The skull of an allosaurus, which lived 150 million years ago // © 2016 Michael Mundt
Feature image (above): Paleo Joe’s Bar and Grill // © 2016 Best Western Denver Southwest
A group of budding paleontologists gathered around the 6-foot-tall brachiosaurus femur as resident expert Chenoa Ellinghaus pointed to a giant cavity toward the tip of the bone.
“See this here? Does it look like a bite mark?” she asked, as her charges peered closely at the injury. “Those marks weren’t made by a predator; they indicate a strong bacterial infection that likely killed the animal.”
This exchange wasn’t part of a school field trip or a museum tour. Rather, these children were guests at Best Western Denver Southwest in Lakewood, Colo., otherwise known as “The Dino Hotel.”
Ten years ago, owners Greg and Meredith Tally decided that the hotel, a typical Best Western at the time, needed a face-lift. The goal was to differentiate the property with a theme — and without becoming a tacky roadside attraction, Greg says.
“We live in ‘Dinosaur Country,’” he says of the hotel’s location, about 10 miles from Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Colo., where apatosaurus and stegosaurus dinosaurs (which lived during the first giant Jurassic era roughly 145 to 200 million years ago) were dug from the earth in 1877. “The dinosaur and natural history museum theme was a chance to do something unique that was not really being done at other hotels.”
During the hotel’s $5 million remodel, completed in 2013, the couple consulted with paleontology experts when planning the hotel’s decor, including Matthew Mossbrucker, the director and chief curator for Morrison Natural History Museum.
The lobby, for instance, was made to resemble a 19th-century explorers club that features museum-quality casts of fossils, from brachiosaurus femurs to “Butthead,” the skull of a plant-eating pachycephalosaurus. Lifelike dinosaur murals adorn both the interior and exterior of the hotel.
The on-site Paleo Joe’s Bar and Grill includes a full-size tylosaur on the ceiling — a leftover prop from the 2007 National Geographic movie “Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure”— and is the only petrified wood bar in Colorado, according to Greg.
And in a nod to Colorado’s state fossil, the stegosaurus, hotel mascot “Stanley” the stegosaurus greets visitors from the front of the hotel. A dig panel of the stegosaurus “Wadsworth” hangs behind the front desk.
“Dinosaurs are real-life dragons, massive animals that really existed,” Greg said. “They spark children’s innate curiosity about and passion for the natural world. We love doing our part to grow curious minds.”
Kids will enjoy exploring the Jurassic dig pit, which contains real fossils, and swimming in the zero-point entry pool, designed in the shape of the Western Interior Cretaceous Seaway, a shallow inland sea that covered much of North America (including Colorado) about 85 million years ago. Guests can take a self-guided tour of the art and exhibits throughout the hotel and enjoy breakfast-hour chats at the interactive fossil table by “paleo-interpreters” such as Ellinghaus.
“Learning doesn’t have to be dull; it can be as fun as spending a night at the museum,” Greg said. “And the sleeping arrangements are more comfortable at the Dino Hotel.”
Best Western Denver Southwest offers free daily fossil chats during the hotel’s complimentary breakfast. It is also near several noteworthy dinosaur destinations, including Dinosaur Ridge, Morrison Natural History Museum, Triceratops Trail in Golden, Colo., and Denver Museum of Nature & Science.