15 July 2012

The Paleo Travel List

As many of you are aware, while paleontology is the main focus of this blog, I occasionally lapse into writing about places I've visited.  I love to travel and I love reading travel literature, and I've noticed, as I'm sure many of you have, a recent trend in the field.  If you go to the travel section of pretty much any bookstore, you'll see the usual guidebooks and travel narratives, but you'll also see books that are effectively lists of places to visit.  Their titles are usually variations on the themes of "X Places to See Before you Die" and "X Places You Must Visit."  I'm not altogether sure it's a healthy direction: I think travel should be about experiencing a culture or landscape different from the one you live in, not crossing items off a list (though, in fairness, "checklist travel" has a certain appeal to the more OCD aspects of my personality).  Still, the popularity of these books - and the corresponding websites - is undeniable, and it got me wondering: what would a list of must-see paleontology destinations look like?  My attempt at an answer can be found below.
A few places on the list were no-brainers: the big museums of the East Coast and Midwest, the grand collections of Europe, or places like Dinosaur National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park where you can see spectacular fossils in situ.  I added a few other places because they do an outstanding job displaying the paleontology of a particular site (Rancho La Brea, Urweltmuseum Hauff) or region (University of Nebraska Museum, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde).  A few places made it onto the list because of their especially impressive combinations of fossils and reconstructions or paleoart (the dioramas of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science or the murals of the San Diego Natural History Museum, for example), and a few more made it on due to the historical importance of the fossils there (the first described dinosaur fossil in Oxford's Natural History Museum, for example).
Obviously, this list is incomplete.  It includes only places I've visited, leaving entire continents neglected.  I'd be very curious to hear what else readers of this blog think would belong on it.  Bear in mind that this list is intended for members of the general public, NOT for career paleontologists; we all have our own distinct ideas of which museums or sites are particularly interesting, and many of these may hold little to no appeal for someone with a more casual interest in fossils.  However, I think any of the places listed below would be worth a trip for anyone with even a slight predilection for paleontology:

North America
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Rancho La Brea/Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, California
San Diego Natural History Museum, California
Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Colorado
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado
Dinosaur State Park, Connecticut
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Connecticut
National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois
Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, Nebraska
University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska
American Museum of Natural History, New York
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon
Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta
Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario

Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, Germany
Paläontologische Sammlung, Tübingen, Germany
Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde, Stuttgart, Germany
Urweltmuseum Hauff, Holzmaden, Germany
Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom
Oxford University Museum of Natural History, United Kingdom

No comments: