In 2020, during the ravages of the worst parts of the Covid-19 Global pandemic, a staple of any sort of struggling entertainment complex (in my area) was the numerous animatronic dinosaur exhibits that popped up everywhere. I can recall a particular time when there were no less than three going on concurrently – ones that you drove through, and ones in otherwise abandoned event spaces. We went to a handful of these, and it really ignited my son’s passion for dinosaurs much more so than any time prior. Sure they were made of robots at varying qualities, and some were pretty silly like one where they put dinosaurs in front of suburban houses and other modern backdrops for some reason. Since then, there has almost always been some sort of “dinosaur thing” going on in and around Kansas City, and perhaps the best one we attended was a four month long City-wide event held in Topeka, Kansas with numerous activities and exhibits to see.
Topeka Dino Days 2022; Topeka, Kansas
While this sadly happened in the late Spring / Early Summer, with only one of the four attractions still operational (Topeka Zoo), I wanted to talk about this and show what it was like with the optimism that they do a similar program in the future. I will try to talk about each section of the event, show some pictures, and come back at the end with a look at what would happen had a child completed all four parts. Speaking of that, yes this was obviously designed for children, but every aspect of this, save the children’s museum component, could be enjoyed by anyone of any age.
One of the perks was that kids were supposed to use an app to record their four stops at the four participating locations to win a prize – in this case a nifty commemorative patch!
According to the website:
“Topeka Dino Days is a four-month-long celebration featuring incredible dinosaur-themed exhibitions, activities, and events at various locations throughout Topeka, Kansas. This spring, step into the world of SUE the T. rex to uncover the mysteries about the life of this fearsome fossil at the Great Overland Station. Enjoy learning about dinosaur eggs, nests, and babies through colorful, hands-on, interactive experiences at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center. Journey back to the age of dinosaurs in an immersive experience featuring life-size, animatronic prehistoric giants appearing throughout the Topeka Zoo. Joining in on the fun, businesses and organizations across Topeka have created dinosaur-themed specials, merchandise and events for visitors and locals to enjoy throughout the spring. Start your journey in Downtown Topeka at Topeka Dino Days Base Camp and track your experience on the Topeka Dino Days Explorer Passport app.”
For this series of trips, my son and I read A Dinosaur Named Sue: The Find of the Century, which was a children’s book, and I read Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought over T-Rex Ever Found. We figured that the “crown jewel” of this whole thing was the traveling exhibit of Sue, so reading a book about “her” was fitting.
I live a little more than an hour from Topeka, so traveling there is always pretty easy and not very stressful. I always recommend taking the toll road, even though it costs a bit, simply because I’d rather do a straight shot for a few bucks than take a series of backroads and deal with traffic and road construction just to spend my saved money on extra gas money. I discovered this a LOT recently when my GPS took me the back-way home from Lawrence, Kansas, adding around thirty minutes of drive time for no reason whatsoever. I even went as far as getting the K-Tag because you save some money.
Destination 1 – Basecamp
“Start your journey at Topeka Dino Days Base Camp! Here you’ll find information about all the great things to see and do in Topeka and Shawnee County. This space also feature a pop-up store with Topeka Dino Days merchandise and memorabilia perfect for remembering this amazing event.”
Base Camp was where the journey was supposed to begin, however we actually did this step last due to being late on our first day to get in. Ostensibly, this was the “gift shop” of the event with numerous shirts, trinkets, and other merchandise for the city and dinosaurs alike. The back area was set up as a mini-museum with a full-size Allosaurus skeleton and informational signs. This is also where one would “trade in” their proof of visiting all four sites for the prize. Overall, there wasn’t much here, but as a launching point for the rest of your journey, it did it’s job. My only issue was the parking – as this was in a fairly congested area downtown and not easy to get to when tons of people were around.
Destination 2 – Topeka Zoo – Dinosaurs Alive!
