By Tom & Patti Burkett
Dinosaurs are one fun thing you can count on seeing in your RV road trip on the blue highways of North America. They’re everywhere!
Many of us grew up fascinated by these prehistoric creatures, and had our first look at one on the Sinclair Oil gas station sign.
If we were really lucky, the local station had an actual model sitting on the curb out front. Sinclair chose the dinosaur as its mascot because it was believed the crude oil that formed the basis for the business was created at the time dinosaurs walked the Earth. The company capitalized on dinosaur fascination, offering a stamp album that was distributed to four million young people, and drawing record crowds to its displays at the Chicago Wold’s Fair and the Texas Centennial Exhibition.
You can see the original models—a brontosaurus, tyrannosaurus, triceratops, and several more at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, Texas. If the water in the Paluxy River is low, you can actually walk in the prehistoric tracks of dinosaurs preserved in the stone of the ancient river bed.
Finding Dinosaurs in South Dakota on an RV road trip
Along the highways throughout the region, you’ll find dinosaurs of every size and description gracing city parks, playgrounds, businesses, and museums. Some are genuine life-size replicas and some are whimsical creations painted in bright, eye-catching colors. Among our favorites are the ones in Dinosaur Park, high on a hill overlooking Rapid City, South Dakota.
The park opened in 1936 and was an effort to capitalize on the popularity of nearby Mount Rushmore and draw visitors to the city. It was built by the Works Progress Administration and designed by Emmett Sullivan, a sculptor who worked on Mount Rushmore and also designed the Christ of the Ozarks statue in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The seven life-size creatures here are all based on fossils found in the Black Hills and were painted green and white to mimic the Sinclair Dino. Sullivan also designed the dinosaur at Wall Drug, down the road a bit near the entrance to the Badlands National Park. They’re all made of concrete over iron pipe frames.
The classic long-necked, tail-dragging behemoth we all think of was originally called a brontosaurus. Later it was renamed apatosaurus and is similar to the brachiosaurus of the same time period. Whatever its name, it stirs the imagination. Imagine the thrill it must have been to see seven of these giant beasts floating down the Hudson River on a barge, en route to the New York World’s Fair! After you climb the many steps to the hilltop park, you can get up close and personal with the stock, climbing the accessible parts, and taking great photos. The nearby gift shop offers actual fossils and memorabilia.
If you want to hunt fossils yourself, the Badlands is a great place to start. Because it’s a park, you can’t keep them, but many important finds have been made by visitors and reported to the park’s fossil rangers, who investigate every discovery. Whether you want to search for actual evidence of life from the past or just see what it might have looked like, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied, out here off the beaten path.
(Tom and Patti’s Off the Beaten bath reports can be heard weekly on Mike and Jennifer Wendland’s RV Podcast)
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