Do you ever wonder what Oklahoma was like before our time? What kinds of dinosaurs roamed the forests and plains? What kinds of plants did the Apatosaurus munch on? If your kids have a fascination with all things prehistoric, Oklahoma is a great place to feed that passion. Here are four must-see attractions for dinosaur lovers and ancient history lovers.
Sam Noble Museum in Norman
The first stop on your prehistoric adventure in Oklahoma should definitely be the Sam Noble Museum in Norman. This museum explores both natural and human history in creative ways. The Hall of Ancient Life takes visitors on a journey through natural history and introduces kids to ancient life in Oklahoma. Don’t miss the world’s largest Apatosaurus (a long-neck herbivore) and the Guinness Book of World Record holder Pentaceratops skull. This area has a plethora of other fossils, many of them from Oklahoma, along with interactive exhibits. Don’t be afraid to ask museum employees questions; they offer a wealth of information.
The Hall of the People of Oklahoma explores nearly 30,000 years of human history in Oklahoma. This exhibits boasts the oldest painted object in North America; a now-extinct bison skull painted with a red zigzag pattern. There are several life-size recreations of dwellings and a wooden canoe and plenty of maps and artifacts.
Spiro Mounds in Spiro
As you continue exploring prehistoric life in Oklahoma, make a stop at Spiro Mounds, the only American Indian archaeological site open to the public in the entire state. The site preserves 150 acres of living history along the Arkansas River.
Mounds were created by prehistoric people for various reasons; some were burial mounds and some were house mounds. The visitor’s center offers an in-depth look at the amazing civilization behind these mounds, which at its height is thought to have covered two-thirds of the current United States. There are multiple reconstructions of dwellings, tools and a canoe. These bring to life for kids what life was like for these people.
Dinosaur Tracks in Kenton
What could be better for a true dinosaur enthusiast than seeing real dinosaur tracks? It’s an extremely rare occurrence but these tracks were discovered at Black Mesa State Park in the 1980s and are believed to be the created by a Theropod, which are bipedal dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex. There were originally 47 footprints preserved in a sandstone strata but only about a third of the tracks remain due to erosion. So a trip is certainly in order to take advantage of this sight before the tracks disappear.
The prints are on the east end of the state park at Carrizo Creek. As you traverse the unique terrain of the area, young visitors can experience a bit of living history as they consider how prehistoric life might have been sustained on the grassy plains surrounded by towering mesas.
Fossil Spotting at Lake Texoma
This area is well-known to “rock hounds” and fossil hunters. That’s because of an abundance of Ammonites, spiral-shaped fossils that represent an extinct group of cephalopods (also known as squid) whose bodies were contained in spiral shells.
The best time to look for fossils is during the dry season when the water is low. Although most of these fossils can fit in your palm, some can be 50 pounds or more. Lake Texoma staff reports the Denison Dam near Eisenhower Park is a great place to spot these pieces of history. It’s illegal to remove fossils from state, federal or private property so have your camera handy to snap photos.
Sam Noble Museum
2401 Chautauqua Ave. in Norman
Admission: Adult, $8; child (4-17), $5; senior (65+), $6
The museum has modified hours. Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon & 2-5 p.m. Advanced reservations are required.
Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center
18154 First St. in Spiro
Admission: Adult, $7; children (6-18), $4; children (0-5), free; senior (62+), $5
Wednesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
*Due to staffing limitations we recommend calling prior to planning a visit; unexpected events occasionally result in an unplanned closing.
Black Mesa State Park
County Rd. 325 in Kenton (take the first dirt road on the right after the Black Mesa Nature Preserve parking lot. Drive about 100 yards and park. Walk to the bottom of the dry riverbed.)
Hwy. 70 E. in Kingston (head toward Kingston and follow signs to any Lake Texoma marina. Fossils will be found along the shoreline and as far up as the tree line.)