A dinosaur named Sue

One of the most feared flesh-eaters that the world has ever known is lurking just a few hours south of Ashland.

Well, it's actually a cast replica of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossilized skeleton ever found. But the teeth look just as long and sharp as if the T. rex were a real, breathing dinosaur.

The Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, Calif. has the cast on display through Sept. 7.

Instead of standing upright, Godzilla-style, the T. rex is in a more lateral pose, as if it's lunging at prey. Even in that position it's 12 feet tall and the tail juts up into a recessed area in the ceiling. Nose to tail tip, it's 42 feet long.

The dinosaur is nicknamed Sue after Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who found the almost-complete remains. However, no one knows whether the T. rex is male of female.

There are plenty of displays around the T. rex where kids and adults can put together the missing pieces of a skeleton, look through a replica of the head to see how the animal's forward-facing eyes helped with depth perception and view a scan that shows how half of Sue's brain was devoted to smell.

Perhaps the strangest thing in the exhibit is Sue's ridiculously small human-sized arms, which contrast with her massive jaws and leg bones.

Turtle Bay is also featuring "The Art of the Brick" through Jan. 3, 2010. Artist Nathan Sawaya has put together amazing sculptures using Legos, including a Lego T. rex that's almost as detailed as Sue, a giant tarantula and the figure of a man emerging from a rectangle of blocks.

People who are inspired by what they see can go into a side room, pick up a bin of Legos and make their own masterpieces. A shelf next to a window is lined with visitors' creations.

In addition to a variety of other exhibits, Turtle Bay has outdoor pens for animals like a gray fox, a porcupine and a barn owl. There's also an aviary where people can go in and feed tropical birds, as well as a walk-through butterfly haven to see colorful specimens from all over the world as they flit among flowers.www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=454 If you're lucky, one may land on you.

Kids can burn up some energy at an outdoor playground that has a log slide and a tall tower that resembles an osprey nest.

Redding's most well-known architectural feature, the Sundial Bridge, is on the campus of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. The unusual bridge stretches across the Sacramento River, leading pedestrians and bicyclists to the McConnell Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. There visitors can see plants and trees from Australia, South Africa, Chile, the Mediterranean and the Pacific Rim, as well as medicinal, butterfly and children's gardens.

The Café at Turtle Bay has views of the river and the Sundial Bridge, as well as live music in the evening. The best time to see the bridge is actually at night, when the translucent bottom is lit from below and floodlights shine on a leaning white spire that supports the bridge through a system of cables.

Prices are a bit spendy at the café, but oddly for such a popular destination, there are few restaurants located within a convenient distance from Turtle Bay.

I would recommend an itinerary that includes visiting the outside exhibits and gardens in the late morning and early afternoon when the weather is cooler. Take a lunch break away from Turtle Bay, then return for an afternoon tour of inside exhibits, followed by dinner at The Café and an evening stroll along the Sundial Bridge.

The Café closes at 5 p.m. on most days, but offers outdoor dining and live music into the night on Fridays and Saturdays through September.

For more information, visit www.turtlebay.org.

General park admission plus the T. rex exhibit is $18 for adults ages 13 and up, and $12 for children ages four to 12 and senior citizens ages 65 and up. Children who are three years old and younger get in free.

Admission to the bird aviary is $1 per person extra and includes one feed stick. The walk-through butterfly area is included with general admission.

Individuals or families with a membership to ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland get free general park admission. The T. rex exhibit is extra and costs $5 for adults and $3 for adults, and the aviary admission is also an extra dollar per person.

Turtle Bay summer hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through September.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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