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grand canyon (nee dinosaur) caverns

Airstream road trip on Route 66, Grand Canyon Caverns, Arizona


I listed 27 dinosaur and fossil attractions in the “Dig This!” article featured in the Winter 14 issue of Airstream Life, but I’m sad to say that Dinosaur Caverns—renamed “Grand Canyon” Caverns in 1962—didn’t make the cut.


While I loved every minute of my visit there, the dinosaurs were just too…plastic.


The veneer of fifties kitsch still clings to the historic site on Route 66, where gigantic, green, cheesy cartoon dinos greet visitors. The caverns were discovered and marketed in the 20s by a local gambler on his way to a poker game, who thought he struck gold when he fell through a hole in the ground and saw the sparkling walls of the caverns beneath. He immediately purchased the land, and when his gold mine turned out to be filled instead with yellow iron oxide he cooked up of other ways to recoup his investment: charging “dopes on a rope” a quarter to be lowered via a rickety contraption 22 stories underground, and hawking the site as the mysterious resting place of a giant sloth and two cave men (who turned out to be unfortunate members of the contemporary Hualapai tribe.)


If you’re not expecting prehistoric specimens, the cavern tour today is actually pretty fantastic—and there are a few items of paleo interest to see in the timeworn lounge near the gift shop while you wait your turn to descend into the colorful, weird (and weirdly-appointed) caves.


Zero dinosaurs but all sorts of other curiosities are stored down there in the dark among the peculiar rock and crystal formations: that sloth, stuffed; a cosmic ray telescope; vintage seats from a Hollywood theater; a mummified bobcat; a HOTEL ROOM; a performance stage; and still-fresh water and food rations ready to feed 2000 people that the US government placed there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (!?)


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