Texas Dinosaurs and Mammoths

Calling all North Texas dinosaur lovers and would-be-paleontologists! While you wait for the DVD release of Jurassic World, why not check out two local dinosaur (and mammoth) venues?

Dinosaurs Live!

North Texas Ramblings - Dinosaurs Live Heard Natural Science MuseumBeware! Beasts not seen for millions of years stalk the Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney from now through mid-February. Dilophosaurus, Stegosaurus, and the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex roam the trails at the wildlife sanctuary – almost like Jurassic World. These life-sized replicas roar and move delighting young dinosaur enthusiasts.

Billings Production in McKinney makes the animatronic creatures. The Heard dinosaurs are part of over 200 Billings’ dinosaurs found at zoos and museums throughout North American. The robotic dinosaurs are uniquely adapted to operating outdoors. A hinged steel structure within the fabricated body allows dinosaur heads and limbs to move. A computer program further enhances dinosaur movements, making these monstrous creatures look and act almost real — Jurassic Park Texas style.

While the dinosaurs draw the crowds, there is much more to the Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary. Once you’ve explored the dinosaur trek, take a stroll through The World Conservation exhibit to see modern day animals. Some animals are native to North America and others like the lemur are from exotic locales. Many exhibit animals imprinted with humans and can’t be released into the wild. Seized from an illegal animal breeder, some animals found new homes at the wildlife sanctuary. There are mongoose and capybara, the world’s largest rodents. An albino raccoon found a home here too.

The Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 1 until 5 p.m. Pets are not allowed in the sanctuary and there is an admission fee. The trails around Dinosaurs Live are accessible with a stroller, however all trails within the sanctuary are on natural, unpaved surfaces — challenging for wheel chairs and strollers. Picnic areas are available. The Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is at 1 Nature Place in McKinney. Contact them at 972-562-5566 or through their Dinosaurs Live website.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

This past week, a mammoth found in a Michigan farmer’s field gained national attention. But, did you know that one of the largest herds of mammoth ever discovered in North America is right here in North Texas?

Visit Waco Mammoth National Monument and travel back in time 68,000 years. It’s the Ice Age but without the ice. Instead, grassy plains cover North Texas; and ice age animals like the Columbian mammoth, camel, and saber-tooth cat wander the grasslands.  A nursery herd of mammoth (cows and calves) peacefully graze along a creek bed until a flash flood buries the entire herd. Fast forward to 1978 when two teenage boys, looking for arrowheads, spot a bone embedded in the dry creek bed. The boys’ find yielded the largest nursery herd of Columbian mammoth (19 mammoths and a camel) ever discovered.

Baylor University paleontologists worked the site for years, uncovering mammoth from three separate floods that trapped these prehistoric animals over thousands of years. The Baylor scientists have found over two dozen mammoth, camels, and a young saber-tooth cat.

Baylor University and the City of Waco opened the Waco Mammoth Site to the public in 2009. Just this summer, the mammoth site became a National Monument. Docent-led tours give visitors fascinating facts about Ice Age Texas and its inhabitants. You also gain insights into a paleontologists’ world. While most bones were jacketed and transported for further study, many have been left in place. A climate-controlled building surrounds the dig site and a boardwalk pathway winds through the building allowing visitors to see mammoth bones as they were found. Tiered excavations stair-step the dig site displaying finds from all three major flood events. Wall murals illustrate the Colombian mammoths’ size and appearance.

The visitors center and dig site are located within a scenic parkland along the banks of the Bosque River. The Waco Mammoth National Monument is at 6220 Steinbeck Bend Road in Waco. The site is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a fee for the guided tour.

You can find more Waco attractions at our Waco Day Trip post.



Botticelli to Braque at the Kimbell Museum

You have just ten more days to see the spectacular exhibit, Botticelli to Braque, at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.Botticelli to Braque

The exhibit is a mere 55 paintings – a traveling exhibit from the three National Galleries of Scotland. Doesn’t seem like much, until you go. From the Italian Renaissance to the Dutch masters and from English drawing rooms to art studios in Montmartre, these 55 paintings represent 400 years of European artists.

Sandro Botticelli’s “Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child” starts you on your journey through Europe. Further into the room you’ll find one of the largest surviving paintings by JohannesVermeer, “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary.” Next to the Vermeer is Rembrandt Van Rijin’s “Woman in Bed.”

