The first denizen of the Mesa Southwest Museum to greet a visitor in the lobby is barely a teen-ager in terms of maturity.
But even in its youth, a tyrannosaurus bataar had jaws big enough to bite off most of a human torso in one chomp.
The completely reconstructed skeleton of the walking flesh-eater is only part of the museum's extensive dinosaur collection.
Like a James Michener novel, the museum covers the past billion years of Arizona history – from the geological creation of the land through the beginnings of life, the age of dinosaurs to the dawn of primitive people, giving way to the Old West and finally the present.
The city-owned museum opened its doors 23 years ago. Then it was just one small room full of Southwest artifacts in
a building adjoining the Mesa Police Department with all of 3,000 square feet of floor space.
On May 27, the museum completed an extensive remodeling and expansion project that now gives it 80,000 square feet of exhibit space.
The Dinosaur Mountain wing is a dinosaur-lover's delight.
The collection includes complete skeletons of camarasaurus, a plant-eating sauropod that walked on all fours; a mother probactosaurus and her baby; a stegosaurus, like the one Laura Dern helped revive in "Jurassic Park"; and an emontosaurus, a duck-billed dinosaur.
The collection also features many partial skeletons or bones, such as the reconstructed skull of a full-grown tyrannosaurus rex, which is the size of a small desk.
Visitors entering the Dinosaur Mountain area descend a spiral walkway that takes them from the dawn of prehistory when meteors
and other geological events were forming the state, through the appearance
of early life forms into the dinosaur
Throughout the tour, push-button activated recorded explanations or helpful docents narrate the story.
As the spiral ascends, visitors then
go through the collection of skeletons
and bones, then ascend the mountain itself. On the mountain
are life-size, animated dinosaurs, including a stegosaurus, a triceratops
and a tyrannosaurus
Periodically, recorded sound effects give the dinosaurs voices and provide the thunder for a simulated cloudburst that turns the waterfall wending its way
down the mountain into
a torrential flash flood.
Other wings of the museum show you the evolution of humanity on the planet from primitive tribes through the present. It gives you the experience of walking an Old West street and peeking in the windows of various businesses.
Attractions also include a reconstructed Spanish mission, a gallery of photos from Arizona Highways Magazine, plus traveling or temp-orary exhibits. A current one features memorabilia from movies either filmed or set in Arizona.
If You Go...
The museum is at 53 N. McDonald St. in Mesa. From Yavapai County, take Interstate 17 down to I-60 and exit I-60 at Country Club. Go north on Country Club to First Street then left on First and three blocks to the museum.
The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It closes on government holidays.
Admission is $6 for adults; $5 for seniors 55 and older and students with ID's; and $3 for children.
Visitors should plan on spending at least three to four hours to see everything.