Searched For dinosaur

Sunburn and Bugs 2016: Even More Dinosaurs

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I second-guessed myself more often than normal on this trip. I mean, sure, I pretty much constantly live in my head anyway, but as the person who picked out all of the stuff we were going to see and do along the way, I was feeling some pressure. If I picked a bunch of stuff that made me and no one else happy, I ruined two thirds of the trip, wasted two people’s money and vacation time, and that would probably do a sizeable blow to our friendship. I knew that The Dinosaur Musem in Blanding, UT, would be approximately the jillionth dinosaur thing we’d done on the trip, but I felt pretty passionately about it when I put it on the list, though I couldn’t remember exactly why as we rolled up to this warehouse-y building in the middle of nowhere. I tried to tell myself that if it was terrible, at least we could leave, though that probably wouldn’t make up for me telling Emily she couldn’t browse the Moab shops for earrings.

Dudes and dudettes, this museum was awesome. It was possibly the best dinosaur exhibit I’ve ever seen, and you know I’ve been to many a dinosaur museum. The admission is dirt cheap (possibly cheaper than dirt) at $3.50, and the AAA discount cut it down to three bucks even. But this inexpensive entrance was really just a bonus. The collection here was top-freaking-notch, and there’s good reason for it. The museum was founded and the exhibits were done by one Stephen Czerkas, paleontologist and preeminent paleo artist, who devoted his later years to correcting our misconceptions about dinosaurs–namely concerning their appearance. The feathered dinosaurs I saw here were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They have one of only four pre-Cambrian logs in the world. And they have a full Edmontonsaurus complete with some areas of fossilized skin! AND the world’s largest collection of dinosaur movie posters and other dinosaur movie memorabilia! The woman working there was awesome as well–within a minute of entering the building, she’d already told me a new-to-me fact about the T. Rex, and while we shopped around in the gift shop, she told us about how she used to fossil hunt in the area before it became illegal. We all loved her and wanted to take her with us, but since she had museum duties and we would be traveling home on a different route, we sadly parted ways, but not before buying a dinosaur mascot and naming her Feminist Killjoy.

sunburn and bugs day four (27 of 76)The aforementioned log, found in San Juan county.

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sunburn and bugs day four (40 of 76)Dinosaur or skeksis?

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sunburn and bugs day four (42 of 76)I so hoped they’d sell these in the gift shop.

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sunburn and bugs day four (54 of 76)Obvs my favorite poster.

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Our last stop before we hit Santa Fe was Four Corners, because even though it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it, I wanted to do it. I also wanted to do it because it’s totally cheeseball and everyone and their brother has already done it. I mean, come on: if you’re passing on a road thisclose to Four Corners, how could you not stop?

sunburn and bugs day four (75 of 76)You should probably also stop for horse crossings.

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Four Corners is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be: an almost unreasonably hot tourist attraction with a long line of people waiting to take photographic proof that they were in four states at once, sweating and squinting, and looking miserable. But since there’s a three photo limit and a limited number of poses that could array all one’s limbs into even state distribution (at least for your average tourist, I have no doubt a contortionist could manage a few more), the line moves quickly. Also, any part of your body that comes in contact with the ground that’s not covered in a protective shoe will probably immediately regret it as it starts to cook, so that doesn’t encourage tarrying. Afterward, you’re free, freeee to browse the almost 60 kiosks spread among the four states, selling jewelry, magnets, knives, and again, pretty much what you’d expect. So browse we did, and buy we did, and I think the afternoon’s jewelry shopping possibly made up for the morning hustle. Possibly.

