Authentic dinosaur information found nearby

By Jeff Smith

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As a child, I was not interested in dinosaurs all that much. I became more frightened than anything of them after seeing the original Jurassic Park movies.

After learning about the real dinosaurs in school I did become somewhat more interested. They are an interesting part of science and world history.

I think everyone has moments growing up where they had a certain appreciation and fascination with dinosaurs. They were big, fierce and got wiped out. People also have a nice memory surrounding the “Jurassic” movies or “The Land Before Time” series.

As an intelligent species we seek to learn about the past and memorialize it, understand it somehow. Luckily, not far from us is the Black Hills Institute where we can learn about these creatures that once walked the earth.

Blanche Farrar of the Black Hills Institute Museum said there are 900 fossils and 170 dinosaur replicas at the museum.

Farrar said the museum is appreciated by people who dig up fossils. Those are really the biggest fans of the museum too.

Farrar said museum attendance has been pretty strong this year so she’ll have to see how it compares to other years. 

A diverse crowd visits the museum and even if they don’t have an interest in dinosaurs there are minerals and other items at the museum.

Farrar thinks the recent “Jurassic” movies have made people more aware of the museum but the biggest piece of entertainment that affects the museum is the documentary “Dinosaur 13”.

There was a dinosaur replica at the Rapid City theater. Farrar said it was a nice display and the dinosaur played a large part in the  new “Jurassic World” movie. Rapid Citians might have gone to Hill City after seeing the movie due to the display.

When people look up dinosaurs online after seeing a movie then they find out about the Black Hills Institute. Some people realize that they could drive to the museum and check out what it has to offer.

Farrar is not worried about the factual information in the “Jurassic” movies because they say that the dinosaurs are being re-created and are admitting they are not like dinosaurs from the past.

In the movies, dinosaur DNA is found in amber; Farrar said there is not much amber found from the Age of Dinosaurs. Most of the amber found is from after the Cretaceous period.

In the movie it is revealed that Jurassic Park scientists extracted blood from mosquitoes that were stuck in amber to get Dinosaur DNA. Even so, DNA from insects in another era that were preserved in hardened resin from trees is in the realm of fiction. De-extincting the dinosaur will remain impossible but I think we could still see them at museums and movies for a long time to come.

I understand why people like the “Jurassic” movies. They have great, equal levels of thrill, adventure and horror. The best thing about the movies is that in each of them there is a good resolution although it sets up a foreboding feeling for the next chapter of the franchise.

Dinosaurs are also the focus of one museum close to Rapid City. The Dinosaur Museum is next to the tourist behemoth Reptile Gardens on Highway 16. It used to be an old Chuckwagon restaurant but it has been steadily been looking more like a museum each year. The manager is Fritz Hoppe, an artist and Nebraska transplant.

The first thing you notice about The Dinosaur Museum is how much it looks like a barn. I don’t think it distracts from all of the dinosaurs in the building though. The exhibits are life-size and each one has a description by it. I couldn’t help but think how seeing even models of the dinosaurs makes it clear that they aren’t supposed to mix with humans. We shouldn’t forget about the scientific studies about the dinosaurs and what we have held onto through popular culture might not be true.

The displays at the museum are static but they are interesting. The T-Rex, like at the Black Hills Institute Museu, is the most impressive piece in the collection. The piece bends and curves with the jaw open, giving us a sense of magnitude of the beasts that once walked the earth.

When he was a child, Fritz’s father noticed him making little museums out of dinosaur toys. A lightbulb went on in his head when he came up with the idea for museums that most children would enjoy.

Hoppe’s father had similar businesses that were in operation before the banking collapse of 2008. There is still another museum that is like The Dinosaur Museum in Branson, Miss.

The collections at the museums  are leftovers of what was at the other museums. All of the text on the displays was created specifically for the museum. Hoppe said they try to provide a good educational value through the text displays at the museum.  Hoppe gives credit to the Institute for having real-life fossils and bones that people like to see. He said that kids like the life-size exhibits. Also, children can learn the importance of education through learning about an exciting subject like dinosaurs. At the museum, many kids were taking part in the fossil dig. There is also a mirror maze and mini golf at the museum.

Hoppe realizes that not everyone in a particular party will like dinosaurs.

When it is slower, Hoppe said there are around 100-200 people a day. When it gets really busy there are 300-500 people a day who stop in.

This past weekend Hoppe was working on a fence on the property. He said that it will provide the museum with better security and privacy.

There are plans to update and expand the museum in the future. The building is structural sound but there are aesthetic improvements that can be made. Hoppe would also like to have his art gallery housed at the museum in the future.

Hoppe said he would like to add more displays and locally-found fossil exhibits. Hoppe thinks that the “Jurassic” movies reignite sparks of interest in dinosaurs.

He said people can get a look at the actual size of dinosaurs at his museum, which is different from the movie. One of the ones he pointed out was the Velociraptors that are a lot smaller than in the movie.

Hoppe said the place is very small-business friendly area. There are a lot of different small businesses around them. He adds that there has been great support from the local community, he thinks that has added to the success he has had this year. He said that there has been a lot of growth in visitors this year. Hoppe was not expecting that big of an increase this year.

I hope people don’t allow movies to be the only time they think about dinosaurs. There is a lot of information to be learned and we should learn to let our childlike curiosity be freed sometimes.

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