Walk with dinosaurs -- or at least see them

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

In Georgia, in this land of cotton, Civil War battlefields, and big mess of traffic in Atlanta, it's hard to imagine that dinosaurs once roamed these hills of red clay millions of years ago.

But roam, they did, something I didn't really learn until I visited the Tellus Science Museum in the small town of Cartersville in North Georgia. As I wandered through the Fossil Gallery replicas of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Megalodon shark jaw were most impressive our guide explained how several species once lived in what is now the Peach State.

With the new 3-D movie "Walking With Dinosaurs" opening in theaters later this month, I was reminded of my visit to the Tellus, and that even with the passage of 65 million years when the creatures became extinct from the earth, you just can't keep a good dinosaur down.

Now dinosaurs are set once again to rise from the primordial mists and capture our collective imaginations, just as they did in 1993 with the premiere of "Jurassic Park" and its sequels in 1997 and 2001. So with dino-fever set to strike again, it seems the perfect invitation to travel to explore places where the more intrepid sojourners can vicariously walk with dinosaurs or at least near them.

The "Walking With Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time" Event, Calgary, Canada

Long before they helped create the new $85 million movie, the filmmakers at BBC Earth helped launch the "Walking With Dinosaurs" craze with a television series and live arena events of the same name. Now the team at BBC Earth is working with the luxury tour and cruise company Tauck on a special five-day, all-inclusive exploration of all-things-dinosaur in and around Calgary next July.

Tauck's "Walking With Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time" event takes families on paleontologists-led expeditions into Dinosaur Provincial Park, which has yielded more than 150 complete dinosaur skeletons and more than 40 different dino species. This is a chance to really get up close and personal with the prehistoric beasts.

As part of the Tauck experience, you'll also explore indoors at the renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the world's top paleontology museums and home to 140,000 specimens. Other exclusive experiences include special evening gatherings and chances to learn techniques used by BBC Earth filmmakers to make their award-winning documentaries.

July 17-21, 2014

All-inclusive prices from $3,078 per person, plus air.

Tellus Science Museum, Cartersville, Ga.

As a lifelong Southerner, I was truly surprised to indeed discover dinosaurs through my visit at the Tellus Science Museum. The Tellus, appropriately named for Tella, the Roman goddess of Earth, is a Smithsonian Affiliate and is huge and huge fun at this 120,000 square feet museum that was once the obscure Weinman Mineral Museum. In addition to the T-Rex and the nine-foot wide jaw of the school bus-sized and now extinct Megalodon, I marveled at the size of the bones of an 80 foot-long Apatosaurus and felineness of a saber-toothed cat.

Admission is $14 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-17

Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta, Ga.

A range of dino-centric exhibits are located at Fernbank. Start out at Dinosaur Plaza, where you'll find a family of bronze hadrosaurs known as Lophorhothon atopus, which once marched through Georgia like Sherman did on his March to the Sea.

In the Giants of the Mesozoic exhibit are the bones of the some of the largest dinosaurs in the world, big creatures that lived in Patagonia. But for Georgians like me, the Walk Through Time in Georgia, with its fifteen galleries, takes you through millions of years from the mountains to the coast.

Admission is $17.50 for adults and $15.50 for children ages 2-12

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Conn.

The Great Hall of Dinosaurs is the centerpiece of Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History. Opened in 1926, it displays extensive fossils collected by Yale paleontologist O. C. Marsh. In the late 1800s, Marsh engaged in a legendary and vicious feud with fellow scientist E.D. Cope that ultimately destroyed the reputations and careers of both men.

Although 80 tons of Marsh's fossils were seized by the government and today are housed at the Smithsonian the bulk are at the Peabody, including skeletons of Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, Camarasaurus and Camptosaurus.

Admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children ages 3-18

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

Marsh's fossil discoveries also form the core of the Smithsonian's impressive collection of dinosaurs, many of which are on display at the Museum of Natural History. Look for the gigantic 90-foot-long Diplodocus longus, the huge toothless pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus with a 40-foot wingspan, and a carnivorous Allosaurus posed to challenge a vegetable-eating Stegosaurus.

And check out the confrontation represented by the 40-foot-long, 65-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex facing off against Hatcher, a Triceratops named for the Smithsonian's John Bell Hatcher who discovered the fossil in Wyoming in 1891.

Admission is free.

American Museum of Natural History, New York City

In 1895 Marsh's rival Cope sold his fossil collection to the American Museum of Natural History, which today claims to have the world's largest dinosaur collection. Housed in two halls, the displays feature approximately 100 specimens, with 85 percent comprised of actual fossils as opposed to casts.

Highlights include two fierce predators, the notorious Tyrannosaurus rex, whose four-foot jaw bristles with 6-inch-long teeth, and the Velociraptor, so vicious and fierce and really sort of funny in the book and movie "Jurassic Park."

Admission is $22 for adults and $12.50 for children ages 2-12

"Dinosaurs Unearthed" at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia

Running through the end of March, the "Dinosaurs Unearthed" exhibit of moving, roaring, animatronics dinosaurs delivers a multi-sensory experience for families. The collection of more than a dozen scientifically-accurate specimens, again to include the ubiquitous T. rex and Velociraptor, are life-sized, state-of-the-art performers, and they're just part of a larger exhibit that includes everything from dinosaur skeletons and fossil casts to interactive, hands-on displays and a real piece of dino poop, otherwise known as coprolite.

Admission is $20 for adults and $18 for children ages 3-12

Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah

Straddling the border between Colorado and Utah and administered by the National Park Service, Dinosaur National Monument is the site of amazing fossil beds discovered in 1909 by paleontologist Earl Douglass.

There you can actually touch authentic 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils and visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall, which reopened in 2011 after a five-year renovation. The hall houses a 150-foot-long section of quarry littered with more than 1,500 fossilized bones from Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Camarasaurus and other dinosaurs. Also spot other authentic fossils on a ranger-led hike along the park's Fossil Discovery Trail.

Admission is $10 per vehicle

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