California Dinosaur Garden Q + A

Our exhibits director, Tina, has answered a few frequently asked questions about our upcoming California Dinosaur Garden Exhibit.

An in-progress dinosaur sculpture

What inspired the California Dinosaur Garden? Why was it chosen as an exhibit for the JMZ?

The outdoor exhibition was inspired by our dawn redwood tree, a species from the age of dinosaurs. It was once thought to be extinct because it was only known from fossil records until it was discovered growing in China in the 1940’s. We imagined that a large gentle dinosaur peeking through the tree’s canopy would capture a child’s imagination.

Enduringly popular, dinosaurs provide an inviting entry-point to engaging young children—and adults—in science. For many children, the thrill of discovering dinosaurs, and the world they inhabited, is an early introduction to biology, paleontology, geology, and other branches of science.

The California Dinosaur Garden will help children and their adults learn about prehistoric animals and plants, when they lived, and what the world was like then. Understanding the past is an important precursor to understanding complex topics that are so relevant today, like climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity, and evolution.

An in-progress dinosaur sculpture

Tell us about the Dino Garden. What will children experience when they visit?

The exhibition will be in the dawn redwood courtyard where our current outdoor play activities are. It will create a “living diorama” interpreting the Cretaceous period in California with life-size sculptures of prehistoric animals nestled among prehistoric ferns and cycads.

Children may climb an Aletopelta coombsi, an armored dinosaur, and walk beneath our California state dinosaur, Augustynolophus morrisi, a 32-foot-long herbivore. Discovering marine fossils in our Fossil Dig will convey that most of California was once underwater. The focus on California will help children understand change over time by comparing their familiar environment to what it was like millions of years ago.

On warm days tortoises will roam beneath the redwood to showcase their connection to prehistoric turtles. Hands-on exhibits, touchable fossils, and illustrations will interpret the science in an age-appropriate manner for children.

How was the exhibit developed?

The exhibit concept was developed for a grant phyroposal prior to the new facility being built. Advance planning ensured the courtyard was designed for the exhibit’s special needs. We were awarded a $250,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and now the interpretive exhibits are being developed in earnest by JMZ staff, and prototypes will be tested this summer.

An in-progress dinosaur sculpture

What makes the Dino Garden special?

In the exhibition, there will be a diversity of sculptures such as an Ichthyornis, a toothed plunge-diving sea bird, a Pteranodon sternbergi, a flying reptile with a 16’ wingspan, and Hypsilophodontids, deer-sized dinosaurs that were herd animals. These specimens were chosen because they were common animals in California during the Cretaceous period and represent a variety of species that may challenge visitors’ preconceived notions of dinosaur-age animals. We intend to represent these animals in non-aggressive poses to counter the menacing stereotypes that exist of dinosaurs in popular culture and to avoid frightening young children.

The JMZ is committed to presenting accurate scientific content. Throughout development, we consult our scientific advisors, including Kevin C. Boyce, a paleobotanist and Stanford professor, Richard Hilton, a paleontologist and geologist who wrote the book Dinosaurs and Other Mesozoic Reptiles of California, and Ken Kirkland, its scientific illustrator.

We have also engaged families with diverse backgrounds in early evaluation to understand their interests and knowledge about the topic. This ensures our exhibition will address the topic appropriately and be fun and engaging.

Lastly, the exhibits will be fully inclusive and developed with input from our Accessibility Advisors Team.

When will the Dino Garden be open?

October 2023