One of the docents at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester asked if I'd like my picture taken with Kelsey the Triceratops. Why, of course! The exhibit continues through April 8. (Bluff Country Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)
One of the docents at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester asked if I'd like my picture taken with Kelsey the Triceratops. Why, of course! The exhibit continues through April 8. (Bluff Country Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)
Triceratops... even knowing how to say the word, I still sometimes stumble over it when talking about this dinosaur that features big horns and a "frill" around its neck.

So let's clear that up right away. It's pronounced tri-SARE-uh-tops. Fun to say, isn't it? Especially when you've got it fresh in your mind.

There's a really good way to do that right now. An exhibit called "Twilight of the Triceratops" will be at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester through April 8. As a dinosaur fan, of course I had to visit after a recent appointment in the city.

It's a great exhibit to check out and so close to home!

Meet "Kelsey"

The feature star is Kelsey, a life-size replica of a triceratops, sure to make the kids get wide-eyed and full of wonder. It comes from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Inc. in Hill City, S.D. That company has a museum in that town and does all kinds of paleontology work. Its website states of Kelsey:

"What appears to be one of the three most complete Triceratops horridus skeletons known to science was excavated by Black Hills Institute staff from the Lance Creek fossil beds near Newcastle, Wyo., in April of 1998. More than half of the Triceratops specimens presently known were excavated from these same fossil beds. This Triceratops was named 'Kelsey' for the 3-year-old granddaughter of Leonard and Arlene Zerbst, the amateur fossil collectors who first discovered a portion of the skull weathering out of a hillside near their ranch home.

"Triceratops, probably the world's second most popular and well-known dinosaur, is known from far fewer skeletal specimens than its famous contemporary, Tyrannosaurus rex."

At Quarry Hill you'll want to take in all the information and see other parts to the display. There's also a lecture captured on film you can watch, where paleontologist John R. "Jack" Horner theorizes that of the 12 species of dinosaurs, there probably should be just seven. By cutting up skulls and skeletons at a museum he runs, he's discovered bone marrow in some smaller dinosaurs to be spongy, while it's hard in the larger dinosaurs. Horner hypothesizes that the smaller dinosaurs are really just juvenile members that evolved into similar looking, larger dinos.

He just might have a point.

Project to dig

I hope to get selected for a Passport in Time (PIT) project this summer looking for dinosaurs and other fossils in the Hell Creek formation of the late Cretaceous Period. This project is set in the desolate, lovely, isolated units of the Sioux District of the Custer National Forest. It's in the hinterlands surrounding the border of southeastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota.

Speaking of which - remember, we just mentioned the Zerbst family ranch, where Kelsey was found? I thought the name seemed familiar from my travels in South Dakota and Wyoming. I checked and found I've had a "must visit" on their ranch for a potential vacation visit in the future.

They run what's called Paleo Park. I was intrigued a few years back when I first saw a sign pointing toward it, some 25 miles west of Highway 85 in eastern Wyoming, with the road taking off along the Cheyenne River (I'd say "River" as it usually has little to no water).

Paleo Park?!? I had to check that out! The ranch has a great story and it's a nice sidebar to know while looking at Kelsey:

"Paleo Park is the end result of a dream that Leonard and Arlene Zerbst had long ago. You see, the ranch that Paleo Park is settled on was homesteaded by Leonard's grandfather in the late 1800s. The first dinosaur was taken off the ranch in 1908. Throughout the years, paleontologists have been coming to the ranch to prospect and excavate numerous dinosaurs. Leonard and Arlene along with their two children (Tom and Kristen) would spend lazy afternoons looking for fragmented bones, teeth, or the "big one."

Finding Kelsey

"One day in the mid-1990s the couple were out prospecting and came across a bone sticking out of the ground. After a little digging they realized that they had something big and called the guys at the BHIGR in Hill City, S.D. They came and everyone helped to excavate a Triceratops that they promptly nicknamed "Kelsey" after their first grandchild.

"That day a tradition was set into motion by finding a dinosaur and naming it after all their grandkids. At the time there were only two grandchildren and they knew that they could find another.

"A couple years went by and Leonard and Arlene thought about building a lodge and letting fossil hunters of all kinds come out and get a chance to find a 65 million-year-old bone. As the saying goes, 'build it and it will come.'

"Well, indeed the Zerbst family started making plans to build a bunkhouse to house guests and showcase all the things that they had found so far. During this time they came across another dinosaur while prospecting. This dinosaur was another Triceratops, but this one had skin impressions with it.

"What a great find! Into the books this dinosaur goes given the name "Lane" after the second grandchild.

"On Aug. 23 of 1999 the plans for Paleo Park became altered, but not stopped. Leonard was diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer. Their youngest child, Kristen - who was living in Iowa with her husband, Chad - moved home. With the assistance of Arlene, Tom, Kris and all their family, neighbors and friends, Paleo Park was whipped together and finished.

"After a tough fight, Leonard passed away in May of 2000. Although he didn't get to see the first tours, he was able to see the Paleo Park lodge up and already knew what an impact Paleo Park would have on everyone young and old. Tours began the summer of 2000 and here we are still going strong.

Visiting dinosaurs

"On an average year there are about 200 visitors walking through the doors of Paleo Park. The Paleo crew is always ready to do a little prospecting and look over all the stuff already found.

"Now with more grandchildren, time is ticking to fill the Paleo Park pages with their own nicknamed dinosaurs. Hopefully soon - maybe this tour or the next - we will find them!"

If you'd like information on your own chance to look for dinosaur bones and fossils at Paleo Park, check www.paleopark.com/Tours.html

And make sure you get to Quarry Hill to see Kelsey. Indulge your awe of dinosaurs! It runs through April 8. For more information, check the main page for Quarry Hill Nature Center at http://qhnc.org/. A small admission is charged.

Lisa Brainard is the news editor for the Republican-Leader and Chatfield News. She writes for the Phillips Bluff Country Publishing group of newspapers, which also includes the Spring Grove Herald, Bluff Country Reader, News-Record, and Spring Valley Tribune. She can be reached at: lbrainard@bluffcountrynews.com. She also photographs many scenic landscapes in her travels near and far, in addition to taking numerous newspaper photos.