Everyone has something they idolized as a kid, that we built up in our heads to be magnificently glorious, quite possibly the most fun activity we'd ever do, and the exact thing our parents just never said that magic word to: yes. Maybe it was that pair of moon shoes, or a Power Wheels Jeep (because younger siblings wouldn't run over themselves), or perhaps that excursion to a water slide palace whose commercials promised to launch us out of plastic tubes into germ-y water, all in the name of fun. We were young, impressionable, and had big dumb dreams that sat tight on the life-changing pedestal we perched them upon . . . and stayed there.
Dinosaur Land was one of those elusive things that I was certain I wouldn't truly be living until I visited. And although I easily forgot about the "Prehistoric Eden" the 364 days outside of our annual road trip, when I saw that tired-looking sign on the interstate from the confines of our safari tan minivan, I was reminded of my mission to cavort with the dinos. It was weird, because I didn't even like dinosaurs that much. What I did like was running around like a lunatic in the company of ginormous statues of dinosaurs; of this, I was sure. For years, it lurked just beyond our road trip reach . . . a bit of a promised land for my sisters and me. My Etch-a-Sketch could only keep me occupied for so long, and that fossil-rich yard taunted me. D-land was the one stop on lengthy car rides from upstate New York that my parents just couldn't justify. But, dinosaurs! But, we're booored! And . . . dinosaurs!
So, after 26 years of dreaming of visiting the Dinos, I was gifted the golden opportunity. When a mother-daughter road trip due south was on the books and I happened to be looking for random roadside adventures, it dawned on me that this was my chance. Turns out we'd be buzzing right by Exit 307 on I-81 for White Post, VA, home of the dinosaurs (and one of my unfulfilled childhood "dreams"). I quickly texted my mom, pumped to share the gem I'd just unearthed to see if she was on board.
Sweet one who birthed me was less than thrilled. News flash, Ma, I was driving . . . so like it or not, Dinosaur Land was in our future. Approximately-nine-hours-depending-on-traffic kind of future. We pulled into the parking lot marked by a giant T-Rex, so I figured it must be the place. The entrance through the ferocious teeth was a nice touch. I did a little skip through the pearly gates (literally) into the Dino-kingdom, not caring to contain my joy. If it was unassuming on the outside, it was doubly so on the inside. We were greeted by a regular old gift shop that reminded me of my grandparents' attic, in the best way possible. There were plenty of souvenirs. PLENTY. With 234,235 species of stuffed animals watching, I approached the ticket counter a bit perplexed.
I hadn't thought of tickets, actually. Turns out childhood dreams are not free. The ticket lady was ready to dole out directions for a lost 33-year-old and her mother, not tickets to her backyard relics. Her expression morphed from confused to slightly amused, but I was stone serious.
"Is it as magical as I think it is?" I asked the ticket lady.
"Well . . . maybe if you were 10?"
For $6, my dream was coming to fruition. I quickly calculated how many troll dolls I could've added to my collection for $6 back in the day, but fourth-grade me approved regardless. A turn-style door and hallway were the only obstacles between me and the Dino-garden. It all felt very official. And then we were there, in front of a large sign that stated it was, in fact, Dinosaur Land.
The pathway led us around to different scenes that I got unreasonably into. I wondered what the Brachiosaurus was thinking, frozen in that moment of time. I pondered what caused the T-Rex and Velociraptor to fight. Classic angry T-Rex. I legitimately considered how I could swing my leg over the Triceratop's back. Kidding (sort of). To my dismay, there was a sign heavily suggesting against climbing on the dinosaurs, and that, my friends, was my only disappointment in visiting D-Land.
Was I a 33-year-old possessed by a 9-year-old? You betcha. The Dino-lawn was my kind of magical: silly, ridiculous, and peppered with gargantuan posing creatures willing to say cheese. I practically skipped around; my rapture couldn't be contained. My mom and I posed like idiots with the various primordial creatures. My inner kid couldn't handle it. It was more than entertaining. It was, in fact, so stupidly silly that it was borderline amazing. We'd traversed the full yard in a matter of minutes, even with our wild antics. At the end we met a giant gorilla with an outstretched hand perfect for my bum. I'm still not entirely sure what the gorilla was doing in the Dino-courtyard but who was I to question him. Instead, I climbed up in his hand for a final picture and we called it a day.
My Dino-thirst finally quenched, I felt an odd sense of accomplishment. As accomplished as you can feel surrounded by a bunch of oversize plastic dinosaurs, anyways. My mom would not purchase me a commemorative Dinosaur Land t-shirt to remember this magical day, but nothing would squash my delight in tapping into my inner child. We'd go off our memories of the brief time in the Dino-yard, and the laughs that would likely fuel our remaining car time.
Oftentimes when you finally get to do something you always built up in your head, it can be a bit of a letdown. This was not the case with Dinosaur Land. Was it the mind-blowing experience my kid self expected it to be? Nope. The most impressive thing about it is that it's been running for over 50 years. But, it was still there, waiting for me to jump back into my high-top sneakers as a kid filled with wonder for the 24 minutes we spent off exit 307.
Maybe next year we'll hit up South of the Border. Never got a "yes" or a roadside pull-off there either, and I do love a good fiesta . . .