by Vagabond Intern Jerri Bourrous
Growing up in East Texas, my cousins and I often found pieces of petrified wood and
arrowheads in my backyard. Granted, we never found anything of incredible importance, but we considered ourselves junior archaeologists bragging about our discoveries on the playground and during show and tell.
Dinos invade Lufkin!
The Naranjo Museum of Natural History, in Lufkin, caters to the explorer in us all. Although it just opened in September, thousands of locals have already experienced the natural wonder of history. This seemingly small building has utilized its space efficiently, filling it with artifacts from dinosaurs to astronauts.
Founder, Dr. Neal Naranjo, excitedly introduced me to his pride and joy, Mary Ann, a Hadrosaur found in Montana. Mary Ann’s fossil reaches 20 feet tall by 30 feet long. Her tail and right foot were found with skin impressions still intact, which is rare. “We figured that she died in a volcanic eruption,” Naranjo explains, “She fell over on her back and since she walked like that [on all fours] all the time she had to be choking to go backwards. With the ash falling on her real quick, it preserved the skin. We’re the only museum displaying that much skin.”
The museum takes visitors on a walk through the different geologic periods that display
many fossils and large scale dioramas painted by local artists. Dr. Naranjo makes a
point to remind me that the colors chosen for the dinosaurs are guesses based on their
environments. Many of the dinosaur fossils here are complete.
Two Einiosaurs skulls, mother and child, are on display. “This is 100% fossil,” Naranjo points out, “We found her and then underneath her was baby Einiosaur. There was lava all around. We do them like we think the area was when they were alive so she was dying and covered up her baby, trying to save him and they both died.” Dr. Naranjo has begun writing a series of children’s books based on the two. Once complete, the series will be available in the museum gift shop.
The museum currently hosts a NASA exhibit including astronaut food, an authentic
astronaut uniform, and pieces from a shuttle. Dr. Naranjo informed me that they’ll soon be adding a moon rock to the current collection.
In a long double-sided display case, artifacts from many civilizations such as the ancient
Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Aztecs, Maya, Africans, and even Neanderthals are presented. Weapons, tools, coins, and carvings from each group have been preserved for future generations. Nearing the end of the display, Dr. Naranjo pointed out a framed collection of Civil War buttons. “I was metal detecting when I was at Harvard and I came across this. What they figured that I’d found was a field hospital. Because they thought blood was bad, they’d strip the bloody clothes off of the soldiers. That’s why I got so many buttons in one fell swoop.”
A table set up near the exhibits allows children to participate in their own archaeological
digs. Dr. Naranjo and his colleagues used to travel to schools with items that are now
included in the museum, but decided to settle in one place to allow the children to come to them.
Near the front of the museum is a room containing many gems and jewelry from the past. Included is a bracelet that once belonged to Rudyard Kipling and a rosary touched by Pope John Paul. Civil War money, doubloons, and coins from the time of Ivan the Terrible and several pieces from all of the kings and queens of England are also featured.
Upcoming exhibits of ancient horses and a full sized replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex will be open in the coming weeks, as well as a diorama of creatures found in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Naranjo Museum of Natural History provides fun and education for visitors. The tour
guides are knowledgeable and interactive. Dr. Naranjo and the rest of the staff have created a beautiful space to explore the adventurer and archaeologist inside us all. Don’t hesitate to stop when you’re passing through Lufkin. They’re open from 10-6 Monday through Saturday, and from 1-6 on Sunday. Admission is free for those under 3, $5 for children and teens, and $7.50 for adults.