As an elementary science teacher, I was perennially fascinated by the fascination dinosaurs held for all students. I now have a granddaughter who requested a dinosaur theme for her 3rd birthday, and she was talking Triceratops, not Barney.

So when I learned there is a museum in the Hill Country that features life-size models of dinosaurs, we took the 45-minute, 65-million year drive to the Bandera Natural History Museum.

The first vibe upon arriving is a little Jurassic Park-ish. Sixteen life-size reproductions of dinosaurs and ice-age animals ring the parking lot. That’s not by accident.

“Kids love seeing those as they drive in,” said Dr. M.J. Schumacher, Director of Operations. “One reason Mr. Infante thought of putting dinosaurs outdoors was so kids would say, can we go there?”

Juan Carlos Infante is the prime mover behind this project. Born in Argentina, Infante emigrated to the United States where he became an engineer and worked in the oil and gas industry. He is a Medina rancher and an avid hunter, and early on had a dream of creating such a museum for educational purposes. He chose Bandera for its reputation as a tourist destination. In 2011 they formed an educational nonprofit, and in the summer of 2016 opened the 14,000 square foot building on eight acres of land.

Inside the International Hall, the Museum Collection features an impressive array of full-body animal mounts from around the world, including a lion, wolf, grizzly bear, kangaroo and giraffe. There are artifacts from many cultures, including a collection of ceremonial masks, arrow and spear points, wood carvings and a 2,000-pound jade tiger from Taiwan. Overhead flies a full-size replica of Quetzalcoatlus with a 36-foot wingspan, and you can view a real, 50,000-year-old femur from a mammoth.

 

Outside you find several “dig sites,” where youngsters can dig up bones like real archeologists.

The star of the museum is literally a movie star–Trixie, the triceratops who comes to life in Night At The Museum.

“The company that made all our dinosaurs also builds them for movies, including Jurassic Park and all the Night At The Museum movies,” Schumacher said. “When they realized Trixie was going to be destroyed after the movie was filmed, they asked 20th Century-Fox if we could have it for display here.”

In its short existence, the Natural History Museum has become a popular destination for school groups from surrounding communities. I can see why — it held the attention of both me and my young dinosaur hunter. Her favorite was the Trail of Habitats, a hall of six dioramas depicting life in different parts of the planet. Locals seem to linger over the arctic tundra the most — not surprising in July in South Texas.

Schumacher enjoys seeing that and other effects the museum has on visitors of all ages.

“For the young kids, just to see them so excited and exposed to things they’ve never seen before is fun,” she said. “It opens up a world of possibility for them. We have children and adults who come and this is their first time at any museum. I find it very heartening to show them that, yes, you can have fun and you can also learn.”

The same goes for grownups and grandpas.

“One gentleman asked if I could guide him around,” she said. “It was an unusual request, but I soon realized he had severe macular degeneration. He loved bears, and always dreamed to see them, so I took him around to the different bears we had. At the last diorama he sat down and was a little weepy. He said it felt like his dream had come true. People reliving or getting something to do they never thought they could do is a real motivator for me.”

She hopes more visitors find their way to this prehistoric parcel of the Hill Country.

“It’s an opportunity to travel with your imagination to different parts of the world, and also to go back in time millions of years. It is just a fun way to explore the world.”

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