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The Couple with a Dream—To Build a Historically Accurate Dinosaur Hotel

Murals on the exterior of the Best Western

Dinosaur murals on the exterior of the Best Western Denver Southwest. (Photo: Ayleen Gaspar/flickr

Greg and Meredith Tally had been running their Lakewood, Colorado Best Western for about 10 years when they decided it was ready for a revamp. It was a “perfectly fine” hotel, says Meredith, but the couple decided the place needed some personality. There were some obvious options for themes; the Red Rocks Amphitheater was nearby and attracted guests en route to concerts by the likes of Neil Young, Idina Menzel and Lana Del Ray. They could have gone with a rock theme and hung guitars and signed headshots on the walls. Or maybe they could have done a racing themed hotel in honor of the also nearby Bandimere Speedway.

“We had a beige box commodity in our hotel,” says Greg. “But we didn’t want our hotel to taste like chicken. We wanted it to taste like pterodactyl.”

The Tally’s hotel (which is in a suburb of Denver) is also in the middle of a dinosaur hot zone. Within a few miles are both Dinosaur Ridge, a famous fossil area where many of the first large Jurassic dinosaur skeletons—including Apatosaurus, Allosaurus and Stegosaurus—were found, and the Morrison Natural History Museum, which showcases Colorado’s dinosaurs. So in 2012, the Tally’s began a $5 million remodel to turn transform their property into a dinosaur hotel, reopening in April 2013. 

Dinosaur bone in sandstone (Morrison Formation, Upper Jurassic; western side of Dinosaur Ridge, Colorado, USA)

Dinosaur bone in sandstone in Dinosaur Ridge, just a few miles from the hotel. (Photo: James St John/flickr)

“Tasteful was our watchword,” says Greg. “We wanted this to be—even with the dinosaurs— something that a businessman or woman would feel comfortable walking in the door and conducting business with a client and not feel like they were staying in some sort of romper room.” 

The history of dinosaur-themed roadside attractions are a kitschy one; a prime example are the very not-scientific Cabazon Dinosaurs, a pair of massive statues near Palm Springs, California that scored major roles in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”. (And today is home to a creationist museum.) The Tally’s wanted to avoid that tail-dragging, cartoony legacy and go for a more scientific feel. So they turned to scientists.

They reached out to the Morrison Natural History museum and consulted with curator Matthew Mossbrucker on the project; they even talked to world-famous paleontologist Robert T. Bakker, in order to make sure their hotel felt more like a museum than a theme park.

The results are understated—but also riddled with dinosaurs.

Eddie the Edmontosaurus, a  replica was made from the original collected from the Ruth Mason Dinosaur Quarry north of Faith, South Dakota

Eddie the Edmontosaurus, a  replica was made from the original collected from the Ruth Mason Dinosaur Quarry north of Faith, South Dakota. (Photo: Courtesy Best Western Denver Southwest)

A pteranodon weathervane festoons the hotel’s roof. Upon entering the lobby, guests are greeted by a fossilized desktop at the check-in counter, studded with the imprints of ancient nautilus. Behind the counter is a massive stegosaurus skeleton embedded in rock. The hotel is decorated with museum-quality casts of fossils from the renowned Black Hills Research Institute in Hill City, South Dakota. There are curio cabinets stuffed with vintage brass dinosaurs and antique science equipment. There are many skulls, including “Eddie” the Edmontosaurus, “Jim Bob” the Allosaurus, and “Butthead” the Pachycephalosaurus. Reproductions of watercolors by Arthur Lakes, a 19th century teacher and geologist who discovered the first fossils at Dinosaur Ridge, adorn the guestroom walls. At breakfast, amateur paleontologists man a fossil table where guests can interact with artifacts.

 And, ok, there is a little kitsch.

 

Upper hind legs of a Brachiosaurus on display at the hotel.

Upper hind legs of a Brachiosaurus on display at the hotel. (Photo: Ayleen Gaspar/flickr)

“Stanley the stegosaurus is out front,” says Meredith. “He’s not scientifically accurate 100 percent, but he is cute.”

Guests can also devour loaded nachos at the in-hotel restaurant Paleo Joe’s, which features a fossilized wood bar.

Meredith’s favorite extinct resident is Sophie, a 40-foot Tylosaurus skeleton that “swims” across the roof of the breakfast room. Sophie is so large,her head is mounted outside the room above the entrance. A reproduction, she began life as a movie prop in the National Geographic movie Sea Monsters.

Inside the Lakewood Best Western in Denver

The reception desk. (Photo: Jimmy Thomas/flickr)

“The coolest thing about her is that you can look up and see her big vertebrae and her ribcage and then inside her rib cage you can see some smaller vertebrae and a smaller ribcage,” says Meredith. “And that was her lunch. She was fossilized with her lunch still in her stomach and that’s just really cool, I love pointing that out to people.”

The Tally’s joint passion for dinosaurs was sparked in 1997 on a drive they took from Texas to Colorado after their wedding. They stopped off in Houston to go to Six Flags and then went to see The Lost World: Jurassic Park at a theater. Something clicked, says Greg and they “started buying as many dinosaur books as we possibly could and learning all about dinosaurs.” Greg has even been on a few paleontologist-supervised fossil digs, and in photos on the hotel site he looks like he’d be at home in Jurassic Park, sporting a brimmed hat and leather jacket. 

So far, the gamble seems to be paying off. About 15 percent of the hotel’s visitors are now comprised of “vocal, passionate and opinionated” fans that come for the dinosaurs. The hotel’s Facebook page has accumulated 86,801 likes. (This is undoubtedly thanks in part to a cartoon about the hotel on the very popular webcomic The Oatmeal; a perk the Tally’s earned for donating $35,000 to the comic author’s Indiegogo campaign to open a Nikola Tesla museum.)

 

A model Stegosaurus outside the Best Western hotel

A model Stegosaurus outside the hotel.. (Photo: Jimmy Thomas/flickr)

And the Tally’s aren’t done with their dinosaur additions. Next up, they plan to decorate the bottom of their swimming pool with a mosaic mural of the Cretaceous Seaway in the style of an ancient Roman tessera designed by paleoartist Larry Felder.

“We could actually have a place where people could swim with the sea monsters,” says Greg.