Highway eye-catcher looms over the parking lot.
Highway eye-catcher looms over the parking lot.

Thunderbeast Park - Closed

Field review by the editors.

Chiloquin, Oregon

After this park closed in the 1990s, the dinosaurs were reported moved to Prehistoric Gardens in Port Orford, OR

What killed off the Dinosaur Park?

There's nothing worse than driving hours to an attraction and finding it closed, or out of business. However, in 1996, our morning jaunt up scrub pine-lined Oregon State Hwy. 97, to Thunderbeast Park, is not entirely without consolation. The sign reads "Closed," the gift shop is stripped, and a decaying prehistoric creature looms over the empty parking lot. Yet the "Portal to the Past" entry gate hangs invitingly open.

Uintatherium.
Uintatherium.

Thunderbeast Park is near popular Crater Lake National Park, and Hwy. 97 is one of two major north-south conduits through eastern Oregon. The park was built in 1962 to "show what has been found in Oregon," which probably didn't seem all that limiting in the world of pre-Jurassic Park tourism. But no terrifying huge or famous dinosaurs were Oregon natives. Is this what killed off Thunderbeast Park?

"Life-sized replicas of 12 dinosaurs" are promised by the tourist literature. They're all here, arrayed in classic dino park fashion along a twisty forest walk. The path is strewn with fallen branches, and the handrails are collapsing.

There's no T-Rex, brontosaurus, triceratops, pterodactyl -- none of the mainstream crowd pleasers. Instead, the creatures highlighted -- from the uncelebrated "Eocene Epoch" -- are low-to-the-ground puzzlers like the Glyptodont, the Dinohyus, and the Platybelodon.

The oddly painted statues are cartoon-like -- such as the Dodo Bird-ish "Diatryma" a nutty flesh-eater -- and resemble farm animals dressed for Halloween. The Uintatherium is a cow wearing a mask of Styrofoam coffee cups. A hand-lettered sign tells us: "Although he was a plant eater, he was armed with a pair of sharp tusks." Obscure peace-loving cartoon dinosaurs, competing for attention in a world of sophisticated dino-PhD kids. Is this what killed off Thunderbeast Park?

New evidence that raptors -- supermodels of the Early Cretaceous -- migrated through the region comes too late to help this place. A final clue solves the mystery, when a grizzled antiques dealer in Bend tells us that the "old woman who ran that place died.

July 2006: Thunderbeast Park has closed permanently; it is now a Chrome Shop for truck drivers. The large dinosaur is still out front, but the remaining beasts have been torn down.

Thunderbeast Park - Closed

Directions:
12 miles north of Chiloquin on Hwy. 97.

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September 21, 2014

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