What kid isn’t fascinated with dinosaurs? We see them in movies and books and play with miniature versions, but how often are we exposed to true specimens of these massive creatures that once roamed the earth? If you’re lucky, you’ve paid a visit to the Field Museum in Chicago to see Sue, the fossilized T-Rex skeleton, and gotten a true sense of scale to help you visualize how great dinosaurs were in terms of size.
Now, there’s an opportunity not too far from home to see the most complete and best preserved dinosaur remains in the world, with 90 percent of the body covered with fossilized soft-tissue. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis acquired “Leonardo,” a juvenile Brachylophosaurus canadensis (a type of Hadrosaur dinosaur) discovered in Montana in 2000 on long-term loan and added him to their exhibits this past fall.
“We are thrilled to be able to share such a rare specimen with our visitors,” said Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. “We continually search for high-quality, scientific specimens to augment our collection and enrich the lives of children and families who visit the museum. Leonardo is one of the most extraordinary paleontological discoveries in the world, and it is our hope he will not only provide new insight into what sustained these creatures millions of years ago but that he will inspire our visitors to learn more about dinosaurs and potentially become paleontologists themselves one day.”
Hadrosaur dinosaurs were more commonly known as “duckbills” and were herbivores. They lived in Montana and Alberta, Canada about 77 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous period. The meaning of Brachylophosaurus, Leonardo’s species, is “small crested lizard.”
Because Leonardo is so amazingly well-preserved, they are able to tell a lot about how he lived. Experts believe he most likely was buried along the shore during flooding of the Western Interior Seaway that existed then. Based on size, he is estimated to have been about 4-years-old at the time of death. He measured just 23-foot long, whereas a full-grown male would have grown to nearly 40-feet.
His thin front legs, strong back legs and sharp beak would have aided him in grasping leaves from trees. The textured skin patterns indicate that he’s walked through tough terrain and done it on all four legs. Tissue parts and scales being present on recovered dinosaurs is extremely rare, accounting for less than 1/10th of one percent excavated. Experts have been able to learn new things about digestion and even tell what plants he had eaten for his final meals.
While, Sue, the Field Museum’s resident T-Rex was named after Sue Hendrickson, the paleontologist who discovered her, Leonardo’s name was taken from scrawlings of a on a nearby rock.
Once he was excavated in 2001 from the Judith River Formation of Montana, near Malta, researches were able to get a unique look at the skin, scales, foot pads and stomach contents of Leonardo in a way that has never been seen before. For the past several years, Leonardo has resided in the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station, one of 14 facilities along the Montana Dinosaur Trail.
“The head is twisted around and the skull and jaws are nearly perfect, just beautiful things. And a natural sharp curvature in the neck, like an antelope would have today, Leonardo then captured digitally reveals a beautiful, elegant, complicated design for walking and running, for dancing and for feeding,” said Robert Baker, Ph.D., Curator of Paleontology, Houston Museum of Natural Sciences in an interview with CMI staff.
Baker added that “Leonardo and only Leonardo allows us to test the single greatest theory in dinosaur science, and the theory goes like this: when duckbills and their kin were first discovered way back in 1822, scientists looked at the jaws and the teeth and went ‘wow, that’s not a lizard jaw, those are not lizard teeth.’ Plant eating lizards have simple teeth. They’ll cut a leaf once or twice, swallow big bits. Big bits are slow to digest and a hot blooded animal like a zebra or elephant, an ox, has teeth that are very big, very complicated and they pulverize the leaf and chop it up. It’s a cranial Cuisanart. So, when the first jaw of a duckbill like Leonardo was discovered, they looked at the jaws and teeth and said ‘that’s not a lizard. That’s not a cold blooded vegetarian. That looks like a cow, or a buffalo.”
Leonardo’s arrival at the museum coincides with the 10th birthday of Dinosphere, a $25 million exhibit full of interactive displays to introduce children to the science behind dinosaur discovery and research. Several special events will take place in late March to celebrate the occasion.
The museum offers summer dinosaur digs in South Dakota for budding paleontologists. Unfortunately, the family dig for 2014 is sold out. There are still openings for the adult dig. More information is available at childrensmuseum.org/adult-dino-digs.
The holidays are now behind us and there are some long weeks and months ahead before spring break, but if you’re looking for a break to take before then, you’re in a good spot for it. Whether you want to go tubing or ski down a slope or you want to relax in a lazy river and pretend it’s 80 degrees outside or you want to escape to another place and time, there are fun destinations within a short drive that make for an ideal winter weekend getaway.
Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort
Not too far over the Illinois border into Wisconsin is a place that is a winter wonderland for those who love snow sports. It was the first spot in the Midwest to successfully create artificial snow so that visitors could enjoy the resort even when Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating. The resort dates back to 1938 and in the 1950’s, the snow makers were introduced along with lights to make night skiing possible.
“Whether you are skiing, snowboarding, or snow tubing, there is something for the whole family to enjoy. Our snow tubing facility is brand new and it is one of the biggest facilities in the country with over one thousand feet of tubing lanes and a brand new lodge,” said Ryan Church of Wilmot Mountain. “We have live Music every weekend, a fireplace that is going everyday from 8am-11pm, kids ski school classes, events and more.”
Today the facility accommodates skiers, snowboarders and tubers. Group, semi-private and private lessons are available for those who are new to the winter sports. Several race events and live entertainment are scheduled throughout the season, which runs through early March. For more information, visit wilmotmountain.com
Key Lime Cove
Escape to an indoor tropical oasis in Gurnee, Illinois where it’s always 84 degrees and you have 30 acres of indoor fun to explore when the temperatures outside are plunging. The 414-room resort features connecting suites that can accommodate up to 12.
Inspired by the Florida Keys, you’ll truly feel like you’re far from home as you take in the festive atmosphere, food and top-notch spa to pamper the grown-ups and kids. With a tame lazy river and kiddie pool for the younger set, there are also water slides and a Hurricane Vortex whirlpool ride if you’re looking for thrills. Find more information at keylimecove.com.
For a day trip that will transport you to another place and time, Medieval Times in Schaumburg offers a great getaway from the glum Winter days with dinner and a jousting show in 11th century style. The dinner theatre is a feast for the eyes with colorful costumes, majestic horses and swords in the air.
The experience begins in the lobby with kiosks full of Medieval merchandise and continues in the arena where you are served a hearty meal sans silverware. Soon the lights dim and dashing knights are before you getting their joust on. Extend your visit with a tour of the weapons displays. medievaltimes.com for more information.
Shipshewana and Nappanee
Another escape from our modern lives can be found just to the east in the Amish communities of Shipshewana and Nappanee, where you can spend a weekend getting a taste of the simple lifestyles of Amish culture and shopping for Amish-made products in the many quaint shops in the area.
Amish country is particularly beautiful this time of year with a blanket of white as a backdrop for the horse drawn buggies that can be seen dashing down the roads. Take in a show at the Blue Gate Theatre or Round Barn Theatre. Enjoy an old-fashioned family-style thresher dinner of chicken and trimmings. Shop for locally made hand-crafted items and homemade jams and other wholesome Amish-made foods. Find more information at amishacres.com and shipshewana.com.
Close enough for a weekend trip, Indianapolis has so much to offer. From sports venues to museums to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to a top-notch zoo, Indianapolis has enough going on to fill several weekends.
Indianapolis features one of the nation’s oldest and largest general art museums and general admission is free, making it a great spot to include on your itinerary. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art offers a unique look into the artistic culture of our country’s Native Americans. Historical sites include war memorials, the historical museum, mansions and the state capitol.
