Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Land Lost in Time

On Saturday I went to a local attraction that I've been wanting to visit for years. Called Dinosaur Land, this place is an iconic piece of kitschy vintage America. Sporting a huge mouth baring foot tall teeth at its entrance and a monster octopus leering over the fence, the place was daring me to come in, and enter I did.
I paid my $6 and stepped through a wooden door expecting to be disappointed and prepared for lots of feeble critters with gnashing choppers that would frighten a small child but make an adult laugh. I walked around the corner smack into a 60' long shark that was actually impressive enough to stop me in my tracks. The perspective was awesome, setting off his gigantic jawline to perfection.
And it just got better and better from there. The first thing I noticed was the teeth. Wide open mouths displaying many forms of molars and incisors were on display, it was great.  How often can you get up really close to a mouth that size and look in. For those 'selfie' addicts, there's countless possibilities of unique self portraits here.
This Land of Giants opened over 40 years ago, its owner, Joseph Geraci, wanting to imitate some fiberglass dinosaurs he'd seen on a Floridian put put course. He wanted a few outside his gift shop and started creating them in the 60's. They soon became very popular, leading to an actual park of these prehistoric creatures being built. The originals stand on the corner outside the gift shop and the original Dinosaur Land  lettering, fashioned from CA's Disneyland sign, entices people to come in and visit. The park was once an open field but is now filled with tall pines with the heads of a T Rex, a Brachiosaurus or a Giganotosaurus peering through the leaves. The scene of a bloody battle between huge monsters is played out on the grass while others are busy ripping each others necks or catching a Pterodactyl as it flies past. Despite their age, some of these creatures still remain quite fearful and I noticed that many of the visitors were groups of adults as well as families with children.
The Apatosaurus, the correct name for the Brontosaurus, looked pleased to see me. I can't look at one of these without remembering Monty Python's famous sketch.
Some of the earlier models were endearingly cute, looking like they'd been fashioned from a kids comic book. The one immediately above is supposed to be a T Rex, what a cheerful little chap! I honestly didn't recognize any of them but loved them regardless. A couple of adults that I chatted with also expressed a fondness for these originals. I was ecstatic to hear from my friend Bill that he knows someone who's going to be starting work on the plaster restoration of some lucky creatures here.
I was delighted to see that there had been some recent additions, creatures that showed off their brand new gnashers in huge snarls and leered at me with the most expressive eyes.
 There were some other creatures, not dinosaurs, that were spotted about the park. There was a huge cobra rearing up above everyone and a towering 14ft praying mantis. I'm not sure about their significance but strangely they didn't seem out of place. I was also amazed to see a huge King Kong near the exit, which was built after Geraci watched the movie. Complete with a biplane in his hand and emitting a huge roar, folks can sit in his outstretched palm for a photo.
The exit door doesn't lead you out of the park but takes you into another wonderland, the vast gift store. Of course it's filled with dinosaurs in every shape and form, but there's also vintage postcards of the place featuring Joe's family, country and Native American crafts, some very cool t-shirts which are just black ink on white fabric and then burst into color when you walk into the sunshine, (got one of those!), candies, puzzles, footwear, and even wine and beer making equipment.
I absolutely loved this place and will definitely be back for another trip, most likely with some friends who expressed a desire to see some dinosaurs in the 'flesh'. It's not going to be closing any time soon either. Joe died in 1987 but his daughter is continuing to run the attraction, and it remains a popular destination. And of course, I need to take that 'selfie'!

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