If English pastoral scenes are more your cup of tea, there is the stunning “Vale of Debham” by John Constable. Scottish artists are included in the mix. My favorite is the poster child for the exhibit, Sir Henry Raeburn’s “Skating on Duddingston Loch.”

Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, and Edgar Degas represent the French Impressionists. I enjoyed the Degas. It wasn’t a ballet dancer, instead it was his portrait of art critic Diego Martelli. The exhibit also contains paintings from Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and modern artists like Pablo Picasso.

Granted, the paintings within the Botticelli to Braque exhibit may not be the artists’ best-known work. Still, I’ve visited many a museum, and have never encountered such a magnificent sampling of so many fine artists.

When you go.

Botticelli to Braque closes on September 20. Tickets to the exhibit are $18 (free to Kimbell Museum members). Tickets to the exhibit are half-price on Tuesday and Friday after 5 p.m. Audio guides are $3. Entrance to the main Kimbell Museum is always free.

The Kimbell Art Museum is open Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, noon to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; and closed on Mondays. The museum is located at 3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth. Parking is free in a lot across the street and in the new underground parking garage off Van Cliburn Way.

The museum’s Buffet Restaurant is a great place for lunch. It uniquely offers a selection of soups, salads, quiche, and dessert — the unique part — the cost is based on your plate size, not what you order.

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch – things don’t get much quirkier than a farmer’s field with 10 car butts sticking in the air.Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch History

Well into its middle age, the 40 year-old art installation has morphed from avant-garde oddity to iconic roadside attraction. Ant Farm, the trio of Chip Lord, Doug Michels, and Hudson Marquez, created their strange art installation by burying Cadillac at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The cars look like an unfinished picket fence.

What inspired Ant Farm? The description for the “Cadillac Ranch 1974-1994” video suggests the art installation represents, “….comically subversive homage to the rise and fall of the tail-fin as an icon of postwar American consumer excess.”

Stanley Marsh 3, the wealthy patron who shelled out the cash for Cadillac Ranch, said in an Amarillo Globe News interview that the Cadillac symbolized a time, “…when we all thought we could hit the road, get a blonde, break the bank in Las Vegas, and be a movie star.”

Whether meant to be provocative or just fun, Cadillac Ranch continues to draw thousands each year.

Public Art Installation

Today’s Cadillac Ranch looks very different from the 1974 Ant Farm installation. To start with, Cadillac Ranch is at an entirely different location. It’s still in a farmer’s field, just two miles away from its original site. The installation had to be moved in 1997 as west Amarillo grew and developed.

Forty years of weathering has not been kind to the Cadillac. Bits of Cadillac (like a trunk lid) are missing from some cars. And, oh my, the colors. Each Cadillac benefits from hundreds of graffiti artists who pay homage to the site. The layers of paint look like a crazy sort of bondo on the autos. In fact, some cars likely have more paint than metal left.

Oddly, I found the effect of so many colors and graffiti artists enhances Cadillac Ranch’s appearance. The stunningly bright colors against the azure blue skyline makes for stunning photographs. Trash left behind by the installation’s visitors is the only detractor of this odd art piece.

When you go.

You can access Cadillac Ranch off Interstate 40 in Amarillo. Take the south frontage road between exits 60 and 62A. There are ample places to park on the road apron. Entry is through a metal fence. Bring spray paint (the brighter the colors, the better) if you want to try your hand at a little graffiti art. There are often half-used cans of paint also available. If you visit, please pick up and dispose of your trash.


Helium Monument in Amarillo

I love quirky, Texas attractions. The Helium Monument in Amarillo is one oddity I can now check off my bucket list. Built in 1968 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery Helium Monumentof helium, the Helium Monument is part monument and part time capsule.

Time Capsule

Supported by four slanted columns, the stainless steel structure reaches towards the sky. Filled with books, papers, and memorabilia from 1968; each hollowed column serves as a time capsule to be opened at different intervals. The first column was opened after 25 years in 1993. The remaining columns will be opened in 2018, 2068, and 2968. I’m singularly impressed that the final column won’t be opened for 1000 years! A bank passbook for $10 is in the 2968 column. In 1968, the $10 savings account earned four percent interest. You do the math. If the savings account continues to draw four percent interest over 1000 years, the $10 account will have grown to one quintillion dollars!

