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Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a three-part series on the often-maligned Dinoland U.S.A. In this installment, we give a history of the area as envisioned by the Imagineers.
A History of Dinoland
Picture a sleepy town in the desert southwest - a lonely highway passes through a "wide spot in the road" that consists of little more than a gas station. The proprietors, Chester and Hester, live out their quiet lives filling the tanks of vacationers bound for, well, anywhere but here. One may wonder just what they spend their profits on, unless it is produce and dry goods from passing trucks. The only restaurant is a fishing lodge up the road a piece. This is Diggs County, the highway is 498, and the year is 1947.
Then one day, an odd assortment of travelers arrive, and this time they don't leave after gassing up. Instead, the group, both old and young, and dressed like park rangers, begin to unload picks, shovels, twine, and various other implements of destruction, and they begin digging near the fishing lodge. Before long, they uncover a rich collection of prehistoric fossils, and hastily purchase the land and an adjacent plot across the highway.
Quickly a makeshift camp rises out of the desert plain around the dig site, gradually evolving into a more permanent home at the old fishing lodge. The crew (originally amateurs) grows to include learned paleontologists and their graduate students. This population explosion requires that new structures be erected - a Quonset hut to handle vehicle repairs and maintenance, a mess hall, a plastering room to preserve the fossil finds, and a dormitory for the extended stays of the diggers.
While the leaders of the paleontologists, the professorial types, are dignified and polite, the younger set (who do most of the back-breaking work) are a bit more wild. Loud music blares from the dig site from morning through early evening. Every makeshift building in the permanent camp bears pop culture posters, sarcastic student awards, even a basketball hoop and dart board. But it is after sundown that the pranks begin.
The water tower sprouts odd appendages, the results of an experiment in plunger arrows launched from the porch roof. And the suffix "-osaurus" is appended to nearly every sign in the area. Restaurant-osaurus, EXIT-osaurus, International-osaurus: if it is a word, it can only be improved with -osaurus.
And what of our little gas station? Now, people are coming to stay, or at least to stop to view the dig area before moving on. Gas may still be profitable, but there is more money out there to be had. Chester & Hester, keen entrepreneurs that they are, quickly transform their gas station into a gift shop, peddling dino-gear in their "dino-store." In their haste, and with their minimal capital budget for the renovation, they leave many signs of the building's previous purpose. The professors may turn up their noses at this blatant profiteering, but the students take it in stride, buying the occasional trinket and "improving" the signs when they can get away with it.
But the dig site is growing large. This is, indeed, a treasure trove of fossils, so the leaders of the original dig decide to create a more suitable home for study than the old camp, which has essentially devolved into a commissary and dormitory. Thus, ground is broken for the Dino Institute. Experts from around the world will gather to push the boundaries of knowledge about dinosaurs. A museum space is included, to take advantage of the increasing traffic (and collect a few donations along the way - science isn't free, you know). A botanical garden is created, filled with existing examples of prehistoric plants and replicas of the beasts that once roamed among them. This garden serves to further educate visitors to the Institute, but you can't overlook the fact that it also blocks the view of Chester & Hester's.
Again the number of cars on highway 498 swells, and with it swells the imagination of Chester & Hester. Why waste all that acreage on a parking lot that is now seldom used, what with the Dino Institute offering it's own space for cars? It is time for the dino-store to expand, and expand in a totally new direction. It is time for Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama!
In stark contrast to the stuffy Dino Institute, Dino-Rama is all about the fun side of dinosaurs (how they found a fun side of giant carnivorous reptiles is anyone's guess, but we never question American ingenuity). Triceratops couldn't fly, but if he could, certainly he would play games in the air, dipping and rising and flying in circles. Naturally, a carnival atmosphere needs carnival games, albeit with a dinosaur twist. C&H happily install them to keep the customers entertained while simultaneously lightening their load in the wallet and purse regions. But isn't that what American capitalism is about? Throw up a few (dozen) billboards, and a cement-osaurus to catch the attention of motorists, and watch the cash roll in!
Meanwhile, deep within the labs of the Dino Institute, an incredible idea becomes reality: Institute scientists unlock the mystery of time travel, and create the Time Rover, which they quickly put to use for research of living dinosaurs. Well, they also offer tours of the mid-Paleolithic to visitors. For a fee. But who wouldn't want to do that? More and more visitors. More people with time on their hands. More things to do at Dino-Rama!
If the Dino Institute can build a time machine, why can't Chester & Hester? For those that choose this more economical ride through the currents of the past, C&H have focused on a single question: if the dinosaurs knew what was going to happen when the meteor hit, what would they do? Chester & Hester's Primeval Whirl takes guests into that past, right to the moment the meteor strikes, again capturing the fun side of dinosaurs!
So here we are, still in Diggs County, but the place is unrecognizable compared to that wide spot in the road from 1947. Everything has settled into an equilibrium - the Dino Institute teaches, Chester & Hester profit, and the grad students remind everyone that life should always include a little laughter, a little fun, and a little irreverence.
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