Anyone who’s ever had a fascination with dinosaurs can take a journey into the past next weekend in Thermopolis.
On Friday and Saturday, June 23 and 24, paleontologists and dinosaur enthusiasts will descend upon the central Wyoming town of Thermopolis to “dig into” the past. The first-ever “Jurassic Fest,” a dinosaur-centered symposium open to the public, will be held at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
This is a chance for dino-fans to get hands-on with the prehistoric creatures that continue to have such a hold on our imaginations.
“People of all ages love dinosaurs,” said Dr. Dean Lomax, a British paleontologist whose interest in paleontology began at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis. He is the keynote speaker for Jurassic Fest.
“For many people, dinosaurs are their first introduction to science generally, and this is why people typically never lose that child-like fascination for fossils, even as they get older,” he said.
People of all ages will be able to “dig deeper” into the fossil-rich dirt just outside Thermopolis, where remnants of dinosaurs are just under the surface, waiting to be unearthed. Participants will have access to world-class lecturers and even on-site fossil digs, which are plentiful in the Hot Springs County hills.
“We're sitting on the Morrison Formation,” explained Levi Shinkle, collections manager for the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, referring to the geologic region that spans Wyoming. “And the Morrison Formation across Wyoming is just lousy with dinosaurs.”
Shinkle told Cowboy State Daily that’s why holding a paleontology symposium such as Jurassic Fest in Thermopolis makes real sense.
“We just happen to be close to it all,” said Shinkle. “Our sites are a 10-minute drive from our museum – whereas other museums, places like Yale, Harvard, the American Museum of Natural History, they come to Wyoming and dig their fossils. But we’re already here.”
Lomax said the Wyoming Dinosaur Center is the perfect location to hold an event such as this.
Lomax first came to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center from across the pond 15 years ago.
Born in Doncaster, England, Lomax actually failed science in high school, and despite his obsession with all things prehistoric, was told he would never be a paleontologist. But he was confident in his dream, and in 2008, Shinkle said Lomax made a trip to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center to work as a volunteer.
“He sold his Star Wars collection to fund his trip out here,” said Shinkle.
Lomax told Cowboy State Daily that that trip, taken the summer after he graduated high school, changed his life.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the opportunity I was given to come to Wyoming,” said Lomax. “The WDC provided me with the vital experience I needed to get my foot on the ladder and work out how to make it in such a competitive field.”
Since that very first trip, Lomax has gone on to become a world-leading paleontologist, led excavations around the world, authored multiple books and presented television shows. He’s even discovered five new species of ichthyosaurs.
“But all of this would not have been possible without that all-important trip 15 years ago,” he said.
Where Paleontologists Got Their Start
Lomax isn’t the only paleontologist featured at the upcoming event who got their start at the WDC, saidShinkle.
Other speakers at the event who also began their dino-centered careers at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, include Jimmy Waldron, a former WDC volunteer who is now the producer of the hit podcast ‘Dinosaurs Will Always Be Awesome”; Elaine Howard, another former volunteer who has authored a book titled “Passion in the Bones”; Dr. Laura Vietti, a Thermopolis native who now manages the University of Wyoming Geological Museum and Collections; and Dr. Brandon Drake, another Hot Springs County High School graduate who is now an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico with a focus on archaeology, geochemistry and paleoclimatology.
“For this year’s event, we're focusing on people whose careers have been impacted by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center,” said Shinkle.
Movie Special Test Screening
Shinkle said the Jurassic Fest event was timed to coincide with the release of a documentary titled “Why Dinosaurs?” The film follows father and son Tony & James Pinto on a journey around the world, as they interview paleontologists, visit the filmmakers behind the hit movie “Jurassic Park,” see the world’s largest dinosaur toy collection, and dig up real dinosaur bones, all while asking the question, “Why does everybody love dinosaurs?”
“We talked with the producers and decided that this would be a good place to have a test screening,” he said. “It's only been seen by a handful of people, so this will be one of the very first public viewings of it.”
And Lomax said he believes he has the answer to the larger question posed in the documentary’s title.
“Dinosaurs called Earth home long before we humans came along,” he said. “I think this is powerful, and allows us to understand our place in time.”