Spotlight on the Arizona Museum of Natural History
The Arizona Museum of Natural History (AZMNH) is a desert jewel well worth a visit. Located 15 minutes from Sky Harbor International Airport, parking is free and admission is $12 for 13 and older and $7 for 3-12. Sadly, it is currently closed due to COVID.
AZMNH has a wonderful entry foyer where one can see a mammoth and a mastodon, plus numerous fossil mammals from Arizona and areas nearby. To the left is a gallery that hosts different exhibits every few months. I am excited to see what is on display therein when they reopen!
Entry directly to the dinosaur hall is to the right, however, I recommend not going directly to the dinosaur hall. Instead, head down the ramp that veers down and to the right... into the deep past! The "right" way to see the AZMNH dinosaur hall begins with a neat meteorite display, including a cast of the Tucson Ring meteorite. I love that it was used as an anvil by blacksmiths because it was so tough. A sweet collection of Arizona minerals is next up on the trail through time, cleverly displayed in a simulated cave. If you like minerals, plan to spend some time here,
After the minerals, the museum exhibits tell the story of life itself, starting with invertebrates (I would love to have a cast of that scorpion!) which yield to fish, including a beautiful exhibit on early fish and sharks. The Permian is well represented at the AZMNH, with some fantastic skeletal mounts of phytosaurs and Russian therapsids amongst other cool specimens.
Next up is a display of mostly southwestern Mesozoic animals, including a sculpture of Dilophosaurus, the Jurassic apex predator that looks nothing like the "spitters" in Jurassic Park, as well as the enigmatic therizinosaurid Nothronychus. This is one of the few places you can see the bones of this herbivorous theropod.
Marine bony fish are well represented, including skulls of the "Bulldog Fish" Xiphactinus and "Sabretoothed Herring" Enchodus, plus life-sized sculptures of a plesiosaur and a mosasaur tussling in the Cretaceous seas.
The sculpture of Suskityrannus hazelae (a new, small tyrannosaurid from New Mexico!) marks your arrival to the base of what has to be the world's largest indoor flash flood simulator. Flood times are posted, definitely make sure you watch it at least once! While waiting for the action to start, peruse Dinosaur Mountain. The animals are placed with the oldest creatures at the bottom and the most recent at the top.
Flash flood completed, head up the stairs that take you under a fantastic Camarasaurus and face-to-face with Tarbosaurus, Tyrannosaurus's closest cousin that was discovered in Mongolia. This mounted specimen is gorgeous, made even more so by the huge mirror behind it!
The dinosaur exhibit is impressive and has specimens you would be hard-pressed to see anywhere else. A Probactrosaurus (a cousin of Iguanodon), Quetzalcoatlus (amazing display!), and a host of ceratopsians, including a really cool exhibit of Zuniceratops and its relatives. I really like how they display the ceratopsians!
Going up the stairs puts you literally face-to-face with the sauropod (long neck, long tail, very heavy kind of dinosaur) Camarasaurus. It is a treat to get this close to the head – pretty much every other museum has the head 15' off the ground and maybe a cast of the skull on display that you can actually get close to, if you are lucky. Here, you can get eye-to-eye. Maybe it is because I am a sauropod guy but I never get tired of this skeleton.
Clearly, the AZMNH is much more than a dinosaur museum. Beyond what I’ve described, it is a treasure trove of Native American artifacts, the original city of Mesa Jail, a simulated mine, and a flowing river with gold panning! Not to mention a live Gila Monster and a fun scorpion exhibit on top of Dinosaur Mountain.
If you find yourself in the Greater Phoenix area the Arizona Museum of Natural History provides a few hour respite from the heat and offers fantastic dinosaurs!!!