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sunburn and bugs day four (63 of 76)These cacti were attracting dozens of hummingbirds, zipping and divebombing and generally making people wonder what it would be like to be impaled with a teeny tiny hypodermic beak.

sunburn and bugs day four (76 of 76)Also a fair number of hummingbird size bees.

sunburn and bugs day four (64 of 76)Rachel, Feminist Killjoy, and me in four states! Ok, Feminist Killjoy is in four, anyway.

sunburn and bugs day four (65 of 76)Yo blogger’s butt’s so big! How big is it? It’s so big it can be in four states at once!

sunburn and bugs day four (67 of 76)Shipwreck rock

The ride from Four Corners to Santa Fe was dismal. The most direct route is through these tiny backroads with nothing to look at but prairie dogs. There was no place for food (it may in fact be the longest stretch of road in the United States without a Starbucks, but that’s just a wild guess), there was approximately one place to gas up, and we arrived at the hotel late, after pretty much every restaurant had closed, starving and miserable. But I had my own room while we were there (the rooms were too small for three unless someone was up for sleeping on the floor, which, surprise, was not something any of us was enthusiastic about) so I was able to eat a protein bar in bed, totally pantsless, while finally watching the previous week’s episode of Game of Thrones, so it wasn’t all bad. And the following day was the big day, the entire reason for our trip: Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. Now that it was so close, I could hardly wait.

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The World’s Largest Dinosaurs in Cabazon, CA

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It would not be incorrect to say that my blog and thus, my life, is about finding the world’s most disgustingly appealing food and every last damn dinosaur sculpture on the face of the Earth. It may be a slight oversimplification, mainly due to the exclusion of “fart jokes” in that description, but for a sentence with only two descriptors, it’s pretty accurate. Which is why it’s straight up ridiculous that for all the time I’ve spent in southern California, I’d never yet been to visit the largest dinosaurs in the world, the Cabazon dinosaurs. The Cabazon dinosaurs were the dinosaurs of the 1980s, appearing in advertisements, music videos, and (of course) Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

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Apparently the whole shebang was acquired and turned into a creationist museum of sorts, and though to be honest, I didn’t really notice any overt creationism messages, like a statue of Jesus walking among the dinosaurs, in hindsight, some of the displays inside do make more sense within that context. Like, for instance, the sculptures of lions and other modern mammals mixed in with the dinosaurs. Or that the sign out front says “by design, not by chance”, which I thought was just a weird turn of phrase to say they intentionally built the world’s biggest dinosaurs instead of it turning out that way by accident. What I’m saying is, I’m a little slow on the uptake.

Regardless of the message, this place gave me the opportunity to climb up inside a T-Rex’s head for under ten bucks, and that was not an opportunity I intended to miss. Plus, it’s not every day that you can visit a gift shop in a brontosaur belly, and it would be a shame to squander that. What was squandered was my opportunity for a pressed penny, as both of their machines were broken. Why? Whyyyyy?

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In order to climb up inside the T-Rex, you need to purchase admission to the park. You can go into the bronto belly gift shop outside of the park proper, because they don’t want to deny anyone the opportunity to buy a souvenir if they really, really want one. The park itself, while it contains many dinosaurs, is a little janky, in the way that many dinosaur parks are a little janky. Sometimes, the sculpts are a little derpy. Sometimes the paint jobs are funky. Sometimes the proportions are weird in relation to other sculptures. Sometimes they just go ahead and throw in a few lions or komodo dragons or whatever else among the dinos because they were part of some discount bundling deal. Sometimes they put them behind some really sad netting that comes across a little less “Jurassic Park” and a little more “mini golf hazard”. This park had a mix of all of the above.

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cabazon (22 of 56)Now that I think of it, this sculpt is exactly the same as one I saw at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center, which begs the question, where are they ordering these dinosaurs from and how do I get one or ten of them for my front and/or backyard?

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cabazon (27 of 56)This one is one of the na’vi dinosaurs visiting from Pandora. Or so I can only assume.

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cabazon (29 of 56)“Oh, hello there. You startled me. I definitely wasn’t using my tiny arms to rifle through some old old timey dino porno.”

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radicalThere was nothing I could do to this photo to make it not look like a completely photoshopped 80’s postcard, so I decided to take it to its logical conclusion.

