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EXHIBITS 'DINOSAURS ALIVE!' : A Roaring Time : Show re-creates prehistoric creatures and their habitats so children can get an up-close look.

December 20, 1990|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

First you hear the noise. Shrieking, bellowing, roaring noises. It sounds like war in the jungle. Then, as you enter the world of the dinosaur, there in the dim, eerie light is--Pachycephalosaurus, known to dinosaur devotees as the "original bonehead."

Weighing in at two tons, Pachycephalosaurus has a raised head that makes Bart Simpson's noggin look normal. Warty bumps protrude from the bulge as if on a giant dill pickle.

Warts and all, Pachycephalosaurus is among a half dozen or so dinosaurs that have roared back to life, thanks to modern technology. The robotic dinosaurs are part of a traveling exhibit that opened recently at the Oxnard Town Center for a three-month run.

Gull Wings Children's Museum brought the dinosaur collection here, but the museum lacked the space for the display, entitled "Dinosaurs Alive!" So TOLD Corp. and River Edge Development Inc. donated the first floor of the North Coast Executive Center to house the collection.

Created by Dinamation International Corp. of Southern California, the dinosaurs roar, move, shift their eyes and bare their teeth with astonishing realism. Just ask the fourth- and fifth-graders from Rio Plaza School in Oxnard who recently toured the exhibit.

The kids were ogling a 7-foot brontosaurus, about half its original size. The beast's long neck brushed the top of a palm tree, swung over to within inches of the children and let out a long shriek. The girls in the front gasped, jumped back and then laughed when they remembered the robots aren't real.

Perhaps none of the children was more keyed up by this trip to dinosaur land than 10-year-old Paula Acosta. She was up at 5 a.m. for the event, according to her mother, Maria Acosta.

"She loves dinosaurs," said the mother. "She's been interested in them since kindergarten." In her bedroom, her pillow, sheets and blanket are covered with the creatures.

Her favorite? Tyrannosaurus Rex, Paula Acosta confided, the most ferocious of all the dinosaurs. The exhibit includes a Tyrannosaurus Rex that opens its gigantic mouth to reveal a set of teeth that could tear off large chunks of flesh from its victims. The real dinosaur had a mouth that opened up to 7 feet wide.

The plant-eating stegosaurus with its bony plates is less intimidating. But its spiked tail flicks back and forth, and was a lethal weapon that could be swung around to whack an enemy.

The children all crowded around the nest of the parasaurolophus, known for its striking crest. In the nest are a dozen eggs, and one baby dino has just broken through its shell.

Some of the dinosaurs on display tromped through the northwest states, but none roamed as far west as Ventura County. They have been extinct for 66 million years.

The sets created for the dinosaurs are as real as the dinosaurs themselves. The brontosaurus swoops his long neck down toward a little pond. Palm-like trees sway. The mighty triceratops moves against a backdrop of bushes with pink blossoms.

For the kids who want to know how the robotic creatures move, there are two skinless mechanical models set up with joy sticks for them to manipulate. A push of the button makes the eyes, spine or mouth work.

The kids can view a 15-minute film about dinosaurs. Another room provides some hands-on play. And they can see some real fossils and pictures of actual dinosaur digs.

"Dinosaurs Alive!" opened Dec. 8 and during the first weekend nearly 1,500 people attended.

"As soon as they came around the corner the kids were just enthralled and their mouths would drop open," said Gig Wishon, director of the children's museum.

The exhibit is a fund-raiser for the museum, but the cost to bring it here is about $150,000. Wishon is looking for financial help from corporations, as well as volunteer help to man the display.

The dinosaurs' will be staying in Ventura County until April 5. During that time the children's museum will be closed for renovations.

WHERE AND WHEN

Dinosaurs Alive! is in the North Coast Executive Center, Oxnard Town Center, 1000 Town Center Road, Oxnard. Take the Wagon Wheel Road exit off the Ventura Freeway. Hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. The cost for adults is $5, children under 12 are $3, and seniors are $4. For more information, call 983-DINO.

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