitors can observe through viewing windows. They’re planning for a beautiful new facility where they can better house their fossils and fossil replicas, and they have lots of both. Visitors also can pay to assist at the dig site, which in turn supports the scientific work.

Not just dinosaurs are on display; the museum is organized to show the progression of evolution from early organisms through the age of the dinosaurs, birds, and early mammals. I found myself wishing I had the time to read every single interpretive sign. Most of these iPhone photographs are of actual fossils, not replicas.

Fossil brittle stars

Fossil brittle stars – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Fossil crinoids

Fossil crinoids (sea lilies) – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

An especially prized fossil here is this one from China, of Microraptor, a small dinosaur with feathers not just on its arms but also its legs. You can see the impression of the feathers on all four limbs and also at the end of the tail.

Microraptor

Microraptor, a small dinosaur with feathers on all four limbs – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

The museum has plenty of large, complete dinosaur skeletons. Among the smaller dinosaur fossils is this beautiful specimen of Stenopterygius, a Jurassic-age ichthyosaur. But not just any old Stenopterygius. To quote the interpretive sign: “Ichthyosaurs are vivaparous, meaning they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. The baby would come out tail-first to prevent them from drowning. This specimen preserves a mother in the act of giving birth.” Wow! And indeed, in the second photo below you can see the baby’s skeleton dangling below the mother. I’ve also included a shot of just the head and upper body because it is so gorgeous.

A female stenopterygius...

A female stenopterygius…

...in the process of giving birth!

…in the process of giving birth! – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Another surprise: Fossilized dinosaur embryos and a reproduction of a nest of baby dinosaurs.

Fossilized dinosaur embryo

Fossilized dinosaur embryo – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

From tiny to enormous: Kids will love the big dinosaur skeletons.

Triceratops horridus

This Triceratops horridus skeleton is the actual fossil, not a replica – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

Pliosaur

This head belongs to a complete replica Pliosaur skeleton – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

I’ve been in a lot of natural history museums, so it’s possible I’m just forgetting, but to my knowledge I’d never seen a fossilized mortichnial trackway before. It’s the track or footprints of a dying animal—in this case, the final 32 feet of life of a horseshoe crab, which extended across nine large excavated panels on display. This particular exhibit, more than any other at the center, really brings it home to you that all these animals once were as alive as you are now.

Fossil horseshoe crab

Fossil horseshoe crab and last segment of mortichnial trackway – Wyoming Dinosaur Center

I’m no paleontologist, but I can hardly say enough good things about the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. It’s only a six-hour drive from Loveland, not counting stops, and I’d gladly make a special trip just to visit here again. I didn’t notice any “No photography” signs, so I’ve taken the liberty of posting all of these photos as a kind of advertisement for the center. Long may it live!

Fossil of whiptail stingray

Whiptail stingray – Wyoming Dinosaur Center. I don’t know what exactly all those filaments are, but the beauty of this 50-million-year-old fossil blew me away.

Geometries ~

The Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art endlessly fascinates me with the angles made by its ramps, windows, skylights, and corridors. Perhaps someday I can photograph it with a better camera.

The Gates of Paradise ~

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City recently acquired a re-casting of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise,” a 15th-century work. Bringing in this massive piece, which is several feet across and—I’m guessing here—maybe 12 feet high required taking down some of the windows that make up the wall of the Bloch Addition and the use of an industrial elevator. The photo of the overall work, which I adjusted for perspective as best I could in Photoshop, doesn’t come close to capturing the magnificence of these doors. I also don’t know who the figures are in the relief and bas-relief details shown; an interpretive key would have been helpful. It would be quite an interesting contrast to see a good reproduction of the Gates next to a reproduction of the “Gates of Hell” by Rodin.

City Museum 2 ~

Granted, this is an awful lot of images for one post, but I’m hoping to simulate for people who have never been there the sensory-overload experience that City Museum offers. This place, like the Gateway Arch and the Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden, has become a unique must-see in St. Louis.

City Museum 1 ~

I wish that City Museum, in St. Louis, had existed when I was growing up there. It’s an unbelievably inventive, active place—both for kids and for adults who are in sufficiently good shape to climb many stories of spiral staircases, squirm through wire mesh tubes high in the air, and otherwise navigate their way through this enchanted space, created from industrial parts and tons of concrete (I presume) in the old International Shoe factory building. It’s for good reason that the museum’s website recommends that you bring a flashlight and that the gift shop sells knee pads. Some well-prepared souls wore head flashlights, like spelunkers. Doing this museum properly is, essentially, to do spelunking.

The first couple of floors contain a network of mostly hidden tunnels: you’ll notice a small opening at the side of a narrow walkway that leads to who knows where; a couple of metal steps in some inconspicuous place will lead up into a twist of metal tubes that disappear beyond the ceiling; a child will suddenly pop into view, or out of view, in a completely unforeseen place. There are long spiral slides and shorter straight slides and little bitty tunnel “slides” whose presence is indicated only by openings at the sides of pillars or staircases. For someone who must keep her eyes on her child at all times, this place would be a nightmare. And, as the museum entrance sign says, there are no maps.

Furthermore, the place is loud, thanks to a bellowing organ in the building’s core (the Caves/Spiral Staircase area) and to the constant echoing shrieks and laughter of children. Spelunking is far outside my physical capacity, but an out-of-shape older person such as myself can still walk some of the uneven, dark passageways, or climb the dimly lit spiral staircases, and marvel at the repurposed building materials there and elsewhere in the museum. I took photos despite ridiculously slow shutter speeds (measured in seconds), because it was simply impossible not to. Needless to say, tripods are not allowed; they would pose a real hazard even in spaces wide enough to set them up. Anyway, here are a few abstracts, semi-abstracts, and unclassifiables. More to come.

I’m here ~

Spencer-Museum-main-hall-IMG_1634

It was a lucky break that the young man decided to interact with the video art just as I was taking this photo from the second floor overlook. Main hall of the Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas.