Jurassic Quest
(Left to right) Marty Hoffman, Dustin Baker, Sarah Menard, Caleb Hughs and Nick Schaefer host informational shows on prehistoric life as part of Jurassic Quest’s team of “dinosaur trainers.” Photo courtesy of Jurassic Quest

Venture into the Past: Jurassic Quest Comes to Jackson

Millions of years ago, reptiles like pterosaurs soared through the skies, mosasaurs swam the dark depths of what is now the Atlantic Ocean, and giants such as Tyrannosaurus and Utahraptors scoured hot and humid forested floodplains in search of their next meal (albeit not all at the same time, like some popular media might lead you to believe). While these creatures of old may not be around in the flesh to be studied today, their fossils remain, and Mississippians will have a chance to observe their animatronic approximates in action when Jurassic Quest rolls into Jackson this weekend.

Jurassic Quest, billed as one of the largest and most realistic dinosaur exhibits in North America, is coming to the Jackson Convention Complex (105 E. Pascagoula St.) from Friday, Oct. 22, through Sunday, Oct. 24. The edutainment event features 100 life-size animatronic dinosaur models, dinosaur-themed rides, interactive science and art activities and informational shows from Jurassic Quest’s team of “dinosaur trainers” covering prehistoric life and fossils from around the country. 

While Jurassic Quests’s collection of fossils covers a wide range, Mississippi is unfortunately not a place from which many dinosaur fossils have been uncovered, Jurassic Quest fossil expert Marty Hoffman, who plays “Park Ranger Marty” in the show, told the Mississippi Free Press.

“Due to its position on the continent and its closeness to water, especially in ancient times, Mississippi is not a place where very many actual dinosaur fossils have been uncovered,” Hoffman says. “Paleontologists can find many dinosaur fossils out in the western part of the country because the dry, eroded climate exposes bones easily, but the grassy terrain in the east keeps any there might be well buried.

Jurassic Quest
Jurassic Quest displays a number of fossils, predominantly ones that hail from the Mesozoic Era, which lasted from about 252 to 66 million years ago and includes the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Photo courtesy of Jurassic Quest

“What you can find, however, are many fossils of marine reptiles and other underwater life that lived in the time of the dinosaurs. Mosasaurs and ammonites were very common in this region, for example. Then, past the age of the dinosaurs, you can find plenty of fossils of megafauna mammals from the Pliocene epoch in Mississippi.”

From Origins to Drive-Thru Dinos

Jurassic Quest is a family-run show that got its start in California during the summer of 2013. Dan and Leticia Arnold operate the event together with their sons Brandon Arnold and Joshua Arnold, daughter Danielle Genung and Genung’s husband, Samuel Genung. Dan Arnold, who formerly sold electronics in Houston, Texas, sourced animatronic dinosaurs from factories in California and Asia and held the first show at the Cal Expo in Sacramento in September 2013. 

In the beginning, the show required three semi-trucks to transport their models from town to town, Hoffman says. Three soon became six, and now Jurassic Quest requires 16 trucks to transport models, fossils and other materials to as many as three shows taking place across the United States at a time. The models on display at each show are individually hand-crafted, and no two are the same.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Jurassic Quest adapted its show into a drive-thru version, which featured 70 models arranged so that guests could move between them from their own vehicles, with digital audio tours for each version of the show.

Fossils, Life-Sized Models and Other Attractions

The fossils and models on display at Jurassic Quest primarily covers the Mesozoic Era, which lasted from about 252 to 66 million years ago and includes the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, during which time dinosaurs were predominant. The Mesozoic came after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event and ended with another, called the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which marked the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Jurassic Quest
Attendees will have the opportunity to observe around 100 life-sized animatronic models of dinosaurs and to learn about the prehistoric creatures they represent. Photo courtesy of Jurassic Quest

Jurassic Quest also includes an “Ancient Oceans” exhibit with a moving, life-sized megalodon shark model roughly 50 feet long as the highlight. Ancient Oceans also features plesiouaurs, elasmosaurs, archelon turtles and other ancient sea creatures from during and after the time of the dinosaurs.

Other activities at Jurassic Quest include a “Triceratots” soft play area, airbrush tattoos, bounce houses and inflatable attractions, photo opportunities with Cammie the Camarasaurus, Tyson the T-Rex and Trixie the Triceratops or dinosaur trainers Safari Sarah, Dino Dustin, Captain Caleb, Prehistoric Nick and Park Ranger Marty, among other attractions.

‘Dino Trainer’ Roll Call

Hoffman and other fossil experts, public relations and social media managers for Jurassic Quest play the parts of dinosaur trainers at each show. Fellow fossil expert Nick Schaefer plays Prehistoric Nick alongside Hoffman as Park Ranger Marty. Social media manager Sarah Menard plays Safari Sarah, while PR managers Dustin Baker and Caleb Hughs play Dino Dustin and Captain Caleb, respectively.

Jurassic Quest
“Dinosaur trainers” Dustin Baker and Brittney Manahan pose with a toy figure of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Photo courtesy of Jurassic Quest

“For my part, I teach people about dinosaurs and prehistoric life and man a fossil table for examination, as well as casts of other fossils,” Hoffman says. “I also help clear up common misconceptions about dinosaurs, such as all of them living at the same time rather than millions of years apart, or misconceptions that arise from movies, like the Tyrannosaurus rex having bad eyesight or sense of smell.

“It’s fun to teach kids about dinosaurs because it makes for a great gateway that can lead them into geography, geology and other sciences,” he adds. “We all have a time in our lives where dinosaurs fascinate us, and though many may lose that fascination it’s nice to be able to go to a place where you can see your kids’ eyes light up and remember that feeling you perhaps once had. This is a great event for making family memories that you’ll always remember.”

Jurassic Quest will take place from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are timed entry and start at $19, with prices increasing during peak hours. General admission tickets include access to the dinosaur and marine exhibits, arts-and-crafts activities and dinosaur shows. Some rides and activities at the event require activity tickets available on site for $5 each, or guests can upgrade to the Kids Unlimited Rides ticket for $33. Green-screen photography and animal-art tattoos are available at a separate cost of $15. Entry is free for children under age 2. Tickets will be available onsite or can be purchased in advance online at jurassicquest.com.

For more information, call 601-960-2321 or visit jacksonconventioncomplex.com.

Can you support the Mississippi Free Press?

 The Mississippi Free Press is nonprofit, solutions-driven journalism for Mississippians and others who care about the state. 

With your help, we can do even more important stories like this one.