Digging for dinosaurs

Our expert offers tips on family-oriented dino sites, historic Route 66 and Welsh bardic tourneys.

By Donald D. Groff

Published June 1, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

We just visited a dinosaur exhibit, and our son was particularly interested in the sand and bone pit they had erected for children to chisel in the rocks. Are there real dinosaur sites that one can visit to help excavate? Is there an age limit for participants?

The release of the movie "Dinosaur" and the unveiling of Sue the T-Rex at Chicago's Field Museum are just the latest logs thrown on the fire of dino adoration, and children, of course, are at the forefront of the frenzy. While professional digs are geared to adults, the public's fascination with the topic has prompted quite a few communities, many in the West, to cultivate their dinosaur assets. And that includes hands-on excavations for kids.

Among the possibilities:

  • Thermopolis, Wyo., home of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, with guided tours of dinosaur excavation sites and a large museum complex. You can "dig for a day" or string together days at a discounted rate. Thermopolis is in central Wyoming. The Dinosaur Center's phone numbers are (800) 455-3466 and (307) 864-2997.

  • Grand Junction, Colo., and its environs are known locally as Dinosaur Valley. Attractions include the Dinosaur Valley Museum, which offers day digs and longer expeditions, plus Riggs Hill, where the first known brachiosaur was discovered in 1900, and Dinosaur Hill, where the apatosaurus now in Chicago's Field Museum was found. There's also the Rabbit Valley "Trail Through Time," a self-guided one-and-a-half-mile walking trail through an area with lots of dinosaur remains. For information on the area, call the Grand Junction Visitor Bureau at (800) 962-2547 or (970) 244-1480.

  • In Rocky Hill, Conn., Dinosaur State Park has hundreds of dinosaur tracks from which visitors can make plaster casts. Information: (860) 529-8423.

    For a guide to all sorts of dinosaur sites and programs, check out the book "Dinosaur Digs" by Blake Edgar (Discovery Travel Adventures, 1999). A good site for learning about dinosaurs, dig programs and excerpts from that book can be found at Discovery.com's Fossil Zone.

    Another helpful book is "Dino Safari: Fun Places for Adults and Children to Learn About Dinosaurs" (An American Safari Guide) by R.L. Jones (Cumberland House, 1999).

    Somewhere down the road, I'd like to drive all or a big piece of old U.S. Route 66. Can you suggest sources for planning such a trip?

    U.S. Route 66 was built in the late 1920s and early '30s and became the nation's first cross-country highway, stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles. Although it has been replaced by the interstate highway system, 90 percent of its original 2,448 miles are said to remain intact.

    While it's no longer a primary highway, its place in the national consciousness remains secure, and for those who want to follow it there is plenty of help. Among the sources:

  • The recently revised "Route 66 Traveler's Guide and Roadside Companion" by Tom Snyder (St. Martin's Griffin, 2000, paperback), supplies maps of the old road and descriptions of towns and cities along the way. Snyder details places to visit, places to avoid and places of historical interest.

  • "Route 66: The Mother Road" by Michael Wallis (St. Martin's Press, 1992) is a bestselling, well-illustrated examination of the route, great for background and capturing the spirit of the road.

  • "A Guide Book to Highway 66" by Jack Rittenhouse is a classic, first published in 1946 and now reprinted by the University of New Mexico Press.

    Each of the eight states through which Route 66 runs -- Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California -- also has state associations. Information on those associations can be found through various Web sites, including Historic Route 66.

    Another source is the National Historic Route 66 Federation.

    There are also associations devoted to Route 66 in Canada, Holland and Norway.

    Where can we get information on the Eisteddfod Festival in Wales?

    Hundreds of eisteddfodau -- contests of music, literature and other arts -- are held all over Wales during the summer, leading up to the Royal National Eisteddfod held annually in early August at a location that changes each year.

    The event attracts 150,000 visitors and about 6,000 competitors. This year's dates are Aug. 5-12; the location is the Millennium Coast Park in Llanelli, South Wales, just northwest of Swansea.

    Be forewarned that the language of the competition is Welsh. However, a simultaneous-translation facility is provided free of charge for activities within the main pavilion, and an English-language audio guide can be obtained free of charge from the festival's information center. A booking form is available through the Web site.

    According to the Welsh tourism office, the Eisteddfod -- which means "sitting together" or "gathering" -- evolved from ancient bardic tournaments in which apprentice poets and musicians would compete against each other for a seat of honor in the households of noblemen. Winning such a tournament was akin to securing a contract of employment, for poets depended on the patronage of wealthy noblemen and landowners for their livelihood.

    Today the stakes have shifted, but the competitors still relish the cheers of the audience.

  • Donald D. Groff

    Donald D. Groff has been dispensing travel advice for a decade for such publications as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Boston Globe and the Kansas City Star.

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