The tank is full, the wallets aren't.
Let's go to Dinosaur Land, " I suggest.
"I remember that a country friend promised that there's nothing quite like it in the area.
Down U.S. 50, through the contrived country chic of Middleburg, past cornfields and cows to the intersection of Routes 340 and 552, where "When are we going to get there?" changed to "Look at that!"
Rising out of a flat stretch of Virginia farmland is a 30-foot brontosaurus. Close by, a 15-foot-high birck-red octopus waves its 60-foot tentacles at a gigantic shark. People whose headlights suddenly pick up the brontosaurus late at night have said prayers they'd throught forgotten.
Kids bounce with excitment, husband smiles and I flash back to when my family used to pass a snake farm on weekly visits to my brother in the seminary. We never stopped, but I still remember my squashed-nose longing to visit that exotic mecca.
I'm the first one out of the car.
With a firm grip on inquisitive (read grabby) little hands, we passed swiftly through what must be one of the largest collections of souvenir kitsch on the East Coast to the dinosaurs' lair, if that's what dinosaurs have. At $1.75 per child and $2 an adlt, whatever lay ahead was a bargain at today's theme-park prices. But the real attraction lies out back -- on a six-acre scrub pine track where a veritable herd of 30 fiberglass dinosaurs and assorted beasts await. Nothing moves or makes noise, and there are no bright lights: This is a purely imaginary time-warp. The props are there, but you have to rely on your own built-in fantasy button. Following the cinder path around hilly byways you come upon a boney plated stegosaurus, a diatryma (looking exactly like a gaint dodo bird with acrylic fur), a horned triceratops and, of course, a menacing tyrannosaurus rex. Rex loses a little of his punch when the eye catches the untidy straws of an intrepid sparrow's nest cascading from his jaws. And for the Hollywood touch, there is King Kong swiping in frozen futility at a yellow Piper Cub with the hand and offering the other palm up as a convenient photo prop.
Each specimen is done in scale, and an accompanying plaque gives details on ancestry, size preferred food and habitat.
Each specimen is done in scale, and an accompanying plaque gives details on ancestry, size and preferred food and habitat.
The children are busy riding on reachable tails, or crawling under ample bellies. My husband studies the plaques as though they were in the Smithsonian. (Where, owner/operator Joe Geraise later informs me, all designs are checked for accuracy and the script is acquired.) My son is ghoulishly interested in the food chain order of the beasts. My daughter adopts the oviraptor -- an egg-stealing minature dinosaur -- as her favorite, insisting over the more informed protests of her brother that "she" is merely mothering not eating the eggs.
The whole spectacle was inspired by Geraise's visit to friend and lodge brother Jim Sidwell's prehistorci minature golf course in Daytona Beach, Florida. Geraise reasoned that a similar attraction would increase his gift-shop and restaurant business. It did. He tripled his business after putting in four dinosaurs in 1963. "I really stopped traffic," chuckles the round-faced entrepreneur. "We had to get the sheriff over to direct traffic."
The dinosaurs and fellow creatures are constructed by Sidwell in Florida, from molded fiberglass. They are trucked up in pieces to Geraise's place, assembled and then painted. Geraise does the painting -- which, he points out, is the only fictitious part of the operation: "Nobody knows what color they were," he said, "so I just use my imagination."
After an hour or so, the adults have satisfied their prehistoric urges. The kids are not ready to leave yet, but a package of miniature plastic dinosaurs placates them. Their fantasy continues in the back seat, after they've wheedled promises to come back again. After all, we passed some interesting antique shopes, and the side roads looked as if they might yield an interesting side trip.