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WOSTER: A prehistoric daydream

Early one misty morning a couple of summers ago as I stood outside the operations center near the east end of Camp Rapid, I stretched, took a sip of coffee and looked up to where the fog had parted enough to show me a massive dinosaur above the c...

Terry Woster

Early one misty morning a couple of summers ago as I stood outside the operations center near the east end of Camp Rapid, I stretched, took a sip of coffee and looked up to where the fog had parted enough to show me a massive dinosaur above the clouds.

The sight startled me until I realized I was seeing one of the figures at Dinosaur Park along Skyline Drive. I'm familiar with those things, have been since I was a young boy on family vacations in the Black Hills. But this one showed up unexpectedly, in the distance, through the haze of a summer dawn. For an instant, my spine tingled and I thought if I turned around I might see one of those raptors from "Jurassic Park.''

The fog over the lower elevations of the city had wrapped itself around the big hill in just such a way that the dinosaur (maybe an Apatosaurus, if I read the information the Dinosaur Park website correctly) floated on clouds. I should have taken a photograph, I suppose, but it was quite a distance, I'm not proficient with a camera and people would have said, "You can buy postcards, you know.''

Instead of ruining the moment by trying to capture it, I stood and appreciated it. I was about to start a shift in the operations center, where various agencies were monitoring traffic and other activity associated with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. I figured this moment, alone in the early morning with the image of a 60 or 70 million-year-old reptile riding the clouds, might be the best part of my day.

I thought of that moment the other day during the snow storm. Six or seven inches of snow fell and blew out this way during the storm. I guess I was trying to remember a warmer, mellower time of year. The image of the dinosaur helped.

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When I was young, no family trip to the Hills was complete without a stop at Dinosaur Park. In that, I'm sure my family was just like most other families from the flatlands half a century ago. You went to the Black Hills for a week, and you hit all the familiar attractions.

My dad really, really liked hot-rodding the old Nash around the curves of Skyline Drive, making the tires and my mom both squeal. My mom liked the parking lot, because it led to the gift shop, where she could admire every salt-and-pepper shaker, tea cup, miniature plastic dinosaur and themed scarf. My siblings and I loved being released from the car to dash madly up the long, long stairway to the big-as-life dinosaurs. Our mother would reluctantly turn away from the gift shop and trail after us, falling behind and shouting warnings about tripping on the stone steps, stepping on rattlesnakes on the warm rocks and falling from the triceratops or stegosaurus.

Besides the chance to play Fireball Roberts with a bathtub shaped car - which was difficult to do on the flat, gravel roads back home in Lyman County - my dad most appreciated the lack of an admission charge to the park. He did a pretty good imitation, far ahead of his time, of Chevy Chase being Clark Griswold in the "National Lampoon's Vacation'' movie.

On those vacations, while our mom fretted, our dad encouraged us to explore, to climb and to run. "Hey, kids, let's see if all of you can fit on the back of that spiked one there, and I'll make a home movie,' he'd say. He had a wind-up Bell and Howell movie camera - 16 millimeter, I think - and when we got back to the farm he'd spend hours at night splicing film together to make one giant, long-playing family vacation movie. None of our friends or neighbors wanted to visit us in the evening for about six months after each of our vacation trips.

Well, daydreaming about dinosaurs doesn't move any snow. I had to return to reality and tackle the drifted sidewalk. I did it, knowing summer is a little closer after this storm than it was after the last one.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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