Everybody loves dinosaurs, but it takes a special kind of devotion to try and build your own.
Thankfully, though, across America, there are many places to see that passion in action.
Part roadside attractions, part wannabe educational displays, dinosaur parks are a beloved tradition among creators of independent, homegrown attractions. Maybe it’s because everyone has a good-enough-for-government-work understanding of basic dinosaur forms, or maybe it’s that nothing says fun-for-the-whole-family like non-threatening thunder lizards, but a surprising number of amateur creators have tried their hand at making their own folk art Jurassic Parks. The level of accuracy among the beasts on display in the world’s dinosaur parks varies pretty wildly, but all of these nine attractions let visitors take a walk with the dinosaurs that lived in the uncanny valley.
1. PREHISTORIC GARDENS
Port Orford, Oregon
Oregon’s Prehistoric Garden has been around since the early 1950s, when its creator, Ernest Nelson began sculpting giant lizards on his verdant property. Nelson was actually quite concerned with the accuracy of his models, despite what the end product may have been in some cases, and actually went to the Smithsonian to research their fossils. Despite this, many of his dinosaurs ended up looking somewhat silly. In the end, Nelson crafted 23 dinosaurs over 30 some years, all set along the a trail where visitors can come and enjoy his creations. Some of the beasts on display include a cartoonish T. rex, a grinning triceratops, and a 46-foot-tall brontosaurus.
2. VALLE DE PREHISTORIA
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Cuba’s sprawling Baconao Park, has a number of attractions within its borders including a massive volcanic stone known as “The Great Rock” and a replica historic village, but perhaps the most enticing attraction is the Valle de Prehistoria dinosaur park. Throughout the lush sections of the park, somewhere around 200 stone dinosaurs can be found amongst the vegetation. Created with what seems like a pretty good idea of what dinosaurs must have looked like, sort of, but at least they are exciting. There are battling brontosaurs, and dying mammoth being attacked by Neanderthals, spreading its maw strangely wide. The park might be a beautiful sight, but the dinos could use some work.
3. CRYSTAL PALACE DINOSAURS
First unveiled in 1853, London’s Crystal Palace dinosaurs were intended as a simple novelty, but turned out to become beloved fixtures, even if they only barely resemble any real dinosaurs. The stone creatures were created as part of the decorations on the grounds of Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace Park, along with a number of other extinct animals. The models quickly became a popular attraction and small versions of them were sold as toys and educational aids. As the inaccuracies of the models (weird nose horns, aquatic creatures on land) began to to become more glaring over the years, the models fell into disrepair. However in thew 2000s, they finally underwent renovations and are currently protected as national landmarks.
4. THE ROCK AND FOSSIL AND DINOSAUR SHOP
This Massachusetts dinosaur park is the classic educational bait and switch. Lure in the kids with the promise of dinosaurs, then tell them about rocks. But at least the dinosaurs aren’t a total lie. This mining exhibit/dinosaur park is held in a small gift shop, and keeps most of it’s homemade dinos out back. The collection is small, and is mostly memorable for the wall that has a number of dinosaur heads hanging from it which range from monstrous to strangely adorable. However, again, the real meat of this place would seem to be their rock collections, which to be fair, seem kinda fun.
5. DINOSAUR WORLD
Cave City, Kentucky
Starting with the bright orange T. rex standing just off the interstate, beckoning passing motorists, Kentucky’s Dinosaur World wears its wonky color on it’s sleeve. The actual “world,” can be found along the wooded trail where over 150 creatively designed fiberglass dinosaurs can be found, with little plaques explaining their species. The park is the work of Swedish amusement maker, Christer Svensson, who also built two other, similar parks in America. The dinosaurs at each of his parks however are hand made by the employees on site giving them that anti-museum quality that can’t be found in many institutions of higher learning anymore. As part of a franchise, this park offers a few more amenities than most, but its dinosaurs still look just as fantastical.
White Post, Virginia
After being inspired by some dinosaurs that adorned a local mini-golf course, the creator of Virginia’s Dinosaurland began creating his own collection of thunder lizards in the 1960s, to decorate his small gift shop. Like many amateur John Hammonds the creator of Dinosaurland did his best to create life-like dinosaurs, but often ended up with strange looking creations like a T. rex seemingly trying to swallow a pterodactyl whole, and a technicolor breed of triceratops. In addition to the dinosaurs, Dinosaurland also eventually became home to a giant King Kong statue as well as a homemade homage to Jaws. Neither looks like dinosaurs, but c’mon, who doesn’t like Jaws?
7. PETRIFIED CREATURES MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
Richfeld Springs, New York
A lot of creations found at dinosaur parks are strange or inaccurate, but few are as straight up impressionistic as the concrete creatures at the Petrified Creatures Museum of Natural History. Despite looking like the creatures were designed by Keith Haring, the park was opened in 1934. It features a number of vaguely dinosaur like shapes with little detail and few sharp angles. Adding to the bizarrely blobby look of the dinosaurs is the paint jobs, which range from bright pink to periwinkle blue, although this would seem to have been a modern addition to the site. Each of the creatures is also accompanied by a mailbox that holds a button that, if pressed, will spout some info about the dinosaur.
8. DINOSAUR PARK
Rapid City, South Dakota
Established in 1936, it’s easy to understand why the handmade monsters found in South Dakota’s Dinosaur Park are less than 100 percent accurate. But they could maybe have tried to at least make them look like something that could be alive. Looking not unlike a series of children’s drawings of dinosaurs sculpted out to three dimensions, Dinosaur Park’s titular attractions are pretty friendly to behold. Some of them even have actual grins on their faces. There are five dinosaurs in all at the park, and their bright green coats are regularly touched up, making the park look like it has barely aged in the decades since it’s creation. Out understanding of dinosaur physiology may have gotten better over the years, but our love of weird dinosaurs hasn’t changed a bit.
9. HISEY DINOSAUR PARK
The dinosaurs found in the Hisey Dinosaur Park (and, increasingly all around the city itself), were not created by a single folk art visionary, but a whole town of them. in an attempt to draw tourists to the small Washington town, the locals began building homemade dinosaurs in what would become Hisey Dinosaur Park. Eventually the annual practice grew into the Dino-in-a-Day celebration during which the citizenry of Hisey can come out and help slather concrete on that years wire frame of a dinosaur. The festival has produced over 30 odd dinosaurs which have now expanded outside of just the park and can be found throughout the town.