For the past 20 years, ancient dinosaurs have found an air-conditioned home in Blanding. This July 4 marks the twentieth year anniversary of The Dinosaur Museum.
The museum had its inception in 1992 and opened in 1995. It was co-founded by Stephen and Sylvia Czerkas.
The work of Steven Spielberg’s film Jurassic Park and the paleontological work of the Czerkas family worked hand-in-hand to inspire a love for dinosaurs that consumed my own childhood.
Between dinosaur-themed birthday parties, chasing my sisters as a velociraptor and saving up my pennies to buy a toy at the museum gift shop, my young mind was obsessed with fossilized monsters.
The other residents of San Juan County and I would not be as familiar with dinosaurs if it wasn’t for the original founders and trustees of the museum Stephen and Sylvia Czerkas, along with Dale Slade.
Alongside the Czerkas’ and Slade was the generous support of Donna Slade, Pete and Charlotte Black, and William and Margie Hurst.
These San Juan County residents worked to obtain grants from the federal and state government, in addition to San Juan County and the City of Blanding to help fund the museum, along with many loyal members of the community.
The philosophy of the museum was to start small, and then to grow gradually as a educational, exhibits, and research facility.
Back in 1995 on July 4, when I was just three years old, the museum opened with one hall, which was a general introduction to Paleontology.
As the years went by, new halls were opened one at a time until all the halls in the museum held exhibits.
Two years ago, on July 4, 2013, a new wing opened with two new exhibits, titled “Feathered Dinosaurs’ and “Dinosaurs in the Movies.”
My good friend Kelli Meyer worked at the Dinosaur Museum when the new exhibits opened. No matter how much I bribed Kelli, I was not allowed to tour the museum for free.
Touring the Dinosaur Museum and its new exhibits is well worth it for those who haven’t been recently. And despite my own occasional miserly approach, admission is about a third of a ticket price to a 3D Imax showing of the new Jurassic World.
Despite the growth and new openings, the Dinosaur Museum and the residents of San Juan County were recently struck with a tragic blow.
Stephen Czerkas, a published paleontologist, sculptor, and co-founder of The Dinosaur Museum, passed away in January of this year.
My earliest memory of Stephen Czerkas is of him talking with my dad at the San Juan Record office.
Czerkas does not have a Hole-in-the-Rock ancestor (which I once assumed was a requirement for residency in San Juan County.) But these meetings between Stephen and my dad, and presumably many others, showed me that although he was not “from here”, Stephen Czerkas was always fully invested in San Juan County.
I remember upon discovering my love for dinosaurs, Czerkas gave me a few dinosaur toys and his book. He gifted those along with some advice for a then-aspiring paleontologist.
In the grand scope of things, since the extinction of dinosaurs millions of years ago, they’ve only been in the spotlight for a blink of an eye.
The latest Spielberg installment is Jurassic World. Released in mid-June, the film broke box office records including the fastest film to reach one billion dollars grossed internationally (in just 13 days).
Arguably 2015 is the biggest year for dinosaurs in 65 million years. For some it’s all because of a big Hollywood blockbuster, but for me an equal part is the twenty-year anniversary of The Dinosaur Museum.