Nash Dino Land
South Hadley, Massachusetts
We are pleased to find Nash Dino Land continuing to avoid the fate of its prehistoric inhabitants. This out-of-the-way western Massachusetts attraction is run by Kornell Nash, son of the late Carlton S. Nash.
Carlton was the original discoverer of a fossil treasure trove, unearthing and selling thousands of dinosaur tracks since 1939. Thunder lizard footprints are still for sale, at prices ranging from $50 to $900. "You sell two or three of these a week, you're doing all right," says Kornell. "It's not much of a living, but it's a living." One wonders what personal or financial serendipity drove him back to Dinoland after Carlton's death in 1997, but we're grateful someone has assumed the dinotrack mantle. "It isn't very exciting, but it's interesting," he says.
Admission is only a few bucks, a good thing, because the exhibits, though interesting, are sparse. The old, weird, handmade signs are gone; a couple of moss-encrusted dino statues remain. A 100-foot-long path leads back to the quarry, where barely discernible prints can be seen slowly eroding from exposure to Massachusetts weather. Visitors can explore it, but aren't allowed to take any tracks.
The concrete block gift shop displays historical photos of Dino Land's glory days, back to when Carlton and Edna Nash first opened for business over 70 years ago.
As a young boy, Carlton Nash was fascinated by dinosaurs. One day, he absentmindedly kicked a rock -- and discovered a perfect dinosaur footprint beneath it. Carlton, still in his teens, put the rock back and told no one. He now had a goal in life; to buy the two acres of property that surrounding that rock.
Physical illness and the Depression got in the way of Carlton's plans, but he didn't quit. Finally, in 1939, Carlton bought the two acres -- useless for any type of farming -- and started digging up dinosaur prints. Hundreds of them.
In contrast to his later posturing, Carlton originally saw dinosaur footprints not as priceless paleontological treasures, not even really as an attraction, but as a natural resource to be exploited. This he did with gusto. Old photos of Dino Land in its heyday show Carlton awash in dinosaur footprints, so many that he bolted slabs of them to the outside walls of the gift shop and christened it "The world's oldest building." Advertisements from that period hawk the footprints as "the perfect gift for those who have everything" and, in toney north-central MA, Carlton had a lot of buyers. Most of the large estates in the area probably still have Carlton's prints cemented into their fireplace mantles or used as novelty flagstones between the carriage house and the pool.
When we last met with Carlton (in 1991) he was defiant. "The scientific publications have never published anything about me, depriving the students of valuable knowledge," he told us. "Perhaps they have not heard of my discoveries." Aside from his dinosaur finds, we received reports of Carlton's miraculous cure for cancer, though the medical establishment didn't seem to be mobilizing.
On another visit in 1996, shortly before Carlton's death, Edna was running things, and opening the attraction sporadically -- the instructions in the parking lot read: "Honk Horn and Wait." Aside from some odd questions ("Are you part of a school group?") she didn't have much to say about dinosaurs.
Now Kornell is in charge, knowledgeable if you want to talk fossils. Though new excavations in the footprint bed aren't apparent, Kornell assures he's been chiseling out fresh examples to sell. No one complains about his huckstering of 200 million year old geologic artifacts. "The academics don't mind. They have enough prints already." Kornell told us he plans to reconstruct the legendary Bone Wagon -- Carlton Nash's version of the Wienermobile.
The 1990s Jurassic marketing craze revitalized interest in dino attractions everywhere -- but it also raised the expectations bar. Dino Land's touching fossil merchandise in the gift shop can only fill so many minutes in a vacation. Schools groups help keep this piece of prehistory going, but for how long?
The appearance of expensive homes along the crumbly road leading to Nash suggests a climate shift as deadly as any species-killing meteor. Will far future attractions sell fragments of the gift shop? And our footprints? Probably not; Dino Land has faced extinction before, but it's a survivor.
Another visitor's appreciation of Dino Land: "I have visited Nash Dino Land several times over the past 20 years, and have had the privilege of meeting Mr. [Carlton] Nash. He might have been a bit eccentric but I found him to be a delightful person. Thousands of school children have visited Nash Dino Land and seen first hand dinosaur prints that are millions of years old. I'm certain that a visit to Nash Dino Land has inspired others to explore surrounding areas or piqued an interest in anthropology. Nash Dino Land is like any other monument or natural resource -- it decays with age. It would not appear that Mr. Nash was given any county, state or federal funding to maintain the artifacts and that we have only he to thank for sharing this wonder with us. Nonetheless, one still is able to stand upon the dinosaur prints and imagine what it would be like to be standing alongside one of the great giants that made the impression." [CT Crafty Lady, 11/28/2001]
Update: In addition to recent expansion of the quarry area and access to excavations by the public, Kornell filled us in on other improvements. He has expanded and improved his museum exhibits, making them "more educational." He also increased the inventory of fossils and other items for sale. We asked about progress on reconstructing the Bone Wagon; Kornell said he hadn't gotten to that yet. He's focused on the excavations because "most people come here for the tracks."