On the more playful side, Indy has an amazing zoo where you can even plan for a dolphin encounter, the thrilling Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum and the world’s largest children’s museum.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is loaded with educational fun, enough that a full day at the location will still leave you with more to see. The new Playscape exhibit area is an inviting space for the youngest visitors where parents can explore with their infants, toddlers and preschoolers through sight, sound and touch. Older kids will enjoy diving into dinosaur fun, learning about space travel and checking out hands-on scientific exhibits. A ride on the breathtaking 1917 carousal is a must. Learn more about the museum at childrensmuseum.org and more on Indianapolis at visitindy.com.
This year resolve to have more fun and spend more family time together, all while staying healthy, with these winter activities in Northwest Indiana.
Ice Plaza at Deep River Waterpark
Each year Deep River Waterpark freezes over and transforms into a winter wonderland featuring a 14,500-square-foot ice plaza where families can skate the day away.
“The Deep River Skating Plaza is designed to provide the finest in family and group winter activities in Northwest Indiana at an affordable price,” Superintendent of Business Development Jim Basala said. “With a groomed surface, heated food service and rental facilities Deep River is always geared to family skating no matter what the age.”
The skating plaza features food and beverage locations, a birthday party room, the U.S. 30 Surf Shop and heated bathrooms. The rink opened for the season on Nov. 29 and remains open through Feb. 23, weather permitting. Families can skate Thursday through Sunday (see sidebar for hours).
Winter Wonderland at Wolf Lake
For the 13th year, the Association for the Wolf Lake Initiative (AWLI) sponsors the annual bi-state Winter Wonderland festival. A non-profit organization, the AWLI seeks to protect and enhance the Wolf Lake watershed and this festival helps spread the word about the wonders of the area, Executive Director of AWLI Michael L. Boos explains.
“This festival, free to the public, seeks to showcase Wolf Lake and demonstrate to young and old alike the many ways they can enjoy the lake throughout the year,” Boos said.
The festival is held in two locations, at the Environmental Center in Hammond and William Powers State Fish & Wildlife Area in Chicago. Both locations feature exhibits and displays, seminars, tours and winter sports. The Hammond location features cross-country skiing, skating and a hike, while the Chicago location offers cross-country skiing, skating and ice hockey.
Outdoor Fun at Lake County Parks
From sledding and hiking to cross-country skiing, outdoor activities abound at Lake County Parks.
As a member of the Chicago Wilderness consortium of “Leave No Child Inside,” Lake County Parks is part of an alliance comprised of more than 200 public and private groups working together to offer outdoor programs for children year round.
“We know that just being outdoors in nature contributes to early learning as well as emotional and physical development in children, and it's not bad for adults either,” Superintendent of Visitor Services at Lake County Parks Sandra L. Basala, Ph.D. explained. “Our goal is to promote health through outdoor play and exploration, no matter what age or what season.”
Families can enjoy a brisk winter walk at the many trails of Lake County Parks, hit the sledding hills at Oak Ridge Prairie or Lemon Lake County Parks or strap on some skis at Oak Ridge Prairie, Stoney Run or Lemon Lake County Parks, weather permitting. Rental staff can help families get fitted for boots, skis and poles and offer hints on getting started. Cross-country skiing is great for all ages, easy to pick up and fun to do as a family.
“If you can walk, you can pretty much cross country ski. The more you do it, the better you become,” Basala said. “We often see multi-generational groups of beginners trying it out.”
Families should call after 9 a.m. to see if the hills are open for sledding or if there is enough snow for cross-country skiing. See sidebar for park locations or visit lakecountyparks.com for a complete list.
During the holiday season, Northwest Indiana comes alive with festive activities for all ages. If you haven’t done so already, consider making these fun local events a part of your family’s holiday tradition.
The holiday season begins in downtown Valparaiso on Friday, Dec. 6 with Holly Days, an evening of festive fun for all ages.
From 5 to 7 p.m., the sidewalks of downtown Valparaiso will feature strolling carolers and visitors can ride the holiday train through the streets surrounding Central Park Plaza. These are just a few of the exciting activities planned by Valparaiso Community Festivals and Events.
