“I can’t wait to get to the dinosaur park!!” My four year-old daughter Eva is bursting with anticipation as we pull off the New Jersey Turnpike and pass the Frank Lautenberg Train Station on the way to Field Station: Dinosaurs. “She is either going to love this or be terrified out of her mind,” I think to myself as I work to avoid the modern day dinosaurs— tractor trailers. I’m from the generation that watched the Jurassic Park movies. Eva’s exposures to dinosaurs are through her favorite shows Dinosaur Train and Dino Dan. Perhaps I’m the one nervous about seeing the life size dinos.
We pass the Exchange Place Apartments and with a quick left enter a place lost in time. The exhibit president and creator, Guy Gsell, sought the perfect location to bring his vision of a world where the prehistoric creatures of 93 million years ago and the paleontologists and geologists who love them can coexist. Gsell hopped off the train at the Secaucus station and just began walking around. What he happened upon was a 20-acre vacant lot owned by Hudson County adjacent to Laurel Hill Park. Nearly a century ago, buildings stood on the land but they were demolished and the site became a rock quarry. For 50 years, the area was untouched, waiting for the perfect occupant. Gsell said the site has the perfect ecological back drop. A bonus: it’s accessible from the train station and New Jersey Turnpike. After leasing the land from the county, 18 months later Field Station: Dinosaurs became a reality.
Eva and I pull into the parking lot where we meet up with our cousins Coletta and Emily. Along for the trip are friends Luke and Parker. I had purchased the tickets online the night before. Pre-purchased tickets cost $20 for adults and $17.50 for children and seniors, compared to $25 for an adult ticket and $20 for children and seniors at the box office. A computer error would not allow me to print my receipt so I had no proof of purchase. After a brief stop at the box office, we pass through Base Camp and to the Check Point where thankfully we are on a list of pre-paid guests.
Like many amusement attractions visitors are offered an opportunity to take a souvenir picture. Of course I have to get one of Eva. She stands in front of a green screen under a canvas field tent and works her best “Oh, no there is a dinosaur walking in Times Square!” face. She is then superimposed over an image of New York City. I purchase two because grandma needs a copy, too.
“And we’re off!!” Eva exclaims as she marches forward through the Check Point. The first of the 31 realistic creatures that walked the earth nearly 93 million years ago greets us just past the entrance. As we approached the Dilophosaurus, two year-old Emily cries briefly, Eva clings to my leg, and six year-old Luke runs to the fence to get a closer look. I think: “Here we go. A day of convincing Eva how cool the dinosaurs are.” However there is no convincing necessary. Eva cautiously approaches the moving but stationary figure in the brush just to be sure it isn’t really alive. We pose for a photo and from then on it’s all dino love.
The kids, including 18 month-old Parker, are captivated by the Apatosaurus in the field in front of them. Frankly, so are the adults, Coletta and I. I feel as if I’m looking back in time and can envision these dinosaurs walking the same land we do today.
The kids jump up and down when they see the Ankylosaurus. We pass a replica Geologist Outpost on display along a portion of the .75 mile trail. All of a sudden I hear Eva scream, “Look Momma!! The Stegosaurs!!” She has to get a picture. I am then stopped in my tracks by the sight of a large prehistoric bird perched way on top of a rock in the center of The Quarry. I look at the map given to me at Check Point and find out it’s the Quetzalcoatlus. I have to admit for a minute I feel a bit like Wilma Flintstone. The Quarry is actually the sight of the rock quarry. The rocks we stand on are the same stones the dinosaurs roamed through millions of years ago.
There are many educational shows, talks, and games throughout the day. We choose to watch the “T-Rex Feeding Frenzy” at The Outback Steakhouse Amphitheater, a fun performance that all ages enjoy. The actors play the guitar and sing songs about the Tyrannosaurus Rex while an actor dressed in an elaborate costume of the king of the dinosaurs entertains the crowd. The audience participation keeps us all involved in the play.
We continue on down the path lined with animatronic dinosaurs.We stop briefly at the Lego tent where Luke enjoys some shade and a chance to build towers made of Legos. Further down the trail we seek shelter from the sun again under the Crayola tent where Eva, Luke, and Emily take a seat at the kid size picnic tables to color a picture of—what else?—dinosaurs. While under the tent a woman jokes with us about wearing open toe shoes. Take note: sandals, even when the weather is warm, are not the best choice when navigating rocks and dust. Next time, sneakers!
I’m amazed that the children are not frightened by these life like roaring dinosaurs. These creations were designed by an artist and a paleontologist who traveled to China where the animatronic dinosaurs were built.
We head to The Plateau where under a tent visitors can learn all about New Jersey as the birthplace of “Bone Hunting.” A talk is conducted under a tent at the Environmental Scientist Outpost about the Garden State’s rich dinosaur history.
Then it’s on to The Lookout. In the distance we see the largest animatronic dinosaur in the world, the 90-foot Argentinosaurs, a sight that can even be seen by visitors on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I think of all the unsuspecting tourists looking through the binoculars and seeing this huge moving figure.
Stationed up on the hill we find New Jersey’s dinosaur, the Hadrosaurus—the original Jersey girl. We pop into the Ornithologist Outpost where an educational talk is underway. However, we are distracted by the 15-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex standing just outside the tent against the back drop of the New York City skyline. Truly a show stopper—the mighty metropolis across the river in the background and, in the foreground, the most vicious dinosaur to ever walk the earth.
We make our way to the gift shop. Each child selects a dinosaur figure. Eva also picks out a fun mask of a Stegosaurus. Just outside the shop is the Pteranodon hanging from the trees with wings spread wide, almost as if saying goodbye to visitors and asking them to come again.
It’s lunch time so off to The Fire Pit to grab a quick bite. The well-priced, although limited, selections include hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, soft pretzels, Italian ice, popcorn, ice cream and for drinks soda, ice tea, juice and water. We take a seat at one of the picnic benches underneath the large canvas tent. While we wait for our food, Luke points out the rock formations surrounding us. Leave it to the kids to be so observant. The rock we are surrounded by is that of the prehistoric Snake Hill rock formation.
Gsell later told me he and the staff walk around the park observing what is working and how they can enhance the experience for all. Based on their observations, they added the Dig Deeper series for the serious dinosaur enthusiast. Looking around, I see many happy faces. Perhaps it was Gsell’s experience at The Paper Players and Discovery Time Square that enables him to understand what makes a great family outing. Speaking with him after our visit, Gsell, reveals that one of his first memories is seeing the dinosaurs at The New York World’s Fair in 1965 as a four year-old boy, the same age as my daughter for her first dinosaur experience at Field Station: Dinosaurs. Perhaps this will be one of her fond early childhood memories.
Eva is not ready to leave but it’s time to go. It’s an extremely hot, but enjoyable, day. On the way past Base Camp some of the friendly staff ask us about our experience. As Eva asks to go back in, I say: “We loved it!!” and I meant it. Coletta turns to me and says, “Well that was a pleasant experience.” It really was.
Jennifer Madden reports from New Jersey for NY1.
Field Station: Dinosaurs
Laurel Hill Park One Dinosaur Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
For GPS use 1000 New County Road, Secaucus, NJ 07094
For more information, go to the website
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