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The important thing was that I was eventually able to make my way to the mouth of the T-Rex, which was actually somewhat terrifying. At first, there are normal flights of stairs, but as I got up into his neck, the stairs turned into a tight metal spiral staircase with very little in terms of handholds or visibility, especially as I was descending and feeling for the next step with my foot. Then there’s the mouth itself, which wobbles ever so slightly in the wind and/or with my movements and made me wish I’d eaten just a little less for lunch, because I really don’t want the news article about my death to be how my morbid obesity snapped the head off a T-Rex that subsequently rolled into the freeway, killing thirty others. Just as an example. Other notable ways I would prefer not to go include but are not limited to: sending a car off the highway due to some horrendous odor expelled from my body, causing the driver to black out, sinking a cruise ship from a scrape with one of my ragged toenails like it’s an iceberg slicing through air pockets, or somehow ruining commercial space travel for everyone, possibly involving lack of supervision and a giant red button that says “do not push”. Again, just some examples of broad categories of humiliating ways I could go, and certainly not limited to those alone.

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For now, however, Mr. T-Rex’s head remains attached and your highways remain safe. For now.

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Granger, Washington: The Dinosaur Town with Volcano Toilets

wire frame dino granger

welcome to granger

bustin loose

Brachiosaurus

ankylosaurus

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dino riding

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mellzah prattkeeping

dino munching on leaves

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mama dino and nest

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pteradactyl granger

spotted through the reeds\plesiosaur

stego on the hill

styracosaurus

t rex

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Only one dinosaur bone has ever been found in the state of Washington (an unidentified theropod in the San Juan islands), but that didn’t stop the small town of Granger from conspiring to capitalize on Jurassic Park mania in 1993. In 1994, the first dinosaur statue was produced, and their collection has grown by leaps and bounds since, with around thirty concrete dinosaurs scattered around the town. Driving around to see them is like being on a much safer, easier-to-spot safari. There’s also significantly less chance of a mauling, though it came close when I was repeatedly heckled by some little bastard children out a car window because I dared to climb on and ride a baby brontosaurus like god and nature intended, losing a shoe in the attempt. “Boo! Boo! You suck!” over and over and over. It might not be strictly polite to dropkick someone else’s child, but I think the rules of society occasionally allow for it. After all, it takes a village. I made do with “I can see you, you little shits!” and they piped down. Score one for profanity and vague threats.

There was also a slight risk of mauling by dinosaur descendants. I visited at the peak of nesting season, and several species of birds made it clear that we were not welcome in the area. None so clear as the goose that hissed and charged at Jason while his back was turned. I warned him in time which I feel makes up for my failure during The Pony Incident™ of ’14.

Although a few of Granger’s dinosaurs have “battle damage”, most of them have sweet and goofy expressions, not unlike the dinosaurs of Dinosaur World. Unlike Dinosaur World, the dinosaurs of Granger are a little worse for wear, but they are free to gander at, ride, and generally make an ass of oneself in public. It’s also evidently a prime public makeout spot, even at high noon on a Sunday, and I have some spectacular photos of people grinding intently on each other’s laps that I took by complete accident. Whoooops. Take that action into the privacy of the volcano toilets, people.

Spotted on the Roadside: The Dinosaur Doctor

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While dashing to and fro taking photos for a friend’s ridiculously demanding photo scavenger hunt, I spotted this velociraptor and immediately pulled over. First of all, I wish my orthodontist had been dinosaur themed. Mine had more of a pain theme going on, between the palate expansion and the headgear and the three years of braces and the incorrectly made retainer which shifted my teeth so much overnight that I needed braces for another entire year and the multiple shitty remarks (while my parents were out of the room) about how sad it was to do all of this work on my teeth when it was really my jutting chin that was ruining my face. Because what every child needs to be told by their orthodontist is that they essentially look like a fat Beavis. Ahem, I seem to have gotten a bit off-track. Anyway, I can appreciate a dinosaur themed orthodontist, whether that means that the orthodontist is a dinosaur or that he treats dinosaurs or that he only uses the really old school kind of braces. I’ve also taken the liberty of shooping their statuary with an addition that I believe would make it truly next-level.

Dinosaur dental work

Think about it, Dr. Max!   Spotted on Main St in Monroe, WA.

Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, WI

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Will I ever get tired of visiting dinosaur museums? In a word: NO. The Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin packs a lot of dinosaur into a relatively small space, eschewing individual platforms in favor of one large grouping. It’s the only museum in the United States designed specifically to show the evolutionary transition between dinosaurs and birds and it does so with the largest collection of theropod dinosaurs in the country; by containing them all on one platform, it’s easier to compare them to one another. Especially delightful are the motion sensors which trigger dinosaur noises and make you feel as though you’re being stalked around the room.

IMG_0409I thought it was a trick question with the answer being “this museum!”

IMG_0419Although it’s not a scientifically sound theory, based on similar facial expressions, I postulate that this dinosaur may in fact be Napodog’s ancestor as they both appear to be pleased as punch to be tracking mud around like it takes no work at all to clean the floors. NONE AT ALL. Happy-go-lucky jerks.

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IMG_0412This guy just needs a little nap, evolution is hard work!

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IMG_0432Downstairs, you can watch fossils being cleaned and prepared for research. You can also assemble a dinosaur puzzle and do some coloring; of course we elected to do all of these things, for science. IMG_0470 As you can see, Jason’s Eoraptor explores how one might camouflage itself in the 1980s, and mine is exploring hipster fashion. SCIENCE!

Walking With Dinosaurs: Dinosaur Ridge

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If you’re into dinosaurs and paleontology, Colorado is an excellent place to visit. The Morrison formation has been one of the most fertile sources of Jurassic fossils in North America, but more than that, it was one of the main sites of the Bone Wars between Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope in 1877.

Cope and Marsh loathed each other with a passion that made for excellent stories but terrible scientific method; not only would they rush to be the first to name new species (resulting in misidentifications like the Brontosaurus), but they’d also sabotage each other’s sites, bribing, stealing, destroying fossils, and each trying to ruin the other’s credibility so as to cut off his funding. Basically, if these guys were around today, we’d ask them to celebrity box or kiss and get it over with. Or there’d be a reality show: EXTREME PALEONTOLOGY. As it stands, they made both enormous contributions and did substantial harm to the field, discovering species while yet reportedly blowing up others with dynamite; their lasting animosity left both destitute, and yet they still would not yield. Before his death, Cope issued a challenge to Marsh by donating his skull to science, his desire that Marsh do the same so that their brains could be measured to “prove” which was more gifted. Though as we know, brain size is not an indicator of intelligence, and they’d both be dead anyway, so I suppose it was just a matter of getting it in the fossil record. Marsh never took Cope up on the bet, but Cope’s skull is still hanging out at the University of Pennsylvania today.

What makes Colorado so awesome for paleontologists, aside from apparently easy-access dynamite? Well, it was above water during the Jurassic and underwater during the Cretaceous, which means that it has an astounding diversity of fossils–dinosaurs, plants, and marine reptiles. The area was then uplifted by the formation of the Rocky Mountains, and at the Morrison formation, a creek carved through it, exposing the strata of Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks. Excavation is no longer happening at the Morrison formation, but you can tour and see all of these things for yourself: it goes by the more tourist-friendly name Dinosaur Ridge. You can do a self-guided tour and hike up Dinosaur Ridge, or you can pay a nominal fee at the visitor center and take a guided tour on a shuttle bus. We elected for the guided tour, and you can decide for yourself whether it was laziness or the thirst for knowledge that drove that decision. P3230639

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P3230648I don’t want to spoil the story, but we only saw one of these things. And we saw a LOT of them.

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We arrived just in time to hop aboard the next shuttle bus. Unfortunately, so did several families with a veritable herd of children around the age of two. I believe that the scientific term for a gathering of children around that age is “a terror”. We should have waited for the next bus. It’s not that our shuttle guide wasn’t fantastic–she was! She was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, she was quick to point out photo opportunities, and she deserved every cent of the tour fee and tip we gave her.

