About six miles north of the entrance to Arches National Park is the brand new dinosaur park known as Moab Giants. Among the park’s attractions are a dinosaur trail with dozens of life-size dinosaurs, a unique “5-D” aquarium featuring ancient sea animals, and a Tracks Museum dedicated to the study of dinosaur footprints.
Moab Giants opened to the public in September of 2015, and is the only dinosaur attraction I know of that is primarily focused on dinosaur footprints and fossilized tracks. That is only a part of the fun, though. There is also a large outdoor playground, a lengthy trail featuring life-sized dinosaur models, and a couple of theaters that run every half-hour or so all day.
There are several separate attractions within Moab Giants. Before we saw those, we attended a screening of a short film depicting the history of life in a separate small theater building. After that, we chose to first attend the unique “5-D Aquarium,” which is located in a building across the main concourse of the outdoor park.
Although the aquarium “experience” only lasted about 15-20 minutes, it was a real highlight of our trip. I have been to well over a hundred natural science museums, and I have not seen anything quite like the aquarium at Moab Giants. Visitors enter a dark hallway with screens set up to look like aquarium glass, and a program is set in motion by the tour guide that brings virtual sea animals to the screens in front of the guests, who are wearing 3-D glasses. The first animal probably brings the most astonishment simply because you quickly realize that this is a really, really cool exhibit. Ancient sea reptiles such as Liopleurodon, Mosasaurus, Plesiosaurus, Archelon, and others “swim” around the screen in front of guests, and it looks great.
There are probably 12-15 different scenes before guests reach the final “5-D” adventure: a separate room with a screen showing a huge ancient shark called Charcharocles, most commonly known as “Megalodon.” The “5-D” refers to a couple extra dimensions from the normal 3-D spectacle: in this case, the room shakes, and the handrails vibrate as the Megalodon turns on visitors and attacks the “glass.” As the screen shows the glass start to break, the Megalodon continues to attack, and the glass springs “leaks,” as visitors are sprinkled with water coming from above somewhere. The scene is pretty intense, and my youngest son (7 years old) was somewhat frightened as the drama unfolded. Personally, on the 105-degree day, I was thrilled to have water sprinkling on me for a little while. After we left, we all thought it was pretty awesome, and even the guy who was scared re-evaluated his thoughts and decided he wanted to go again.
After the aquarium, we decided to hike around the Dinosaur Trail loop. I don’t know exactly how long it is, but it took us about 45 minutes to get all the way around. During that time we enjoyed seeing over 100 life-sized dinosaur models posed in a variety of interesting ways, with the beautiful red rocks of the surrounding mountains–including views of the amazing Arches National Park.
Despite the extremely hot day, we were able to stay relatively comfortable on the Dinosaur Trail. There is some shade, provided by trees, dinosaurs, and a couple small buildings. But there are also drinking fountains as well as vending machines that sold a variety of beverages. The dinosaurs on the trail are quite diverse; there are several that are outside the common list of dinosaurs one might expect to see. You will still see the stars of the dinosaur world, though. Two adult tyrannosaurs mark the end of the trail, and they are quite impressive.
Moab Giants is an attraction that really focuses on dinosaur footprints, and for good reason. Several dinosaur tracksites have been discovered in the Moab area, and few museums really devote much attention to these important fossils. Along the Dinosaur Trail, visitors see the names of the dinosaurs depicted, but only after first reading about the types of tracks that such dinosaurs may have made, and a description of those tracks–where they are found, what they look like, how large they are, etc. It’s a clever idea that ties well with the third main attraction at Moab Giants–the Tracks Museum.
The Tracks Museum is located in a building at the front entrance to Moab Giants. From the outside entrance, my sons enjoyed seeing a huge theropod foot sticking through the ceiling in the entryway, a not-so-subtle way of letting guests know that dinosaur feet and footprints are the focus of this museum.
