(Note: To continue reading “Apartment Life Returns,” click for Part Five)
Saturday was a full day for our family. Full of the expected and the unexpected.
I got up with Ben, per usual on a weekend morning, and as we played for the next couple of hours, I was going stir crazy. I needed to do something that didn’t involve a plastic toy or a Pixar character. I contemplated loading the kid up in the minivan and driving to the Arbuckle Mountains, a 2.5-hour jaunt to southern Oklahoma. I would leave a note for the missus, of course. No doubt she would enjoy the solace and Ben and I would have a fun road trip.
I wanted us to do something as a family, so I held out until Shannon awoke. She was feeling sick, and running a low-grade fever, but she agreed going somewhere was a good idea. We knew that the Heard Museum was featuring life-size animatronic dinosaurs, the same ones we saw at the Fort Worth Zoo several months ago, and that January and the dinosaurs would say goodbye on the same day. (sounds like an all-girl rock band from “The Flintstones.”)
“Is it free?” Shannon asked.
I envisioned the facility out there, with modest museum exhibits indoors and a system of hiking trails outside — the only possible place they could display life-size dinosaur replicas. “It’s outdoors, so I don’t think they’re charging for it,” I said.
When we arrived, we saw that the packed parking lot had leaked three rows of minivans and SUV’s into the adjacent field. Obviously, January’s ice and generally unseasonable cold had kept folks waiting. A set of reverse lights caught my eye and drew me in like a moth to a lamp.
Except that it was daylight and I don’t have wings.
We walked in to find a small dinosaur and a lot of people. “Oh, I don’t think it’s free,” Shannon said as she pointed to a sign above the information desk.
I looked up. $8 per adult. $5 per child three and older. Ouch.
The dinosaurs were along the Hoot Owl Trail, a half-mile affair that winds its way around a hilly, wooded area (those are VERY rare around here). Ben begged to be held as we set eyes on the first exhibit, wherein a predatory dinosaur dined on a plant eater. The bloody scratches on the victim and his assailant’s claws, along with the chewing motion at the wound site, made for a realistic, if not revolting scene.
Apparently the Dinos Alive! coordinators felt that scaring the living daylights out of the younger children was the perfect way to start the self-guided tour. Ben wanted to be held at each exhibit, but we insisted he walk the “safe” stretches.
“Well, that was a waste of $21,” Shannon said. I agreed. Although, at about the .10 mile mark, I’m convinced we arrived at the highest point in Collin County. There was an actual overlook. Shocking. Not worth $21, but shocking.
To keep all of us firmly grounded in human history, generators peppered throughout the woods chugged and hummed a homo sapien tune. Battery power would be a good idea, as the motors sometimes drowned out the dinosaurs’ roaring sounds.
In a low-lying section of the trail, I had to stop for pictures of a huge Bur Oak estimated to be 250 years old. Other trees, paltry in comparison, wondered if it was on steroids. I felt small and insignificant contemplating which branches predate the American Revolution and which didn’t show up until the Civil War.
Ben let me put him on my shoulders for the last massive beast from the animal kingdom — the Tyrannosaurus Rex. I posed us for a picture, but Ben’s nerves put him out of the smiling mood.
After we finished the tour, we went inside to check out the museum. A large indoor sandbox called the Fossil Dig attracted many kidlets, and Ben was no exception. I must point out, however, that he was not the one throwing sand or taking other kids’ toys. Nope, not that time.
His dinosaur safely back in hand following a quiet controversy with one of his archaeologist buddies, Ben walked up to me and said, “I want to go back outside to see the dinosaurs.”
Shannon, by this point exhausted and pretty sure she shouldn’t have come at all, headed back to sit in Homer while Ben and I enjoyed some father-son time.
He hiked the entire half-mile this time without getting scared. So did I. Other kids shrieked in terror (especially at the death scene), but Ben never flinched. Instead, he turned his head to me, eyebrows raised, and said, “Come on, Daddy, we’re running from the dinosaurs.”
We ran. And we had a blast.
Then, the weirdest thing happened.
(tune in next time)
(the photos in this post were more highly compressed than usual, because the multitudinous branches in the background made for big file sizes)