Unfortunately, however, it was incredibly difficult to hear anything she had to say over the reverberating screams of that many children. I’m not saying this as an unreasonable kid-hater, I’m saying this as one of the only two people on that bus trying to hear the tour guide, the other being Jason. Literally no one else was paying attention to her. Not the screaming kids, not the parents with glazed-over eyes. She’d ask a question hoping for a response and get “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” shouted back at her for her efforts. Hostage negotiation and traffic control are notoriously difficult jobs, but I’d put this at a close third. At least in those first two professions, you don’t spend any portion of your day hoping for the sweet release of death. I’m sure there are things I would have liked to have learned about whatever it is going on in the below photos, and I would have been happy to share that knowledge, but when I think back to this tour, I mostly just hear “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” which is really only helpful if you’re looking to memorize some of the vowels.  Sometimes I think it would be helpful to travel around with a little notebook so I don’t forget important details, but in this instance, I think all that would have come from it was a series of furious scribblings of increasingly angry faces.

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One thing I did learn is that one way paleontologists quickly determine if they’ve found a fossil is to lick it, though the tour guide recommended that we not lick any of the fossils on site as they’ve been touched by many many many hands. I don’t know whether I’d rather lick a stranger’s hand or a coprolite, personally. Preferably neither. I also learned that the bulk of Allosaurus remains have come from this area, and that Allosaurus may have been a more badass dinosaur than the more popular T.Rex. T. Rex is widely believed to be a scavenger and carrion eater. Allosaurus is believed to have been more involved in active predation; with their incredible expanding jaws, they could eat a chunk out of live prey and run away, and even if they took a beating for doing so, they often lived to see another day.  Plus: usable arms.

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P3230659Dinosaur ridge needs to update their signs! Though “Apatosaur Bulges” doesn’t sound as pleasing to the ear.

P3230663The area the tour guide is standing in originally contained a fossil that was cut out by some modern-day fossil-wrecking buttwad, possibly a descendent of Cope (Marsh never married). It was eventually found (I am not making this up) propping open a door at the University of Colorado.

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The next bus that rolled up the hill only had two adults on it. Damn, we should have waited.

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The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center

Before we paid our admission to the Dinosaur Resource Center, I grilled the poor employee about what makes this museum different from other dinosaur museums. He told me that this is the only dinosaur museum in the world that includes fish and marine reptile fossils (aka the T-Rex of the sea) in their exhibits, and that you can also observe a working fossil laboratory; that many of the specimens we’ve seen elsewhere have been processed and sent out from this location. He also added that the things they had in their museum were real, unlike the other tourist attractions in the area (Zing! And yet we still ended up getting suckered into a few of them.).

The Oviraptor, or “chicken from hell”–you certainly didn’t see it here first, but you DID see it here, and the owner of the museum was actually brought in to collect, prepare, and restore the original find. Another selling point for the museum.

This wall mount has the goofiest expression of any I’ve ever seen.  It looks like he’s taking the ANGRIEST poop. Why don’t they sell replicas of this in the gift shop? I’d have bought one in a heartbeat, and mounted it directly opposite the toilet so guests to my home could compete in a poop-off. I can’t believe the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center is crushing my dreams like that.

Is there a rule that all dinosaur art must have lightning or volcanoes in the background? Dinosaurs aren’t an exciting subject, so you need to jazz up the background a little?

The employee failed to mention that the fossil workers they had on site were BEAVERS with punny names. Oh, and that the beavers had the day off because there was no fossil lab work going on that I could see. Jason had to fill in as best he could.

“I’m flying, Jack!”

The employee could have saved himself a lot of breath by uttering the three magic words: “baby mammoth mummy”. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

I believe that Dinosaur World is the only place where a boy like me can be happy.

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  One of the things we wanted to see outside of the immediate Orlando area was Dinosaur World, which is essentially Florida’s Jurassic Park, except a few expenses were spared and all of the dinosaurs were frozen in place. When we arrived, I realized my description required a correction: all of the dinosaurs were frozen in place with incredibly stupid expressions on their faces. Continue reading

Mechanical Wonders at Les Machines de l’île

On the banks of the Loire, east of the Atlantic, lies the city of Nantes, the birthplace of surrealism and Jules Verne. France’s largest harbor in the eighteenth century, Nantes experienced deindustrialization when the shipyards closed and the water was diverted, drastically altering the landscape, changing the economy, and creating the Isle of Nantes. In 2007, with the vision of François Delaroziere, it became the Isle of Machines.

