LEHI — When the North American Museum of Ancient Life idea was hatched eight years ago, it was hard not to scoff in disbelief at the claims promoters were making.

I remember walking through this huge, empty warehouse-type space with Adam Robertson (now CEO of the SCERA) and thinking it sounded pretty out there.

The people trying to sell us on this $20 million museum with 83,000 square feet of exhibit space were talking about creating a world-class destination point. They told us at the July 16, 1999, groundbreaking — where they gave us little dinosaur egg invitations and plastic dinosaur egg toys — that this venture would put Utah County on the map.

The museum would be home to one of the longest (a 100-foot supersaurus) and one of the tallest (a 45-foot ultrasauros discovered by BYU paleontologists) specimens ever discovered. It would have more mounted dinosaur displays than any other museum currently in operation.

The museum would display more than 50 skeletal dinosaurs and more than 100 reconstructed ancient flying reptiles.

"'Earthshaking' is just one way to describe it," reads a press brochure from that day.

Most of that has come to pass.

The museum successfully opened in July 2000 and has attracted more visitors every year since.

On opening day, the museum brought in more than 3,000 people.

Last year, the total number of visitors came to 300,000, including tourists from other countries.

Of course, the price to visit has gone up, from $6.95 in 2,000 to $10 now.

Officials have come and gone.

And the name has changed. We used to have to type out the big, long official name or use the abbreviation of NAMAL, which nobody understood.

Today, following the lead of the PR people at Thanksgiving Point, we can just call it the dinosaur museum at Thanksgiving Point.

Visitors can dig in the quarry for dinosaur bones, literally walk (or sleep) under the bones of the brachiosaurus, watch the fighting T. rex models from beneath or eyeball-to-eyeball from the fourth floor reception center.

The popular erosion table still has water and sand and little plastic dinosaurs that get buried when a sand dam breaks.

The parts are still there for kids who want to dress up like dinosaurs or put the dinosaur puzzles together.

That alone is a sign of success, that the museum is enduring without falling into disrepair. So often, places like this open and stay bright and shiny for a while only to get well worn and even worn out.

We are fortunate to have this venue in Utah County, a venue that can still compete with dinosaur museums all over the country and measure up quite well.

"It's a bit expensive," said one visitor who wrote a Web review, "but it's a must-see for locals and definitely a place for the whole family."

I agree.


E-mail: Sharon Haddock is a longtime resident of Utah County. She can be reached at haddoc@desnews.com.