Museum Of Natural History Going Stronger Than Ever
January 10, 2019
Story And Photos By Kimberly Hosey
It’s been a while since my son and I visited the Arizona Museum of Natural History, and as we followed the dino footprints into the building at 53 N. Macdonald, Mesa, I hoped that the museum’s charms would hold up—since our last visit, and as a parent of a now-teen.
I needn’t have worried. The museum has updated some of its exhibits, added more interactive displays, and continued to grow, all while keeping its charm (and our favorite displays). It charmed and engaged my kid—even if he’s not a little kid anymore—and it kept me fascinated, too.
One of the most dramatic changes we noticed is there is a dinosaur breaking out of the museum. The life-size sculpture, unveiled this spring, appears to be breaking out of the upper levels of the museum. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies with her, with the tag #FreetheDinosaur.
The predatory dinosaur is an Acrocanthosaurus, a local (discovered in western North America), and serves as an exciting first glimpse of what awaits inside, but also an accurate one: The museum balances striking and fun displays with information, education, and ties to the natural wonders of Arizona and the lands surrounding our state.
Inside, we started by blasting off into space, or at least by perusing several displays centering on it. The Tucson Meteorite, on permanent display in the Origins Hall, has fascinated my son for years, since he barely tall enough to look through the hole in the cast of the immense iron meteorite that was discovered before 1850. Now he’s taller than me and towers above it, but he still stopped to examine the huge meteorite.
He still doesn’t quite measure up to Quetzalcoatlus northropi, one of the largest flying animals, with a wing span of up to 10 meters and a skull that topped 2 meters, but he stood beneath it. Introduced in a special exhibit Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies, Quetzalcoatlus has been integrated into Dino Hall, where it’s joined by several of its pterosaur relatives and many dinosaur skeletons. (Any dinosaur-obsessed kid will tell you pterosaurs are flying reptiles, but not dinosaurs.)
Of course no visit to the museum would be complete without spending some time at Dinosaur Mountain, a three-story display of animatronic dinosaurs, which features a cascading waterfall that periodically surges into a flash flood. The mountain features an interactive legend that invites guests to press a button beside each animal (arranged in evolutionary order, with the oldest animals on the lower levels of the mountain all the way up to a bighorn sheep at the top). Once pressed, a spotlight illuminates the creature, while the sign provides further information on the animal. (My son pointed out it shouldn’t say “spotlight a dinosaur” as some, like Pteranodon or the mammalian Glyptotherium, aren’t dinosaurs. I think we can forgive the move in the name of brevity, just like I’m sure they’d forgive his pedantry, as it comes with a big helping of enthusiasm.)
Guests of all ages roamed the 80,000-square-foot museum, from older couples to large families to school groups. There’s plenty to interest just about anyone, and the museum’s attractions for the littlest guests have also been expanded. There are puzzles, games, “Please touch” exhibits, live demonstrations, a tree slide, and more throughout the museum.
The Exploration Station is geared specifically for your youngest explorers. Featuring more puzzles, hands-on activities, and games, the section also sometimes hosts craft activities and parties. Kids can even hop on the back of a Therizinosaurus for a picture.
The museum, like my teen, continues to grow and keep me interested. The skill with which the museum’s exhibits are arranged has only gotten better, and we loved it before. From Dino Hall to exhibits on Mesoamerican culture, from astronomy to Spanish conquistadors, from panning for gold to getting “locked up” in a jail cell from Arizona’s territorial days, the museum is designed for maximum impact, education, and engagement.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed Sunday. Plan ahead by calling to check for any special events, demonstrations, availability of areas that need staff like the Exploration Station, and promotions. Admission is $12 for adults, $7 for children ages 3 to 12, $8 for students 13 and older with ID, and $10 for seniors 65 and older. Children 2 and younger are free.