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Forever West
Where the Dinosaurs Roamed
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Where the Dinosaurs Roamed

A family trip of Jurassic proportions in Laramie, WY

By Ashley Donde

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Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

A tea party with dinosaurs. That was an actual occurrence in my home recently, when I asked my two children—Noah, five, and Emelia, seven—to play together. He wanted to play with dinosaurs and she wanted to have a tea party, so they compromised. It was a proud moment for me, seeing them get along in such an imaginative way. However—full disclosure—things don’t always go so smoothly. Having young kids of different genders can be a rough road to navigate, and compromise doesn’t always happen.

So I was hesitant when my husband, Sean, suggested we take a trip to Laramie for a hike and a visit to the University of Wyoming Geological Museum. He knew the museum’s dinosaur fossils would be an instant hit with Noah, who has been a dino fanatic practically since birth. However, I worried Emelia might feel left out, like this was a “boy trip.”

Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

We headed out on a Saturday morning, following a Friday evening family movie night to see The Good Dinosaur. Noah was beyond excited to see some real dinosaur bones up close after seeing the film.

“I don’t really care about dinosaur bones, Mom. It’s going to be boring,” Emelia said with a concerned look on her face. To a seven-year-old, boring is akin to torture.

“Emelia, you need to give it a try. You may like it more than you think, and learning new things is important,” I reminded her.

Dino discoveries
Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

Upon our arrival at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, both kids suddenly stopped in their tracks. Beside the museum entrance stood a life-sized statue of a T-Rex. Recovering from their shock, Noah ran toward it, while Emelia shouted after him, “He’s gonna get you, Noah!” He screamed and scurried back toward me, pretending the enormous carnivore was chasing him. “Hurry Mom, we need to get inside before he gets us!”

Sean and I played along, and we all swiftly ran inside the museum, safe from the T-Rex’s clutches. Once inside, the kids both asked if they could see “Arlo.” Arlo was the Apatosaurus in The Good Dinosaur, and they were eager to see his real-life counterpart. I smiled at Emelia’s enthusiasm, hoping it would continue throughout the visit.

The Apatosaurus did not disappoint. The 75-foot-long skeleton filled the room, and the kids discussed how hard it would be to have a dinosaur for a pet. “He definitely wouldn’t fit through the doggy door,” Noah remarked.

Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

Next on the list was the Allosaurus, or “Big Al” as he’s known around here. This particular skeleton was discovered just outside of Laramie in Como Bluffs. Emelia was beside herself with wonder. “They found him close by? Maybe if I dig enough, I can find his sister out there too!”

The kids then spotted a table of fossils, and went over to investigate. A nearby educator named Pam told them they were allowed to touch, so they each grabbed a fossil, and inquired about what they were. Pam told Emelia she was holding an ammonite—an ancient marine mollusk. Noah examined the fossil in his hands, learning it was called coprolite.

 “What kind of animal was that?” he asked Pam. “It wasn’t an animal, it was dinosaur dung,” she answered. Noah scrunched his eyebrows in confusion, trying to remember what dung was. After a moment of silence, Pam leaned in and said, “You’re holding fossilized dinosaur poop.”

“Eww!” Noah yelled, when he realized what was in his hands. We all laughed, and Emelia asked if she could hold it. He traded her for the ammonite, and they both peered closely at their fossils. I watched them and mused how learning about our world is so gender neutral. Emelia wasn’t looking at dinosaurs as a “boy thing” anymore, but rather as a subject she clearly wanted to spend time exploring.

Historical headlines come to life
Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

After the museum we grabbed lunch, and took the Legends of Laramie walking tour. This journey through historical Wyoming allowed us to learn about different critical events by unlocking videos and slideshows with a QR code on Sean’s smartphone at each location of the tour.

One of the stops was the Wyoming Territorial Prison, where we learned about George Leroy Parker—AKA “Butch” Cassidy—and saw the original safe that he blew up with one of his “Wild Bunch”: the Sundance Kid.

Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

Every one of the 15 stops was as fascinating and informative as the next, and the kids loved taking turns holding the phone as they watched the videos. I saw a big smile on Emelia’s face as we learned about “Wyoming Women.” Louisa Swain of Laramie was the first woman in the country to vote, and other Laramie women held public office and served on juries. Noah was especially excited to learn about Wyoming’s rodeo history, and asked if we could attend one someday.

We also visited the Ames Monument and Lincoln Monument (close to Vedauwoo). Ames Monument marks the highest elevation of the Union Pacific railroad (at 8,247 feet) and the Lincoln Monument marks the highest elevation of the Lincoln Highway, US 130 (at 8,640 feet).

Exploring in the great outdoors
Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

After listening to the tour videos, our kids were ready to get their wiggles out, which meant it was the perfect time for a family hike. Fifteen miles east of Laramie is my husband’s favorite hiking spot: Vedauwoo. When we arrived we all hopped out of the car, and gazed at the billion-year-old granite hoodoos and outcrops that make this area one of the most unique geological landscapes I’ve ever seen.

As we started our hike, my daughter asked me if I had a spoon with me.

“No, honey, why do you need a spoon?” I asked, wondering if she had confiscated a snack somehow.

“Because I want to dig,” she said with determination. “I really want to see if I can find some dinosaur bones out here.”

Albany County, Wyoming, Laramie, University of Wyoming Geological Museum, Legends of Laramie walking tour, Ames Monument, Lincoln Monument, Vedauwoo

Noah chimed in with his approval of her ingenious idea. “Me too!” he said with an excited little jump.

“Well, we can’t start an entire excavation site out here, but why don’t we imagine where the dinosaurs roamed among these huge rocks while we’re hiking,” I suggested as we walked along the trail. They seemed satisfied with that answer as they ran ahead, pretending to see dinosaurs at every turn.

I was thrilled Emelia had enjoyed our family outing so much, and that she’d even found a new interest. I see a lot of muddy fingers and toes in her future.

Find more fun things to do in Laramie and Albany County, Wyoming.

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