Why combine a helium monument with time capsules? Helium can be used to protect fragile documents, like the Declaration of Independence, from deteriorating. In the Helium Monument, helium pumped into each column replaced oxygen-rich air, further preserving the time capsule documents.

Helium Capital of the World

A monument to helium may seem strange. It is not so odd when you learn the Cliffside Gas Fields near Amarillo produce over 40 percent of the helium used in the US, lending credibility to Amarillo’s nickname as the Helium Capital of the World.

Helium is mined by super chilling natural gas 300 degrees. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Cliffside Gas Fields began mining the element in the 1920s. Uncle Sam tried to get out of the helium business. However, attempts to privatize mining have not been wholly successful and the BLM continues to operate the Cliffside location under the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013. Helium is important for more than just party balloons. Today, helium plays a critical role in MRI operation, rocket fuel, cryogenics, and as a cooling medium in nuclear reactors.

When you go

The Helium Monument is located adjacent to the Don Harrington Discovery Center at 1200 Streit Drive, Amarillo. The monument is outside, so you can view it at any time. However, if you are traveling with children, be sure to also visit the Don Harrington Discovery Center. The discovery center is open Tuesday through Saturday (9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), and Sunday (noon to 4:30 p.m.).

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

If you are looking for the perfect family escape from the heat, try the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The PerotPerot Museum (480x640) takes science and makes it fun. Packed with five floors of adventure, discovery, and mystery; Perot is everything a science museum should be.


One of the features I particularly enjoy about Perot is how, whenever possible, the exhibits relate to life here in Texas. The Discovering Life hall boasts dioramas and information about Texas ecosystems, like the Blackland Prairie. Our own Edwards Trinity Aquifer illustrates water cycles, and the Shale Voyager (a 4-D theater experience) takes you into the heart of the Barnett Shale. Even the dinosaur exhibit highlights critters who once roamed our area. The Texas linkage helps kids understand the science on a more personal level.

Encouraging the next generation

In each exhibit hall, you’ll find monitors featuring scientists telling their story. Many of the scientists talk about a middle school class or science project that ignited their passion. It’s a fantastic way to inspire kids to think about a career as an astrophysicist or pedologist (that’s a soil scientist). Several of the featured scientists include women, subtle encouragement for girls to pursue STEM careers.

Call to action

Throughout the museum, placards challenge you to explore even further with projects you can do at home. Interested in astronomy? Check out SCOPE, a citizen scientist project where you classify stars based on the spectrum of light they emit. Concerned about climate change? As a citizen scientist, you can help monitor the budding and blooming of plants at Project BudBurst. There are over a dozen citizen scientist projects highlighted throughout the museum – what an awesome way for kids to participate in real scientific research!


Each exhibit hall combines information with hands-on activities. Make a rainbow, play the Prey/Predator video game, or experience an earthquake. Kids (and adults) don lab coats and goggles before conducting experiments on fruit flies in the Bio Lab. A real kid favorite is the Robot Arena where you can build and program robots.

More is less

My family found the Perot overwhelming. It is five floors. And it is packed with exciting activities — too many activities. Sensory overload set in for my family after exploring two floors of exhibits. Limiting your visit will improve your experience. If you have older kids, the top three floors work well. For little tots, the Moody Family Children’s museum is ideal. If your kids love video games, interactive activities in the Texas Instruments Innovation and Engineering hall will be a sure winner. My advice is not to try to see the entire museum in just one visit.

Samsung tablets

For all you techies, a digital visitors guide is available from Google Play. Bring your android phone or check out a Samsung tablet in the museum lobby. If borrowing a tablet, you’ll need to leave a personal id, like a driver’s license.

Museum admission discounts

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science does not have a free day, but Perot does have numerous discounted admission programs. They include free admission for military and military veterans, and educators. You must present documentation at time of purchase (see the Perot website for more details). During summer months (Monday through Friday), admission is $10 after 4 p.m.

When you go

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m. Paid parking is available in nearby lots.Perot Frog (640x480) There is an outdoor children’s play area for little kids — though even adults may be tempted to play leapfrog in the frog park. An onsite Café is open daily serving pizza, burgers, and sandwiches.