“This event is a great opportunity for families to slow down and enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the holiday season,” said Jennifer Peek, marketing director at VCFE. Attendees can marvel at the sight of Michiana Ice Carvers creating a giant ice sculptor from 10 blocks of ice and the sounds of live holiday music performed on the Porter Health Amphitheater Stage at Central Park Plaza.
Other activities include a live nativity scene, free family photos sponsored by The Times of Northwest Indiana, Santa’s arrival at the Memorial Opera House and the lighting of the tree on the lawn of the Porter County Museum. In addition, the Holiday Village Market features special vendors, while downtown retailers and restaurants offer sales and specials for holiday shoppers.
“From watching live ice carving and singing along with holiday favorites to riding a train through the downtown streets, this is definitely an event kids and their families will not want to miss!” Peek promised.
'A Christmas Story' Comes Home
Each year visitors flock to the Indiana Welcome Center for the ‘A Christmas Story’ Comes Home exhibit, events and activities hosted by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority. The exhibit runs now through Sunday, Jan. 5.
“A Christmas Story to me really symbolizes and personifies what it was like to grow up in the region during the holidays, the traditional, middle class, uniquely Region things that make this a fun place to grow up and have families,” said Speros A. Batistatos, SSCVA president and CEO.
The exhibit features six animatronic window displays portraying scenes from the movie that were originally showcased at Macy's in New York. This year, the SSCVA unveiled a new window scene, "A Hero’s Dream". The window depicts the dream sequence from the film in which Ralphie uses his Red Ryder BB gun to rescue his family from the bad guys.
“I think our new window is a lot of fun because of the whole dream sequence, imagining what it would be like to have his Red Ryder BB gun and protect the family,” Batistatos said. “I feel that kids can really connect to that window as they aspire to have a toy.”
The exhibit offers the full A Christmas Story experience with Mommy’s Little Piggy Contest on Saturday, Dec. 7 where contestants compete to eat the most mashed potatoes; the Oh Fuuudge! Relay Race, which features parent/child teams “changing a tire” and running through an obstacle course, on Saturday, Dec. 14; and the Write a Theme Contest with entries due on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Children can even climb Santa’s Mountain and have their photo taken before sliding down the big red slide into a pillow of snow.
Michigan City’s Uptown Arts District becomes a Winter Wonderland in December, beginning with the First Friday Art Walk on Friday, Dec. 6 from 5 to 8 p.m.
The evening kicks off with Santa’s ride into town with a police escort as he travels down Franklin Street before settling at his Santa house where he will visit with families. Families also can enjoy free horse drawn carriage rides sponsored by Horizon Bank.
“Winter Wonderland offers an opportunity for families to enjoy the magic of the Uptown Arts District every Saturday in December,” said Tiffany Bley, executive director of the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, as free photos with Santa and horse drawn carriage rides continue Saturdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 21 from noon to 2 p.m. at dh2w, inc., 813 Franklin St, Michigan City.
Also in the month of December, families can marvel at some of the finest historic stained glass in the region during the Stained Glass Tours on Saturdays, Dec. 7 and 14 from 1 to 3 p.m. and visit the Uptown Christmas Bazaar, an indoor holiday market on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 2 to 5 p.m. The market features more than 20 vendors of fine arts and crafts.
“There are a lot of great shopping opportunities outside of the events, so we look forward to inviting those families looking for an enjoyable experience in our district,” Bley added.
Exciting things are happening at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The museum dates back to 1925 when Mary Stewart Carey visited the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and set out to open a similar place for children in Indianapolis. It now covers nearly 473,000 square feet on a 29-acre site and is the largest children’s museum in the world.
The Halloween Scene
In 1933, the Children’s Museum Guild was formed to support the museum through volunteerism and fundraising. In 1964, the Guild created a Haunted House, which remains a popular exhibit and fundraising event. The oldest haunted house attraction in the nation, over $8.5 million has been raised as a result to support the museum. The guild has about 100 active members and last year contributed over 35,000 volunteer hours. As the museum celebrates the 50th year of the haunted house, there will be rooms representing different decades since the haunted house has existed.
