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'Dino Show' debuts at University of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — The dinosaurs that roamed southern Utah millions of years ago in the late Cretaceous period have found new stomping grounds at the Utah Museum of Natural History.

"Dino Show: Live From Laramidia" opened Friday at the museum on the University of Utah campus. The interactive performance will run at 11 a.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays through the end of May and possibly through December.

Paulmichael Maxfield, the gallery programs coordinator at the museum, developed the approximately 30-minute performance. Maxfield teamed up with Mark Loewen, a paleontologist and research associate, to help better re-create the dinosaur, currently referred to as ceratopsian, the group in which the dinosaur is categorized.

"We knew about this recent discovery, and we thought it was really cool," Maxfield said. "We were really excited about being able to bring some of the fossils to life."

Maxfield's presentation is both educational and entertaining. While sharing facts about the ceratopsian Friday, Maxfield invited children in the audience to participate in numerous ways. Before the ceratopsian made its grand entrance, Maxfield told the audience they needed to re-create the environment it had lived in.

Assigning the roles of plants, ants, beetles, bumblebees and other dinosaurs, Maxfield and his youth volunteers re-created the ceratopsian's environment.

Upon the successful completion of the re-creation, the 10-foot ceratopsian entered the room, to the delight of the youth. Some ran forward to observe it closer, while others retreated to their parents in fear.

Ben and Deborah Norris of Salt Lake City said they were excited to learn about the show when they arrived at the museum. Their 4-year-old son, Tate, is the dinosaur fan in their family. Tate said the ceratopsian from the show is his new favorite dinosaur.

The Norris' 10-year-old son, Schon, said the re-creation of the ceratopsian's environment was his favorite part of the show.

University of Utah students studying puppeteering operated the 65-pound ceratopsian puppet, which took approximately three months to create.

Maxfield said there were many known facts about the ceratopsian but that some things, like what color it was and how it walked, had to be improvised.

"Sometimes we had to do a bit of speculation," he said. "But it was all based on scientific evidence."

Loewen, who was with Mike Getty, collections manager of paleontology at the museum, when the ceratopsian was discovered, offered his knowledge to Maxfield about the dinosaur fossils found in 2001 in Grand Staircase at Escalante National Monument.

"It's the first evidence of horned dinosaurs from that formation," Loewen said. "We expected these kinds of animals would be there, but none had ever been found."

Loewen said they first discovered the dinosaur when they found one horn, located above the dinosaur's nose, sticking out above the ground. They eventually excavated nine of the dinosaur skeletons, including a baby dinosaur skeleton.

"We know everything about that animal," Loewen said.

Maxfield said he hopes to arrange to have the fossils of the ceratopsian on display in the lobby where the show takes place, allowing visitors to learn even more about the dinosaur. He said he encourages visitors to return to the museum for the show because there is such a variety of information available on the dinosaur.

"It's a new show every time," Maxfield said.

Hillary Perroni took her two children, Nicholas and Elizabeth, to the museum Friday. Originally from Salt Lake City, Perroni now lives in Mesa, Ariz., and wanted to show her children one of her favorite places to visit as a child.

The interactive show was a fun surprise for 6-year-old Nicholas, who is a dinosaur fan. He helped Maxfield by explaining to the audience what it means to be an herbivore and an omnivore. Nicholas, whose favorite dinosaur is a Tyrannosaurus rex, said the best part of the performance was being a part of show and getting to touch the dinosaur afterward.

A schedule of events, including additional performances, is available at umnh.utah.edu.

e-mail: ejames@desnews.com