Once inside, the darkly lit museum has a number of interesting surprises for guests. Although it feels sparsely populated with relatively few exhibits occupying the large space, Moab Giants does a nice job of creating unique ways of understanding fossil footprints. There are a number of dinosaur feet displayed, and under each foot is a footprint fossil showing how that footprint might have been made by a dinosaur many millions of years ago. While I have seen a couple footprints displayed this way before, the Moab Giants museum expands upon the idea and displays numerous footprints, including dinosaurs as well as pterosaurs and pre-dinosaur animals such as Dimetrodon.
Two of my favorite exhibits in the museum were displays depicting a series of panels. The first showed the evolution of tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates) from a line of ancient fish. Using fossils as evidence, the panel demonstrates how lobe-finned fish eventually led to amphibians, then reptiles, and finally birds and mammals. The series shows how individual leg bones changed through evolution to allow animals to make the transition to land. It is very interesting and well done. The second exhibit that I particularly enjoyed was a panel depicting one of the most famous fossil trackways–the sauropod and theropod footprints in the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas.
If you are hoping to see fossil animals, you will probably be disappointed. There are a few here–a large pterosaur and a Dimetrodon can be found inside the Tracks Museum–but the real fun to be found here involves the hands-on exhibits. My sons had a terrific time playing a huge game of “Dinosaur Tic-Tac-Toe” on a large game board that also allows visitors to highlight dinosaur trackways. They also enjoyed the camera that allows guests to turn the handle and run a short film showing the locomotion of a Dimetrodon. These and other unique exhibits make the trip to Moab Giants worth the price of admission.
IF I DON’T LIKE DINOSAURS, WILL I ENJOY MY VISIT?
Moab Giants is in an absolutely beautiful setting, with the red rock cliffs in the background. While dinosaurs and prehistoric life are the entire focus of the park, guests are very close to Arches National Park, and the interesting city of Moab. Nevertheless, inside Moab Giants it is all about dinosaurs, ancient sea animals, and especially dinosaur footprints. If that’s not your thing, it could be a long couple hours for you here!
WHAT COULD BE BETTER?
While the Tracks Museum still feels fairly incomplete, there is a lot of room to add to the exhibits, and I hope the museum adds more fossil footprints to display. I think more bones/footprint combination displays will make this unique museum a must-see attraction for serious dinosaur lovers as well as a fun place to take the family. The price to enter and do all the activities is not cheap, but it is similar to other dinosaur-themed attractions that display actual-sized dinosaurs along a walking trail. As the park grows, I hope to see more variety in the theater, and perhaps some rotating films/displays in the aquarium (visitors can go back as many times as they want, but will see the same sea creatures each time).
DID MY CHILDREN ENJOY THEIR VISIT?
Both my children really enjoyed their time at Moab Giants. The aquarium was lots of fun and quite memorable. While initially frightened, my youngest son eventually wanted to go back in and see it again. The boys had a great time playing some of the games in the Tracks Museum, and everyone had a good time on the Dinosaur Trail. My youngest son has a knack for spotting lizards, and he found several along the path, which made the trip even more fun for all of us. We will most likely return the next time we are in the beautiful Moab area, and hopefully Moab Giants will continue to expand their displays and continue their work to highlight dinosaur tracks.
OVERALL RATING, Moab Giants, Moab, UT: 33.5/50.0
Rating Aspects of the Museum’s Fossil Displays:
Number of Fossils/Dinosaurs/Tracks on Display: (5 out of 10)
Fossil Displays/Creativity/Visual Layout/Overall Scene: (7.5 out of 10)
Unique/New/Famous/Important Fossils on Display: (5 out of 10)
Educational Materials/Display Information/Signage: (8 out of 10)
Activities/Play Areas for Children: (8 out of 10)
Overall Rating Information:
40-50: Excellent, one of North America’s top museums.
32-39.5: Very Good, well worth spending half a day.
25-31.5: Good, worth spending a couple hours.
Below 25: Hopefully, a museum on the way up!