François Delaroziere has always had a passion for nature, drawing, and fabrication, and in 1991, began bringing mechanical animals to life with the French theater company Royal de Luxe, also based in Nantes. Together, their work culminated in The Sultan’s Elephant, a 42 ton mechanical elephant designed by Delaroziere that toured the world in 2005-2006. Shortly thereafter, Delaroziere left Royal de Luxe to found his own company, La Machine, and, collaborating with Pierre Orefice, created Les Machines de l’île. Their first work was The Great Elephant, an inexact replica of The Sultan’s Elephant (which was destroyed, reputedly by the theater company because they were sick of doing elephant shows). This 45 ton behemoth is bigger and better than its predecessor, primarily because now it can carry passengers for a ride.

And I was going to ride that ride.

I was determined. The first itinerary I made for this trip was, in retrospect, brutal: too many stops with not enough time in any of them to make the act of going there worthwhile. I discarded it in favor of a plan that involved a bit less sightseeing in France’s exciting train stations, but no matter how the map shifted, my top priority was going to Nantes and riding that elephant. Ultimately, we spent two days in the city and visited the Isle of Machines both days. 

On the first day, we peered into the workshop (where they are currently working on their “city in the sky”, The Heron Tree (l’Arbre aux Hérons), a new attraction with anticipated release in 2022),  walked up into the prototype branch of l’Arbre (where they’re currently figuring out what types of plants will thrive in the substrate they’ve chosen), and, finally, rode that elephant. And that elephant was astounding. Made in François Delaroziere’s typical style, of natural materials when possible, wood and leather, things that age and change and have unique character, and with its mechanical components bare: part of the spectacle, the wonder of seeing how it was made. This duality is the core component of Delaroziere’s work; the natural and manmade fused into one, the ordinary and the fantastic, the wild now servile.  The Grand Elephant looms larger than life, joints flexing, bellowing, and cheekily spraying onlookers with water. 

In a branch of The Heron Tree.

With the ominous sky and the elephant’s trajectory, this looks like one of those photos that ends up on the news because someone inadvertently ended up filming their own attack.

In his blueprint sketchbook, Bestiare, machines et ornements, Delaroziere professed his fondness for gargoyles and other forms of ornamentation “for its ability to introduce relief, to highlight a junction, or to even emphasize certain parts in the architecture.” 

View from the back of Le Grand Elephant.

We went on the last ride of the evening, a 45 minute jaunt from behind their gutted and repurposed warehouse building and through it to its indoor resting place for the evening. The vast majority of The Grand Elephant’s controls are in the operator’s cab but riders could wiggle the tail if they chose. I did so choose. At the pace this elephant moves, even if machines become self-aware and go on a murderous rampage, you should still be safe so long as you can keep up a walk. It would be the Michael Meyers of Terminators. After deboarding, in the time it took to walk to the carousel and back, the skies that had alternately rained and threatened to rain some more suddenly took on gorgeous vibrant pinks and purples as the sun set in the most magical way possible.

WATCH YOUR KIDS, elephant on the loose!

 

We started our second day on the Isle of Machines at the The Carousel of Sea Worlds (Carrousel des Mondes Marins). When we bought our tickets, we were informed that what we were purchasing was a tour only, with no ride, and while I will admit to being a little disappointed because I always want to ride, I am able to let that go, and while riding is a part of this carousel, unlike most carousels, it isn’t nearly everything.

The Carousel of Sea Worlds is the world’s only three-level carousel, each level representing a different part of the ocean: the floor, the depths, and the surface. In total, the carousel has 35 figures, many with interactive elements, so the rider is not only riding, but puppeteering their mount to imitate life as it circles round and round; spectators witnessing a living mechanical ocean as they wait their turn. I didn’t care if I got a turn or not, but I knew if I did, I could handle the role. You see, when I was in high school, all of the students were administered a career aptitude test to help guide our path in the wide world. I was pretty excited to see the results laid bare, the answer to the great what-should-I-be-when-I-grow-up question spelled out plainly, me in a nutshell. When they finally arrived, my top three career options were, as determined by science: mime, puppeteer, horse breeder.

Mime.

Puppeteer.

Horse breeder.