“A month is spent decorating the haunted house, and there is a different theme each year,” said Vicki Burdick, who along with Leslie Clark are “head witches” at the haunted house this year. “This year is Time Warp, so it’s going back in time and going through the decades with a peek into the future. You go through a time machine and end up in an upside down room that was in the very first haunted house.”
The season kicked off with a Black Hat Bash last night that included Thriller dance lessons and lots of family friendly fun and the haunted house officially opens on Thursday. The house has three separate parts with different levels of fright. The Lights-On Hours offer fun for the wee ones that scare easily. The Frightening Hours are for those who don’t mind being a bit scared and spooked. And new this year is the Xtreme Scream Hours on Friday nights that offer the maximum of terror. There’s also an optional 3D feature. “With the extreme hours, we’re trying to bring in the teens and tweens who were here as kids,” said Clark. “We want to bring them back.”
Burdick said there are families that come through where adults who visited as children are now bringing their children and grandchildren. “There’s an element that adults will love and kids will love. There’s something for everyone,” she said.
Because it is a fundraiser, admission to the haunted house is a separate fee from the museum admission, but a combo ticket can be purchased to cover both the haunted house and the museum.
Also following with the Halloween theme, the museum has opened an exhibit called Hollywood Haunts, which features some kooky and spooky props and artifacts from from television and the big screen. Among them is the set from "A Nightmare Before Christmas," chilled monkey brains from Indiana Jones and "The Temple of Doom" and the "Mystery Machine" from "Scooby Doo." The exhibit is included with museum admission.
“Whether it’s the click of fingers in the Addams family show opening song or singing Scooby Dooby Doo – where are you? - every generation has a fond memory of its favorite spooky television show or movie,” said Kimberly Harms, Director of Public and Media Relations for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. “Looking at the props and movie artifacts we will have on display bring back fond memories of cuddling up with the family to watch a spooky movie and sliding a hand around to poke my brother or sister in the side right when something scary happened. I think families will have a great time reliving their own memories and sharing them with their children or grandchildren.”
A newly updated exhibit, Playscape, opened in August for the five and under crowd. The open, airy space has floor to ceiling windows on one side with calming, earthy tones that create an inviting area for learning through play.
The Climber area offers a great opportunity for physical play with tunnels and surfaces that are enclosed with flexible netting so that children can be seen and heard as they explore.The Sandbox and The Creek water area will be fast favorites of toddlers who can pour and sift ‘til their heart’s content.
A new mother’s area was created in response to visitor requests. It features private nursing rooms with glider chairs, outlets for pumps, adjustable lighting and books and toys to occupy siblings.
“We receive a lot of feedback from parents and we listened to their needs and combined it with research that best provides a multisensory opportunity for families to explore together during the most critical brain development period,” said Harms.
In reponse to the parent input, restrooms, with child-sized features, were placed within the exhibit.
Kids can tune into their creative side in the Art Studio and Music Studio and the Babyscape area is designed for the littlest visitors with an area for non-mobile infants and spots for crawlers.
Older siblings are designated as helpers and encouraged to keep an eye out for the younger children.
An accompanying Playscape App carries through some of the elements that are introduced in the exhibits.
It will be a few more months before the new "Take Me There China" exhibit debuts in the spring. It will be replacing the longtime, "Take Me There Egypt" exhibit. With six major content areas, visitors will arrive though a replica of the Bejing Airport and then make their way through exhibits that introduce them to the Chinese culture.
Terra Cotta Warriors will also open in the spring of 2014 as a collaboration with the Chinese government. Hands-on activities encourage families to investigate the fascinating artifacts. “This is different than an art exhibit,” said Monica Humprhey, Special and Temporary Exhibits Manager. “They can’t touch the real warriors, but they will be able to build their own.”
For more information on the museum and its exhibits, visit childrensmuseum.org.