Just before we reached the intersection of Routes 522 and 340 in White Post, Virginia, a giant raindrop splatted on the windshield of our car. “Uh oh,” I said to my husband, and we both looked at our sleeping toddler in the back seat. Our son had been talking about this place all day—and we were minutes from waking him to let him know the good news: Dinosaur Land was upon us.
Minutes later, the skyline filled with a T-rex, its little arms flailing in the air, teeth bared. The giant white sign displaying the name of the place is almost unnecessary—long spiny tails and flat broad heads clue you in pretty quickly, and the giant shark and octopus let you know not to take anything too seriously. How can you when the land these creatures are “roaming” is in the middle of Nowhere, Virginia.
I wondered if my son would be more interested in the golf cart parked on the side of the gift shop or the Mustang convertible in the parking lot. Ever since he was able to sit up, Dashiell has been fascinated with cars, trucks, motorcycles, trains—anything with wheels. For the past three years, we’ve watched our house fill with Matchbox and Hot Wheels—parked under the coffee table, lined up against the stairs, vrooming across the breakfast table. So when Dash came home from preschool one day asking if he could have a dinosaur for a pet, we latched on to it.
Dinosaur Land seemed like a perfect pit stop for our long weekend—and a place for Dashiell to learn more about the animals he says got “hit by a meat-eater.” We were on our way to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, where the highlight of the rest of Dashiell’s weekend would be climbing up and down the ladder of the bunk beds in the bedroom of the cabin we were renting. In other words, it doesn’t take much to entertain him. Which is good, because there isn’t much to Dinosaur Land.
Luckily the rain held out, so the $14 we paid for all three of us to wander around wasn’t in vain. But even if it had rained, it only took us about ten minutes to wander through the park, soaking in the sights of all the concrete dinosaurs that have been there for more than fifty years (and most of them look like it). They’ve got the favorites, of course—T-rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus—and then those lesser-known cuties like the Coelophysis, Spinosaurus, and the Giganotosaurus (nope, not making it up—unless they are).
The attempts at realism are amusing—fight scenes hint at the brutal nature of the dinosaurs’ world, even if the blood is the color of ketchup. But while there are efforts to un-Disney-fy Dinosaur Land, the scientific accuracy is pitiful—a preying mantis is the same size as a cobra (and both stood taller than me).
All that said, Dashiell loved it. He ran with glee through the park, which was pretty much deserted despite the release of Jurassic World just a week before. He cozied up to the Stegosaurus, patting its concrete head, and spread his arms wide as he approached the Brachiosaurus posed to eat the tall tree growing next to him. The Brachiosaurus is his favorite—and Dash fit easily underneath its belly.
Dinosaur Land is a tourist trap if I ever saw one. It’s best for taking cheesy photos. We stopped several times to prop my camera up on fences to take some timed family photos, snuck underneath a giant foot to get stomped, and shoved our heads under the claws of a vicious-looking Velociraptor. You can even climb a ramp to stand in the hand of King Kong himself (though we didn’t because it was full of swampy rain water).
The gift shop might be the most fun part to browse—and it’s free! It’s clearly designed for little eyes and desires. Junk abounds in the form of cheap plastic animals and silly souvenirs. Telltale sign? There are no adult-sized T-shirts.
Still, you cannot visit Dinosaur Land without getting a treasure to take with you. Dash ran down the narrow aisles, trading one fun thing for the next. He picked up dinosaur erasers in neon colors, plastic taxis, and busses. He found stickers with emergency vehicles on them but traded those up for a weird cat statue with fur that reminded me of a bad taxidermy job. I finally convinced him to look at the plush dinosaurs—after all, that’s why we’d come, right? When we’d visited the Strasburg Railroad in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, last year, he bypassed the hundreds of trains for a police car that blinked on and off and made an annoying siren noise. So this time I was determined—dinosaurs or bust. Dash is very particular about his “stuffies.” He paced back and forth, looking at all of them. And then: a Stegosaurus. Which he named Macaroni.
It’s been several weeks now since we visited Dinosaur Land, and Macaroni still has a prominent place lined up in Dash’s bed. At night, when he’s drifting off to sleep, he’ll often tell us the out-of-the-blue memories floating around in his head. The other night, just when I thought he’d gone off to dream, he sat up in bed and said, “Momma, remember when we saw the dinosaur that fell over? And the one in the swamp water?” He nodded to himself. “Yeah, that was cool.” So—a tourist trap, sure. But apparently, a memorable one.