Virginia Velociraptors: Dinosaur Land

July 16, 2011 – If aliens ever stuck a historical plaque on the Earth to denote the source of the planet’s intergalactic renown, it would only say, “Here Were Dinosaurs.” And they’d be right. The only reason that the earth’s at all a cool place is because giant lizards once quaked its surface. And if one of the few ways I can express my appreciation for that is to run around a forest full of life-sized roadside-attraction-quality fiberglass dinosaurs, then so be it.

Why the idea hasn’t occurred to every single one of us, I’ll never know, but Dinosaur Land began in the 1960s as a project by a man named Joseph Geraci on a two-acre field in the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia.

Today, some 45 years later, a nice shade forest has grown up around the dinosaurs and, although Geraci himself died in 1987, it’s still a family-run attraction. Heck, after we paid our measly five bucks apiece to get in, the boy at the ticket/gift shop counter handed us an educational brochure dated decades ago, pointed to a couple of young girls standing next to a pleasantly amateurish tyrannosaurus and said, “Those are my aunts. They’re like 60 now.” The country already has an official first family, but for me, it will always be these guys.

Dinosaur Land is located at 3848 Stonewall Jackson Highway in the tiny town of White Post, not too far from both the West Virginia and Maryland borders. You can accidentally miss the entire town of White Post, but you can't miss this place. Its parking lot is filled with towering dinosaurs, and the entry way is a giant open reptile mouth.

Passing through an anthropomorphic tree and along a 60-foot-long shark that you can enter through its gills to hang out in its jaws, you’ll find yourself in the forest. Once there, you can pretty much see all the dinosaurs in a pretty spectacular milieu that makes them look like living parts of an environment. A path wends its way throughout and takes you up close to each fiberglass monster. All told, there are between forty and fifty specimens. We took pictures of almost every one. Then even more pictures of us posing with every one. It’s hard not to.

The terrible lizards range from just a few feet tall to a few stories tall, from five foot long to 90 feet long. Some are as old as the park, others are of recent vintage. The quality and accuracy ranges accordingly, with some looking like larger versions of those cheap (and awesome) toys you find at the dollar store and others looking pretty realistic. Incidentally, the newer ones were created by Mark Cline, who’s known in those parts for his Foamhenge sculpture, a year-round spook house, and a smaller dinosaur park of his own, all about 140 miles south of White Post, near the Natural Bridge area.

All the usual suspect dinosaurs are there and labeled accordingly, from multiple tyrannosaurs and triceratops to pterandodons and brachiosaurs to dinosaurs that I haden’t even thought about since I was a kid, like dimetrodon and anklyosaurus. I suspect there are also some that aren’t even officially recognized as dinosaurs anymore by the Councils That Do That Kind of Thing. Nothing that a quick name change on a sign didn’t fix, though.

But there aren’t just dinosaurs. Adding to the whimsy of this monster garden is the aforementioned shark, which is also wrapped in the tentacles of a gigantic octopus, an oversized king cobra, a few prehistoric mammals, a large praying mantis, and a two-story-tall King Kong, which features a ramp that takes you up to its palm (the one not filled by a biplane), where you can Fay Wray for a picture.

Although I’ve been to many highly funded and amazing dinosaur exhibits at major museums in major cities, they’re all missing something that Dinosaur Land has in spades. That in situ feeling. At Dinosaur Land, you’re outside in a natural setting with these life-sized beasties in a way that makes it easier to imagine them tromping all over a much younger Earth. And many of them feel much more real and much more comprehensible as a result. The only way to make it more realistic is if we were being trampled underneath their elephantine feet or bitten in half by their serrated jaws.

A dream is a wish a heart makes.

The King and I