White Post, Virginia
This classic dinosaur park remains frozen in time, or at least faithful to the original vision of Joseph Geraci, who opened it over 50 years ago. Geraci was reportedly impressed by the fiberglass dinosaurs at a putt-putt golf course in Florida, and reasoned that prehistoric monsters would work just as well outside of his Rebel Corner gift shop in Virginia.
Geraci started dinosaur creation in the mid-1960s, and quickly realized that they should be the main attraction of his place. He renamed his place "Dinosaur Land" in large letters that resembled California's "Disneyland" sign, and added a toothy dinosaur mouth photo-op entrance (like the gaping jaws outside of Florida's Gatorland). These earliest incarnations still stand, along with a purplish Apatosaurus and an orange-green T. rex that skulks beside the highway, enticing travelers to pull over for a quick devouring.
One of the many joys of Dinosaur Land is their postcards. Dating from 1969, these gift shop treasures reveal Geraci's attraction as it looked in its early years -- an otherwise empty, sun-baked field, dotted with occasional dinos. He somehow coaxed his granddaughters into posing with the dinosaurs for the shots. Our all-time psychedelic favorite is 13-year-old Michelle Newman in an op art dress and geek-chic glasses, holding hands with the Corythosaurus.
Since that groovy adolescence, the landscape of Dinosaur Land has comfortably weathered into middle age. The former field is overgrown with tall pine trees, and many of Geraci's creations are sun-dappled in the shadows of what is now billed as a "primordial" forest. Most of the Giant Ground Sloth's long brown hair has fallen out, although its prominent protruding tongue is as long and unsettling as ever. Pachycephalosaurus and Plateosaurus have cobwebs in their mouths. Claws and teeth in general seem to have suffered.
A visit to Dinosaur Land is a stroll through four decades of dinosaur statue design. This is especially evident in the park's four Tyrannosaurus rexes, none of which looks anything like the other. Although we have a soft spot for the older models -- lumbering, plaster-skinned brutes from the Ray Harryhausen school of evolution -- the newest additions are less likely to upset a generation with more knowledge of paleontology. These were built by fiberglass guru Mark Cline, who loved Dinosaur Land so much as a kid that he built his own prehistoric attraction, Dinosaur Kingdom, as an adult.
Scenes of dino-on-dino violence occupy a back corner of the attraction. A Triceratops gouges a T. rex. A Megalosaurus eats an Apatosaurus. A Giganotosaurus wolfs down an unhappy Pteranodon. "EPIC BATTLE Titanosaurus vs Tyrannosaurus" reads a sign before another bloody scene. "Survival has been, is, and will always be a way of life in the animal kingdom." The stilted turn of phrase is pure Dinosaur Land, and harkens to its old brochure, which insisted that dinosaurs "were as true as you are alive."
Joe Geraci was not one to let literalism get in the way of a good attraction. Dinosaur Land, despite its name, mixes traditional creatures with an assortment of fanciful beasts, including a 70-foot-long purple octopus, a 60-foot-long shark, a huge cobra, and a 14-foot-tall praying mantis. A Cave Man and Cave Lady tempt shutterbugs in the birthday party room, and no journey to Dinosaur Land is complete without a visit to its 20-foot-tall King Kong, built by Geraci after he saw the Dino De Laurentiis movie in 1976. The big ape is crowded by trees and partially obscured by an earthen mound that supports his ready-to-pose-in paw. Kong's other hand currently holds a little Cessna because his biplane has been stolen so many times over the years.
Although Joe died in 1987, the attraction remains in family hands and is currently managed by JoAnn Leight, his youngest daughter. "Lots of people stop by who came here when they were kids," she told us. "They say, 'I remember the dinosaurs being bigger.' I tell them, 'Well, you grew up and the trees grew up. They're the exact same dinosaurs.'"