Mammoth Madness misses the mark at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The October unearthing of a mastodon, a mammoth, three Ice Age bison and a Jefferson's ground sloth near Snowmass captured the imagination of amateur paleontologists (not to mention professional ones) around the world. But the discovery didn't translate well when the Denver Museum of Nature & Science attempted to showcase — and profit from — the finds. On Saturday, the museum held Mastadon Madness, a one-day-only chance to see some of the bones that had been dug up at Ziegler Reservoir, which is being expanded to provide more water to the town for houses, businesses and snowmaking, and it was a mammoth disappointment.

Basically, the museum had a tusk, a vertebra and a couple of other bones – out of at least 500 that have been uncovered – that people had to wait in line thirty minutes to see. To bolster that paltry display, Mastadon Madness featured similar bones, casts and other items the museum already had in its collection, along with volunteers clad in special T-shirts and a heaping helping of only peripherally related material. Wooly, the spastic mascot for the Denver Mammoth lacrosse team, was there along with a costumed bison; a scavenger hunt had kids looking for random displays throughout the museum that were slightly, if not entirely, associated with mastadons, sloths and bison; and there were lots — and lots — of stuffed mastadons and related books available at the gift shop.

"It's tricky to do more public outreach," explains DMNS spokeswoman Laura Holtman, because the bones are very fragile. "The focus for us right now has shifted from excavation and public outreach to preserving all the fossils that we've pulled from the ground. These fossils were saturated with water, and if they dry out too quickly, they will crack and disintegrate." That process could take as long as a year, especially for the larger items, which means they may not be on display again for a while.

While the instant archaeology was cool, the museum needs to figure out a better way to pass it on to the public. And not by screening Ice Age, Ice Age II: the Meltdown and Ice Age III: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D on the IMAX screen. Here are five more things the DMNS should stay away from:

1) A three-toed sloth sack race on the front lawn.

2) A visit from Denver Zoo elephants Dolly and Mimi, who are just a tusk's throw away in City Park (they kind of look like mammoths).

3) A display on the history of skiing and snowmaking at Snowmass, complete with a raffle for a season pass.

4) A pile of rocks and dirt. Hey, kids, here's the dirt that the bones came from.

5) A bison-meat chili cookoff.

Actually, that last one's not a bad idea.

 

The party's over: Colorado has always been known for its independent, Wild West mentality, so it's appropriate that the Libertarian Party was founded in a living room in Westminster in 1971. But the man who owned that living room, David Nolan, died Saturday after suffering a stroke while driving near Tucson, where he was living, according to Walt Thiessen, who runs www.NolanChart.com. Nolan, who was 66, had recently run (unsuccessfully) against John McCain for U.S. Senate there.

The website is named for the chart Nolan created that measures a person's political viewpoint based on personal-freedom issues; his point was that the voters' opinions fall along a wide spectrum and can't just be broken down into liberal and conservative camps. "I counted David as a friend," Thiessen wrote on the site. "He was a gentle, kindhearted man who was slow to anger and friendly toward all. His writing was straight from the heart and to the point, and it never crossed the line into personal attacks or vindictive prose."

 
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