They may as well have stamped “prepare to be poor” across the top. My parents were inexplicably disappointed in my potential vocational range, and I remained fuzzy on whether federal student aid is available for clown college. 

At the Carousel of Sea Worlds, puppeteer doesn’t seem like such a laughable profession, especially with regards to the creation of these intricate and beautiful puppets. As with The Grand Elephant, they are primarily made of natural materials, hand carved and stained wood, color applied in translucent layers to allow the natural characteristics of the wood grain to shine through, steampunk in the nature of their mechanical components: industrial, rugged, weathered. The love and care and attention to form, function, and detail, the elbow grease and ingenuity that went into their creation is evident in every figure and if you are tuned into the kind of labor a work like this takes, it is breathtaking. It brought me to the brink of tears.

 

The Ocean Floor

Our tour began on the ocean floor. At first, it was essentially a private tour as we were the only two present. Our tour guide spoke English and not only walked us through the carousel but through the history of Nantes, the creation of the Isle of Machines, the kind of labor in general it takes to create each figure, and the unique control mechanics of some. He also took us to a fourth, subterranean level that the three enclosed cars descend into: the submarine, the yellow submarine fish, and the nautilus.  As other people joined, our guide told us to pick a mount. I started. “But at the ticket counter they told us we wouldn’t get to ride today?” “Oh, they always say that.”

HOT DAMN.

I selected the squid, and to my delight, not only could I wiggle the tentacles, flutter the fin, and rotate the eyeballs from my seat on the mantle, but I could also release billowing jets of fog into the air, giving it the quality of hazy water, pierced by the headlights installed on some of the figures. Jason didn’t pick one fast enough and was instructed to get into the hermit crab by the tour guide, but accidentally climbed into the second chair of the first crab he saw, the big one with a woman who was clearly not thrilled to have him present as her crab co-captain. There is no language barrier that her look of confusion and irritation could not cross. Once Jason was directed to the correct crab, our ride/puppeteering experience began. Now that I’ve boasted of my natural talents in puppetry, I’m sure you expect me to tell you that I’ve been offered a full time job in Nantes but the fact of the matter is that artistry such as mine is sometimes overlooked and it may take them finding my blog before they reach out and unlock my destiny. 

The Depths

The tour essentially ignored this level but I very much would have liked to ride in the pirate fish, ideally while wearing a pirate costume.

The wings of the manta ray flapped whenever the carousel was in motion, one of few automatic animations not requiring the hand of a puppeteer.

The Surface

On the surface level, we were sent off with another tour group. This guide spoke French exclusively which I do have to expect while in France and not get tetchy about it but it was hard to go from a tour where I felt like I was learning a lot to not being able to understand at all. The important thing is that we got to ride again! This time, Jason and I rode together in a fish-boat. I sat in the front and controlled its fishy head: opening and closing the jaw, moving the eyes, swinging back and forth to make the boat appear it’s swimming. Jason rode in back and manned the fins, horn, and cannon, which was rigged to a drum for a satisfying boom.

Inspired by the six horse chariot sitting over the dome of the main gate of the palace in St. Petersburg.

When the carousel is in motion, the fish “fly”.

Our fishboat.

The view from inside the head of a fishboat.

(Best viewed full screen.)

I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite. They’re all too wonderful. 

As we finished the tour, who should trumpet around the corner but Le Grand Éléphant, depositing riders at Les Mondes Marins and providing one heck of a photo op?

Last but not least, we visited The Gallery of Machines (La Galerie des Machines), where they display prototypes and have their test laboratory. During my visit, they were testing insects, birds, and plants for The Heron Tree.

Spider butt has a face.

Based on the way the spider dropped from the ceiling, I really, really hoped it would pick up the ant in a challenge for the title of “world’s largest claw machine“. 

I love everything about this.

Heron prototype for l’Arbre, when scaled up the plan is for it to be able to carry forty people rather than four.

This venus flytrap looks like it’s out to get revenge on Mario.

What Les Machines has accomplished in twelve years is a testament to the power of imagination, hard work, and creative arts funding. The Heron Tree will be their most ambitious project yet; I can’t wait to see them soar.