Monday, May 6, 2013

Things to do in Virginia: Dinosaurland





Last Saturday, our family took a trip back in time...to a 1960's-era version of a prehistoric forest.


We visited Dinosaurland, a quirky roadside attraction near White Post, VA, on Highway 522 between Front Royal and Winchester.

It doesn't look like much from the road, but Dinosaurland is really worth a visit. If you have a dinosaur enthusiast in your family, she will love seeing giant replicas of many of her favorite creatures from the late Cretaceous period. If you don't have a dinosaur enthusiast, you should still go for the photo opportunities and the inexplicable enormous fake cacti. This is a pretty amazing place (in a classic-roadside-America kind of way).

The giant fiberglass dinosaurs are arranged along an easily-walkable gravel path that winds through a wooded area. Nothing moves, makes noises or lights up. Signs in front of most of the statues tell a little about the dinosaur. Some of the dinosaurs are engaged in staged battle scenes, complete with painted blood and bite marks, which our 4 1/2 year old loved. You can walk right up to the dinos and touch them, although there are numerous signs that emphatically command "No Climbing." (When SuperSam asked the lady at the gift shop if he could hug the dinosaurs, she said that was okay, although she was not as charmed as you might expect by such a request from a child in a dinosaur costume).

Yes, SuperSam went dressed as a Velociraptor.



Velociraptor SuperSam finds his name on the list of species at Dinosaurland.

The entrance to Dinosaurland is through the large gift shop, which has lots of breakable items at child level (and several rhyming signs that inform you that if you break things, you will have to buy them). There are restrooms in the gift shop near the entrance to the park, which you can visit just before you head out into the woods to see the dinosaurs. Very handy.

The other good news about the gift shop is that there are many items under $5 and even some under $1, so if your young dino-lover is short on cash, he should still be able to find a souvenir in his price range. Not all the items are dinosaur-related, but there is a really good selection of stuffed and plastic toy dinosaurs. SuperSam was really excited to find more than just the usual T-Rex, stegosaurus, apatosaurus and triceratops as choices. There are also t-shirts and books. Don't miss the paperback Educational Guide to Dinosaurland available at the register for 25 cents. The photos inside look like the work of Instagram hipsters, but they are the real deal.

The bad news about the gift shop is that the aisles are too narrow to easily accommodate a double stroller (even our Maclaren, which fits through standard doorways). If you have a single stroller, it should fit through just fine, and the gravel path through the park is totally manageable with a stroller. We chose to carry the Sisters through the gift shop (to avoid breaking any of the aforementioned breakables) and let them walk as much as they wanted once we got outside.


Although Lucy mostly preferred being carried, Nora enjoyed getting close to the dinosaurs and making roaring noises at them.


In addition to the dinosaurs, there is a large shark, a statue of King Kong (where you can pose for a picture sitting in the palm of his hand), an enormous praying mantis, a kind-of-creepy furry giant sloth, and the biggest, weirdest pink octopus I have ever seen.

Parasaurolophus - one of SuperSam's favorites
Lucy, Daddy and SuperSam among the octopus' tentacles



















Nora and Daddy inside the giant shark's mouth




















Although some of the dinosaurs could use some touching up with paint and not all of the information presented is current with modern research, Dinosaurland is definitely worth a visit. SuperSam bounced excitedly around the forest, looking like a reptilian version of Max in Where the Wild Things Are, reading about various dinosaurs as he impersonated a Velociraptor. The Sisters were happy just to be outside and walk around. 

Let the wild rumpus start!
There was enough to do here to keep everyone busy for 45 minutes or an hour.

"I think this is actually an Anatosaurus."
Velociraptor, stalking his prey...
...and devouring it.



























When everyone started to get hungry and restless, we headed back to Front Royal for lunch at Spelunker's, a local restaurant that serves fresh homemade burgers and frozen custard. Other menu items include chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, grilled cheese and boardwalk french fries. (They even have malt vinegar for the fries.) The burgers are quite good, and the custard is excellent. They always have chocolate and vanilla, plus a "flavor of the day."  On our visit, we had Thin Mint Sundae (vanilla custard with chocolate syrup and crushed thin mints mixed in). SuperSam's kid's meal came with a kid-sized ice cream, and he chose a chocolate cone with rainbow sprinkles.




One of my favorite things about Spelunker's is that they have a lot of highchairs, all of which have removable trays. Amazing. It's almost impossible to get two typical restaurant highchairs pulled up to the end of a table. With their own trays attached, the Sisters can sit back a bit from the table, and the other three of us can fit in a regular booth. There are also two larger corner booths for big families, and the tables are often being rearranged by groups that need more seating together.
 



You place your order at the counter and then go sit and wait with a number on your table. Friendly staff bring out the food when it is ready...so much easier than trying to juggle children and highchairs and drinks and diaper bags as you struggle to carry trays of food to a table and settle everyone down to eat.

There are also changing tables in the women's restroom, which I appreciate (although not in the men's, which would gain them even more favor from me).

Fresh flowers on the table = snack for Baby Dimetrodon.
If you find yourself in the northern Shenandoah Valley, go check out Dinosaurland. It's an experience you won't soon forget.

If you decide to visit, you can check hours of operation and admission prices here at their website. (School groups do sometimes visit on field trips, so you might want to call ahead during the week if you don't want to share space with a busload of local schoolchildren.)