25 August, 2011

Poor, Pathetic Paraceratherium: Who Killed the Kitsch?

Whilst I await Brian Switek's Archaeopteryx post in order to round out our visit to OMSI, I figured I'd do you up an unexpected roadside attraction. If you drive Highway 97 from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake, you'll stumble across this decaying beast near Chemult:

Ginormous Mystery Beastie
A few questions come to mind, all beginning with WTF: WTF is it? WTF is it doing here in front of a truck accessories store? And WTF is a truck accessories store doing in the middle of nowhere with a prehistoric beastie in its front yard?

We had some serious geology to do, but the impulse proved irresistible. We stopped for a photo op.

I'm afraid this IS his good side
As near as we can tell, this crumbling behemoth is a Paraceratherium. These ancient, hulking land mammals - so large they dwarfed mammoths - lived back in the Eocene and Oligocene. I haven't found anything to tell me whether any roamed Oregon. They seem to have been mostly a Eurasian and Asian denizen. But Oregon had a healthy population of rhino relatives, so I suppose he's not all that out of place.

Don't get on his bad side
He looks imposing, I know, but he was a strict herbivore. At eighteen feet tall, thirty long, and in the mid-size sauropod weight class, I imagine that if vegetation could talk, it would whisper terrorized tales of the thunderous approach of the mighty masticator. Trees and shrubs would tell tales of the Paraceratherium who would come after misbehaving saplings and chomp them all up with its great big teeth. This thing was seriously hungry and huge - more than enough to inspire horror stories.

Verily, I am dwarfed by the might of the masticator

But it would seem to have nothing to do with truck accessory shops. A little Google-fu, however, and ye olde mystery is solved. We begin here, where a search for Paraceratherium and Oregon returns a question, answered in comments: what is this dude doing here? Turns out he was part of a roadside attraction called Thunderbeast Park, which closed back in the 90s. The truck shop people let the attractions go to seed, and apparently get very cross whenever people ask them about it. Bad business sense, if you ask me - not everyone driving by needs shiny new rims, but if they ran the theme park on the side, they could make a tidy sum on the side charging them a few bucks a pop to ogle old Oligocene oddities. Alas, they have chosen the way of guard dogs and grumpiness instead. But the Paraceratherium in the parking lot can be enjoyed quickly enough that irritated employees don't have time to chase you off.

Brian Switek snagged photos of one of the missing beasts from readers who were there before the park closed - if anyone has more, send 'em his way.

A little further searching reveals the genius behind the giant - Ernie Nelson, who also created Oregon's apparently extant Prehistoric Gardens. It seems Thunderbeast Park was star-crossed from its inception, but the Prehistoric Gardens, cared for by Ernie himself, thrived. Gotta go see that place next!

One last shot
I hope someone, somehow, rescues this poor pathetic Paraceratherium before he's completely dead, restores him to his former glory, and sticks him in a friendlier roadside spot where kids can marvel and adults can amuse themselves. This grand old beast deserves better than he's got.


george.w said...

A pity these were not better preserved.

Far from being averse to the paraceratherium, I imagine the vegetation of the time simply exploited them as a means of transporting seeds.

Lockwood said...

Prehistoric Gardens is over on the coast, near Port Orford, and well into the crazy Klamath geology. I'm enamored enough with those rocks I've never bothered to stop for the dinos, despite driving by them dozens of times.

Karen said...

He's cute. He's also big enough that, were he alive, he'd be able to keep down my weeds. :-)

Anonymous said...

That was, back in my hometown youth, a Paul Bunyon slash dinosaur park slash logging museum. Haven't been down that far in pret near thirty years, had forgotten it was there.