Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 14, 2012


Even casual readers of  Under Western Skies know that I’m a big dinosaur fan.

I’ve written previously about my lifelong fascination (obsession, one would call it, when I was a kid) with dinosaurs and other “Strange Beasts of the Past” as Roy Chapman Andrews titled his book about ancient mammals. I’ve also recounted my first-ever vacation trip with Mom and Dad to Washington, D.C., where — despite the undeniable appeal of the various historical and educational government buildings and monuments — the highlight was a visit to the dinosaur exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Of course, back then, dinosaurs were still new, and some hadn’t even finished fossilizing yet. With the passage of decades, (literally) tons of new dinos have been discovered, and practically everything that was speculated about the  creatures has been revised or even radically altered. Dinosaurs now have wild colors and/or feathers, they walk differently, they raise families, they might be warm-blooded, and they’ve reappeared on earth as birds.

We’re also dedicated to seeing and absorbing as much as we can about the limitless number of fascinating sites and sights of greater Los Angeles. Somehow, though, we’ve never managed to connect those two interests until this weekend. The Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History ( has a much-heralded new dinosaur exhibit, and we finally made our way to Exposition Park (that’s just south of the USC campus, next to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum) to see it.


What did we see? We saw some old favorites, like


Triceratops low angle Brad Nixon (640x480)

Stegosaurus being attacked by Allosaurus, which is a kind of standard motif for dino exhibit curators.

Stegosaurus with Allosaurus Brad Nixon (640x480)

And, THREE versions of T-Rex, in juvenile, adolescent and mature form. In this somewhat confusing photo, you see the adolescent in the foreground, the juvenile in the center and, in back, the nearly full-grown named “Thomas,” even though no one knows yet how to determine the gender of T-Rexes (is a female Tyrannosaurus Rex a Tyrannosaura Regina?).

3 Tyrannosaurs Brad Nixon (640x480)

This exhibit taught us that there are now enough T-Rex skeletons of various ages to start doing some comparative anatomy on the developmental changes that occurred as the creatures matured.

A separate hall has ancient mammals, including local favorite, Smilodon, the saber-toothed tiger.

Smilodon Brad Nixon (640x480)

The skeleton is all black because it came out of the La Brea tar pits here in L.A., as did some other skeletons, including the American Lion and a ground sloth.

We also saw some new discoveries — or, at least new to science since that first trip to the Smithsonian.

Here’s Mamenchisaurus sticking his neck out over Triceratops (skeleton too long to fit in one photo).

Mamenchisaurus neck Brad Nixon (640x480)

Here’s a ceratopsian I’d never heard of: Einiosaurus. From Montana.

Einiosaurus skull Brad Nixon (640x480)

I can look at dinosaur skeletons all day and not get bored, but the LA NHM exhibit had some excellent displays relating to the climate, environment, evolution and development and other aspects of the prehistoric world that would take a year’s worth of visits to absorb. There’s a lab where you can watch dinosaur bones being carefully removed from their plaster shipping casts. Apparently even paleontologists get Sundays off, because nothing was happening there that day.

I even learned a good dinosaur joke. A young man doing a presentation for kids was asking the question of why T-Rex’s arms are so small. He explained that T-Rex always started by shaking hands with its prey, and that got him (or her) close enough to put the bite on them. The kids all got it.

As often happens, I spent so much time looking and reading as much of the exhibit info that I don’t have photographs of everything I’d like to relate. One incredible exhibit was a tank of some preserving fluid that had an actual (though deceased) Coelacanth, the famous “fossil fish” that’s been swimming around for hundreds of millions of years. I took no photo, but you can see one HERE at Wikipedia. We saw fossil horses, camels, titanotheres, a mastodon and … well, an embarrassment of riches.

Other than that, I learned a lot of new stuff, but I don’t have any deeply considered new philosophical wisdom to take away from this visit. It did occur to me that, though I’d never thought of it, just fifteen miles up the freeway there are paleontologists and geologists with expertise in animals and plants and all things relating to the prehistoric world actually earning a living doing what they studied to do, and we can hope that support for museums will keep pace with the fantastic support institutions like schools, libraries and state parks receive from California’s citizenry. Ahem.

It was a Sunday, and the place was crowded because, well, who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Thanks to all those parents giving their kids a chance to SEE DINOSAURS (and about a million other wonderful items in the museum). Those parents are doing the same for their kids that mine did for me … giving them a chance to experience something fascinating, to learn new things, and to understand that not all learning occurs sitting at a desk with a book. Support your local museum. If you’re here in L.A. and have half a day not consumed by the beach, Disneyland, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and looking for Mel Gibson’s house, the NHM is pretty easy to get to. I’ll get you directions. Heck, I’ll meet you there.

One can see dinosaurs in museums practically everywhere in the world. The Smithsonian has a neat map to let you plan to see dinos wherever you go: CLICK HERE.

© Brad Nixon 2012, 2017


  1. Enjoyed all the info! Not sure I’ll ever have the opportunity to use it, but it was fun info.


  2. This imposing, never-before-displayed Triceratops greets visitors as they enter the exhibition at the start of Gallery 2.


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