Kids-yes, particularly older elementary and above
Cost-$6/person, cash or check only
Although I used GPS when I drove to this museum I still passed it. The entrance shares a gate with a peculiar school, which I assumed, wrongly as it turns out, must be one of the Claremont Colleges I hadn't heard of. The Webb Schools are something you don't run into often on the west coast, an exclusive boarding school for high school students. On second look the museum name was on the sign, but as it is a long mouthful of a name, The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, it had second billing in much smaller letters. I felt like a trespasser, going through the big iron gates onto a hushed campus. With a security guard up ahead, I figured he would let me know if I was in the wrong place. I was not.
The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology is the only accredited museum on the campus of a secondary school. I have to think that not many high schools offer advanced coursework into paleontology. Raymond M. Alf was a teacher who discovered, along with a student, a 15 million year old peccary skull out in the Mojave Desert in 1939. The paleontology bug hit and Alf and his students began hunting, collecting, and studying fossils and bones. So much so that they ended up with a world renowned collection that could no longer be housed in the school's storage. The history of how this museum began is interesting, but completely overshadowed and forgotten once you get lost in the impressive collection, which stands alone.
The museum has two halls, an upper level and a lower level. The upper, The Hall of Life, follows time from oldest to more "modern" time in a circular room. The four eras of time include Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. Here you can see a giant slab of sandstone that perfectly preserved tracks of reptiles in Arizona 275 million years ago and fossilized Paleozoic sea creatures.
The Mesozoic section, age of the Dinosaurs, is really impressive. A skull of a previously unknown duck billed dinosaur skull discovered by a volunteer in 2002 is just one of the mind-blowing things you'll find. A fossil of one of the earliest birds, complete with impression of feathers(!) is another. The Jurassic Allosaurus discovered in Utah dominates the room. A touch table is set up in this part of the museum where a few fossils are set out and available to be touched and looked at more closely. Of course most of the room is off limits for touching but the museum is making obvious efforts to include more hands on activities for kids and students. Throughout the upper level can be found many opportunities for interactive learning.
Downstairs, The Hall of Footprints, is better suited for smaller children with more hands on activities. The Alf Museum is most famous for it "trackway" collection, fossilized foot prints made millions of years ago. The lower level of the museum focuses on these trackways. Here you can also see a bear-dog, a huge prehistoric creature and it's fossilized prints. The information on how they put the bones, discovered in Colorado and Nebraska with the trackway, discovered by Alf and his students in the Mojave Desert was fascinating. Another trackway united with it's bones is an ancient camel. Don't forget to stop by the dig pit and find some fossils before heading out.
This small museum provides an unsurpassed educational opportunity for young and old. It's curated really well, in my very humble opinion. There is one flight of stairs but a place is marked to park strollers at the top. It's open from 8-4 Monday-Friday and on Saturday from 1-4. Remember that they take only cash or check, no credit or debit cards, unfortunately.
Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology