Visitors entering the Palm Springs Desert Museum may be startled to hear the roars from a gathering of prehistoric dinosaurs in one of its halls. Nearly life size, these creatures that roamed the Earth millions of years ago are mechanical re-creations that are realistic in design, and electronic wizardry programs them to flash their eyes, move and bellow as though they are hungry.
The dinosaurs are the newest exhibit in this museum, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Despite the ferocity of their appearance and tongue-twisting names, the dinosaurs have captured the imagination of children everywhere.
Not since the advent of Mickey Mouse has a creature been so popular. Childrens' librarians will tell you that the most asked-for books in their departments are easy-to-read picture stories on dinosaurs. The toy market is thriving on the popularity of doll-size dinos, which puzzles many adults who wonder why their youngsters prefer the companionship of a long-necked Brontosaurus to that of a stuffed teddy bear.
English Girl's Find
One of the reasons is a newly published paperback, "Captain Atlas and the Globe Trotters--Return of the Dinosaurs" (Hammond: $4.95). The young reader learns that a 12-year-old English girl, Mary Anning, was the first to find a whole fossil skeleton.
In 1811, she discovered the fossilized skeleton of an Ichthyosaurus, a reptile that lived in the sea. Although this was not a dinosaur, this amazing young lady continued her search. In 1821, she found the first Plesiosaurus skeleton and later she uncovered the bones of a Pterodactyl, a flying reptile.
It was Richard Owen (1804-92), a pioneer in the study of fossils who originated the term dinosaur. In a report he wrote on British fossil reptiles, which was published in 1841, he used the word, which means fearful lizard.
In addition to the dinosaur models, the exhibit features fossil skulls, an audio-visual presentation, graphic displays and dioramas that reveal dinosaurs as diverse and abundant creatures that survived for more time on this planet than any other vertebrate group.
A film series is shown each Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Annenberg Theater and features films, cartoons and documentaries--all related to dinosaurs and how we have viewed them over the years. The dinosaur exhibit will close Jan. 10.
The museum offers others things to see. In one hall, dioramas depict cacti, wild flowers and other plants that may be seen around Palm Springs, together with animals that make their homes in the desert: antelope squirrels, pack rats, coyotes, the kit fox and the desert hare.
A number of these, including a kangaroo rat, pocket mouse, rosy boa, king snake, deer mouse are rotated in live habitat groups, which can be studied at close range through glass windows.
Among the museum's extensive collection of Indian artifacts are more than 1,000 North American Indian baskets primarily from the tribes of California and the Southwest. In this exhibit are many baskets that were made by Cahuilla Indians.
Also featured at the museum is the third Western States exhibition, which features more than 200 works by 45 of the region's painters, sculptors and photographers. It is sponsored by the Western States Arts Foundation, an organization representing state art councils from 14 Western states. This exhibit also closes Jan. 10.
You may also want to view the Denney Western American Art Wing, which contains one of the nation's finest collections of paintings of the West, and the Annenberg Art Wing, which presents major trends in contemporary art--with an emphasis on California and Southwestern artists.
Nature Field Trips
Residents or weekend visitors may wish to join one of the nature field trips that leave the museum parking lot at 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Destinations are Tahquitz Canyon and other areas around Palm Springs.
To reach the museum, turn right off southbound Palm Canyon Drive at Tahquitz Way for one block.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is $4 for adults; $2 for children 6-17, and free for those younger than 5 accompanied by an adult.
Information: (619) 325-7186.