The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is housed in one of the most interesting museum buildings in the country. Opened in 2015, it is located in downtown Dallas and occupies the entirety of a city block. And block is a good description: the museum is largely a cube-shaped structure that houses some really interesting exhibits, including a lot of great prehistoric fossils.
The dinosaurs start early at the Perot Museum. In the lobby near the ticket desk is a cast skeleton of Malawisaurus, a medium-sized sauropod unearthed by Southern Methodist University researchers in 1991. Once you have your tickets, the fun journey to the fossil hall “Life Then & Now” can begin. I say “fun journey,” because there is a nice highlight on the way. As you ride the escalator up to the 4th floor, you come closer and closer to a Tyrannosaurus standing at the top of the escalator! My younger son thought it was one of the highlights of the museum. For those who have been to Universal Studios, it reminded us a little of the end of the Jurassic Park ride!
Website: Perot Museum of Nature and Science
The Life Then and Now exhibit begins with several fossils from Texas when it was covered by the Western Interior Seaway, the large body of water that split North America into two during the Cretaceous period. There are several mosasaurs displayed, including Tylosaurus and Platecarpus. The one I was most interested in is a rare early mosasaur called Dallasaurus, which is smaller and more lithe than most later mosasaurs. The ocean display also features among other animals a cast of the giant ancient sea turtle Archelon. Just past the ocean exhibit is a beautiful skeleton of a Columbian mammoth. It is tall and impressive; I wish it were near other ice-age fossils, though.
The stars of the Life Then and Now gallery are the two huge dinosaurs in the center of the hall. One is a cast of a Tyrannosaurus, the other is a huge sauropod found in Texas called Alamosaurus. The Alamosaurus is quite large, with its tall neck reaching up over the second floor above the exhibit. A few smaller dinosaurs lurk near the two huge ones: one is a nice example of the early Cretaceous herbivore Tenontosaurus, and this one was discovered in Texas. The Perot Museum has done a nice job highlighting Texas dinosaurs, and the huge Texas pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus flies overhead the main hall.
An important area of research for paleontologists at the Perot Museum has been polar dinosaurs, particularly those from the North Slope region of Alaska which is located within the Arctic Circle. Not only is collecting fossils there a particularly daunting and dangerous feat, the collecting season is short. Nevertheless, some great fossils (and dinosaur tracks) have been discovered there and a few examples can be seen at the Perot Museum.
Nanuqsaurus is one of the most interesting of these. It is a member of the tyrannosaur family, but much smaller than it’s cousin Tyrannosaurus. It also lived very late in the Cretaceous Period, and it is surmised that it’s small size may have been due to the colder temperatures in the high latitude that it lived in. The polar ecosystem that Nanuqsaurus lived in may have supported far fewer prey animals than was typical for tyrannosaurs much further south during the same time period. At the Perot Museum, a skeletal reconstruction of the animal stands above the paleontology lab. It is well off the ground, though, so it is difficult to get a close-up look at it. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating discovery and tells us that such predators could survive in the very far north.
Other Alaskan dinosaurs in the exhibit hall include the the popular bird-like theropod Troodon and the holotype specimen of a new species of Pachyrhinosaurus. Over the past decade or so, Troodon has become a questionable genus: for many years it was used rather liberally for related dinosaurs in the same family (Troodontidae), and now many of the best preserved fossils have been assigned new genus names. Still, Troodon is a fan favorite (I suspect the conductor role on PBS’ popular show Dinosaur Train may have something to do with it) and not many museums display a mount.
The Pachyrhinosaurus can be found near the end of the Life Then and Now display. While relatively small for a ceratopsian (it comes from a juvenile animal), the mount of this Alaskan species of Pachyrhinosaurus is a real beauty. Visitors get a nice close-up view of the nasal boss that is one of the distinguishing features of this dinosaur. Its interesting skull stands in comparison to two nearby ceratopsian skulls: Torosaurus and Styracosaurus.
There are other fossils (and casts) worth seeing outside the exhibit. The Hall of Birds is directly above the Life Then and Now gallery, and contains skeletal mounts of several animals located on the evolutionary path between dinosaurs and birds, including Deinonychus, Archaeopteryx, and Hesperornis. One of the most beautiful fossils in the museum can be found in the Gems & Minerals Hall: a fantastic iridescent ammonite. The display is very well lit and the fossil really stands out against the black background.
IF I DON’T LIKE DINOSAURS, WILL I ENJOY MY VISIT?
If you really don’t like dinosaurs, you still can enjoy a visit to the Perot Museum. There are a lot of nice exhibits here. One of the standouts is certainly the Gems and Minerals Hall. The rare gems are beautifully displayed, some of them are particularly mesmerizing such as the huge chunk of gold–one of the very largest ever discovered. There is also a huge geode in a clamshell-like rock that can be opened and closed by visitors. My sons enjoyed that very much.
Another exhibit that my family enjoyed was the Hall of Birds. There are some really nice specimens on display and the story of bird evolution is told as visitors journey through the display. One of our favorite “rides” at the Perot was called the “Earthquake Shake.” This moving-floor attraction allows visitors to stand on a platform and experience the shaking that can accompany earthquakes of various magnitude. It was a lot of fun, my kids were talking about that long after our visit.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER?
Like any museum, there are always things that can be improved. The Perot Museum has an active paleontology lab that has added several new dinosaurs to their display from the team’s research in Alaska. I really liked the Nanuqsaurus posed above the Lab in the exhibit hall, but I would have preferred it if it was down at eye level so I could appreciate this unique fossil up close. While the Life Then and Now Hall has a lot of great mounts on display, it could certainly use some more specimens. My personal disappointment was not seeing a full skeletal Dimetrodon, one of my very favorite ancient animals. I thought for sure I would see this Texas native on my visit but had to settle for a nice skull. Still, the Perot Museum has done a great job with their new exhibit and hopefully they will continue to add to it over the years.
DID MY CHILDREN ENJOY THEIR VISIT?
Yes, my sons had a great time on their visit to the Perot Museum. It was quite empty when we visited; due to COVID-19 precautions capacity was reduced significantly. But that gave us a lot of room to see and enjoy the exhibits without fighting crowds. They liked the dinosaurs quite a bit, particularly the Nanuqsaurus and the big Alamosaurus.
HOW MUCH TIME SHOULD I PLAN TO SPEND THERE?
Our family spent about two hours at the museum. We took our time and saw a lot, but there was still plenty of museum left when we had to go. If you are just going to see the Life Then and Now exhibit, you can do that in about an hour. I would recommend the Gems and Minerals exhibit as well, it is certainly world-class.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has a lot of interesting fossils to offer dinosaur enthusiasts, and the new building is a wonderful place to display them. They have a nice mix of dinosaurs from Texas and some from Alaska, a primary research interest of the paleontologists on staff.
Rating Aspects of the Museum’s Fossil Displays:
Number of Fossils/Dinosaurs on Display: (7.5 out of 10)
Fossil Displays/Creativity/Visual Layout/Overall Scene: (7.5 out of 10)
Unique/New/Famous/Important Fossils on Display: (7.5 out of 10)
Educational Materials/Display Information/Signage: (8.5 out of 10)
Activities/Play Areas for Children: (8.5 out of 10)