“This spring the Topeka Zoo presents DINOSAURS ALIVE! This new dinosaur exhibit is an immersive experience featuring life-sized, animatronic dinosaurs that move and make sounds just like the creatures that used to roam the planet! Travel through time and discover different time periods, admire the magnitude of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and learn about “modern dinosaurs” still living today. It’s sure to be a roaring good time!”
This one was a big surprise to me for the simple fact that the integration of the animatronic dinosaurs into the Topeka Zoo was amazing, and actually made the zoo way more interesting and feel far more exciting than it would had they not been there. I assumed the dinos would be roped off in the back of the park, perhaps even under a literal paywall (as they did at World’s of Fun), but they were all over the place – filling almost every open area. Truthfully, I think they should keep them there as it really adds something. The zoo itself is solid, however the day we went had a LOT on construction and numerous animals hiding rather than being out in their habitats – thus one of the main gambles of going to any zoo. Topeka Zoo is a smaller Zoo, especially in comparison to the Kansas City or St. Louis Zoos, but some exhibits like their tropical rainforest area are top notch and rival anything similar that I’ve seen.
Before you leave, make sure to stop by the park across from the zoo – there’s a cool old-school train ride for kids and a huge playground.
Destination 3 – Sue Exhibit
“Come between two titans with full-scale casts of SUE and T. rex’s nemesis, Triceratops. Experience a unique multimedia show transporting you to the Cretaceous forest alongside SUE. Learn how the fossil was unearthed, and how scientists continue to make discoveries about SUE, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever discovered. Use all of your senses to take in SUE’s world. Take a whiff of their putrid breath, watch SUE tromp through the Late Cretaceous forest, feel the texture of dinosaur skin, and hear the subsonic rumble of a T. rex. See the fossils of animals, plants, and dinosaurs that lived during the Late Cretaceous period, and come face-to-face with a full-size, fleshed-out replication of a ferocious T. rex battling the duck-billed herbivore, Edmontosaurus.”
Sue was actually one of the main reasons I wanted to see this whole thing, seeing that she is still the largest T-Rex remains ever found, as far as I know, and can tell us a lot about how those mighty monsters may have lived. This was housed in an old train depot called The Great Overland Station, and was packed to the gills with all manner of fossil and recreation, not just Sue. Interactive segments and a film theater completed the experience and made this worth every penny. My only issue was the third party ticketing company for this event was not very good, and we initially had a snafu where I was assigned a specific time in their computer that was not relayed to me on my end. Thankfully staff made it right and there were no issues.
Destination 4 – Tiny Titans Exhibit
“Tiny Titans: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies is hatching at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center! This remarkable hands-on exhibition offers an astounding array of authentic dinosaur eggs and nests collected from all over the globe, in addition to great hands-on play experiences! Kids can dig for eggs, dress up like a parent dinosaur to brood their nest, and feel the texture of dinosaur eggs. Cute babies and fun dinosaur facts will keep the whole family playing and learning.”
Tiny Titans was tucked into a small exhibition area within the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, a children’s museum akin to Science City in Kansas City or equivalent. The exhibit, as the name would suggest, was entirely about dinosaur eggs and contained many interactive aspects such as sand pits where kids could dig for fossils and a photo op where kids could dress as a feathered dinosaur protecting their nest. The exhibit aloe was well worth the money, and that wasn’t even including the indoor and outdoor activities that are always there. If you are looking for something fun for kids and are in and around Topeka, this is a great choice.
What was cool about this was that if all four of the destinations, you could win a prize using an app that you “checked in” using some sort of GPS ping. After all four were tallied, participants could swing by Base Camp and get their commemorative patches as seen below.
Overall, this was a fun idea for the city of Topeka, and it definitely got me in there to do more things than what I normally would have done there. If anyone else was like me, I’d imagine Topeka tourism had a nice bump this year. It wasn’t too expensive to do everything, especially if you split it into two separate day trips like we ended up doing, and there was plenty to do at each location. I hope they do something like this next year as we honestly had a blast.