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New Experiences, western heritage, greet Dickinson area visitors

Dickinson Dinosauer Museum collection
The Dickinson Dinosaur Museum has the largest collection of real dinosaur fossils on display in North Dakota. PHOTO BY JOHN KARY

by Candi Helseth

Museum buffs can look for an all-new experience this summer when visiting the Dickinson Museum Center (DMC), a cultural and natural history complex that unites the historic Joachim Museum, the Dickinson Dinosaur Museum, Prairie Outpost Park and the Pioneer Machinery Building. New scientifically researched dinosaur exhibits, renovated gallery space, extended hours, a common entrance and a single admission are among improvements.

The DMC is open year-round now, expanding to seven days a week Memorial Day through Labor Day and remaining open throughout the winter. Leading the museum's reformation are two men who joined its staff this year. Director Robert Fuhrman has worked the last 29 years in various museum and historical society administration positions. Curator and Paleontologist Denver Fowler specializes in dinosaur research. His experiences include finding dinosaur bones in North Dakota that are now on display at the museum.

MUSEUM ATTRACTIONS

Formerly known as the Dakota Dinosaur Museum, the Dickinson Dinosaur Museum complex houses the largest collection of real dinosaur fossils on display in North Dakota. Exhibits include a complete Triceratops skull, six full dinosaur skeletons, hundreds of fossils, and a mineral collection.

A duck-billed dinosaur (Edmontosaurus) owned by the Museum of the Rockies is on loan throughout the summer. Fowler and his father, Warwick, unearthed this skeleton in eastern Montana in July 2009. Its age is estimated at 67 million years. Also new to the dinosaur museum are custom-made, lifelike feather-covered dinosaur replicas. Research in the last 20 years has confirmed that some dinosaurs were completely covered in feathers, Fowler said.

Fowler has been busy researching two projects that evolved into new exhibits. The first is an educational look at dinosaur eggs and babies; the second is a study of carnivorous dinosaurs and how they used their unusual inside toe claws to capture and kill prey.

“I think visitors to the museum will find it interesting to see the methodology and science for what we are doing,” Fowler commented. “That way, they learn more in-depth information about the species and the ecology of the time. They see how the past contrasts with life now, too. For instance, modern-day owls, hawks and eagles have this inside claw they use to latch onto prey.”

He is particularly enthused about an exhibit that he says will be a work in progress throughout the summer. He plans to cut the leg bone off a T-rex to study growth rings and see what they reveal.

“No one has ever fully cut a leg bone all the way through, because they want to protect the specimen, but you can tell a lot more about the history,” he commented. “It will be our wow factor that we have the most historically accurate T-rex information in North America.”

Dakota Dinosaur Museum opened in 1994 under private ownership. According to Fuhrman, the city of Dickinson purchased it in 2015, but a condition of the sale was that no changes would be made in exhibits prior to April 1, 2017. The museum is undergoing a complete renovation over the next three years.

Opened in 1983, the Joachim Museum includes a collection of art, natural history and cultural exhibits that primarily have regional significance relative to southwestern North Dakota. New this summer is a historic timeline exhibit focusing on Dickinson in the 1960s.

Open summers and located on the east side of the Joachim Museum, the 12-acre Prairie Outpost Park is home to southwest North Dakota historic and reproduction buildings, including ethnic-style houses built by local Norwegian, Czech and Germans from Russia organizations. Guided tours are available on the hour and half-hour.

The Dickinson Museum Complex is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. and Sundays. Admission, which includes all these entities, ranges from $4 to $6 per person, depending on age.

CITY HIGHLIGHTS

Dickinson Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Terri Thiel encourages exploring new attractions beyond the museum’s doors.

The outdoor First on First concert series takes place downtown Thursday evenings through Labor Day. Savor local food vendors’ specialties while enjoying live entertainment. Downtown also has new boutiques and restaurants.

Fluffy Fields Vineyard and Winery, a family-owned-and-operated winery, makes wines from locally grown grapes and fruit. Daily wine tastings, outdoor dining and tours are offered.

Area attractions include: the Old Red/Old Ten scenic byway (parallel to I-94); Dakota Clayworks, in Hebron; Assumption Abbey, Richardton; Enchanted Highway (Highway 32), with giant metal sculptures along the way, and Enchanted Castle lodging and dining in Regent. Check the Dickinson visitors website – www.visitdickinson.com –  for dates of local events, listings of other attractions, and contact information. Call 800-279-7391.