Will Henley busied himself with a paintbrush in the bowels of Hale Arena on Saturday, working to uncover a dinosaur skeleton buried in a large sandbox.
“I’m on a dig,” the 7-year-old from Kearney explained. “I’m working on the head right now.”
Before that, he’d checked out two dinosaur rides.
“I rode the T. rex and the long neck,” said the first-grader, who was there with parents Stephanie and Dustin. “They’re pretty realistic, but a little scary. Bigger than I thought they would be.”
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The American Royal Complex was rumbling with activity Saturday, but the crowds weren’t there to see any ordinary livestock display.
Instead, dozens of animatronic dinosaurs towered over visitors inside Hale Arena who came for “Jurassic Quest: Out of Extinction.”
The traveling exhibit presents 80 life-size dinosaurs in realistic settings. Visitors can wander through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods as they interact with the enormous creatures, learn about them and even ride a few.
Other activities include T. rex and triceratops fossil digs, where young paleontologists can uncover hidden dinosaur bones; a science station; a cinema; a dinosaur bounce area with a house and inflatable mazes; dino crafts; and face painting.
Dustin Baker, Jurassic Quest show manager, called the two-day event “entertaining but educational.”
“It lets you explore the world of dinosaurs in an exciting, educational and fun way,” Baker said. “The rides cater to kids ages 2 to 12, but anyone can come and enjoy looking at the dinosaurs and the information. There’s a lot to do.”
Baker said Jurassic Quest is based in Spring, Texas, “but we travel everywhere.” He said it takes 12 tractor-trailer rigs to transport the exhibit and two days to set it up.
Throughout the day, visitors posed for pictures in front of the dinosaurs with gigantic teeth for a backdrop. Children lined up to crawl inside a dinosaur head and wave at their parents as they took photos and videos. All the while, the growls and screeches reverberating through the arena sounded like a combination horror show and menagerie.
“I love the T. rex, but some of these things are kind of scary,” said Jaeden Stockard, 7, of Kansas City, who was touring the arena with her dad, Jarod, and his fiancee, Pamela Talbert. She pointed to a humongous brontosaurus. “That one seems very real, because it moves its tail.”
Indeed, the tail on the massive creature occasionally swayed to and fro, delighting those standing nearby, some of whom jumped up to try to touch it.
One popular station featured “baby dinosaurs” that were carried out from behind a curtain to interact with the crowd. As the children squealed and petted the tiny creatures, a man fielded a multitude of questions.
“How fast can a T. rex run?”
“Only about 18 miles per hour as an adult.”
“Do dinosaurs have fur?”
“No, dinosaurs did not have fur.”
The Ford brothers — Jacob, 9, Josiah, 7, and Jedidiah, 5 — were soaking it all in.
“I’m going to be a paleontologist when I grow up,” said Josiah. “I love dinosaurs, and I want to find fossils so I can study them more.”
Jedidiah chimed in: “And I’m going to be a teacher that teaches kids about dinosaurs.”
Jacob’s goal? “I want to be a train driver who hauls all the dinosaur bones to the museums.”
The boys’ parents, Ed and Damaris Ford of Kansas City, Kan., said the brothers have always been fascinated with dinosaurs.
“We’ve been to several natural science museums in Colorado, Minnesota and wherever we can find them,” Ed Ford said. “We try to keep their minds occupied.”
Bringing the boys to Jurassic Quest was a huge surprise for them, he said. “But it sure was hard to keep it a secret.”
Sunday hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Location: 1701 American Royal Court
Tickets: $25 to $35; parking $7
More information: jurassicquest.com/kansas-city.html