In an effort to stand out from their competition, hoteliers will try all sorts of gimmicks. They’ll build hotels from former jails, refurbished castles or retired railroad cars. They’ll float boat hotels, make teepee hotels, and dig underground and underwater hotels. From a Beatles fan fantasy hotel to, yes, a B&B shaped like a giant beagle, hotel owners cater to practically every imaginable oddball interest.
Now, add paleontology to this list of niche themes.
The formerly mundane Best Western Denver Southwest has been transformed into a Jurassic period playground. The new “digs” feature dinosaur relics and quirky paleontological touches, from sandboxes where kids can go digging for fossils to a Pteranodon weathervane.
Located just outside of downtown Denver, the Best Western Denver Southwest is owned by husband and wife team Greg and Meredith Tally who, emerging from the Great Recession, knew their hotel needed a facelift to keep attracting visitors. Then came inspiration. One day, Greg was out hiking in the Dakota Hogback region of the Rockies, near Dinosaur Ridge, one of the world’s most fertile fossil sites. “That set a light bulb off and made me realize, ‘Why not remodel celebrating some of that unique paleo history we have right in our immediate area?’” he remembered.
Two years and almost $5 million dollars later, the renovated “Dino Hotel” opened for business in October of 2013. Greg and Meredith’s vision was to create “an immersive experience,” Greg said, “where you feel like you’re walking into a 19th century explorer’s club in the Gilded Age of dinosaur exploration.”
While a staff handles the hotel’s day-to-day operations, the couple oversees big picture vision and strategic planning, in between home schooling their two kids, Caroline, 14, and Joe, 12. Greg describes himself as a self-trained “armchair enthusiast” of paleontology, “more P.T. Barnum than E. D. Cope or O. C. Marsh,” the two infamous dinosaur hunters whose rivalrous and backstabbing “Bone Wars” lasted from 1877 to 1892.
Naturally, the hotel is situated near Dinosaur Ridge, “where the first Stegosaurus came out of the ground,” Tally said. Same with the first Apatosaurus (commonly known as Brontosaurus). These “rock stars of the dinosaur world,” Tally said, are “just ten minutes from our front door,” as is Dinosaur Ridge’s Triceratops Trail. Also nearby are the Morrison Natural History Museum (10 minutes) and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (40 minutes), making the Tallys’s hotel a perfect base for a dinosaur-themed vacation.
There’s a lot riding on the hotel’s success, including a mountain of debt. But the Best Western Denver Southwest’s first summer has been “very busy,” Greg said, and the Morrison Museum of Natural History has been “busier than it’s ever been before” in part due to the Dino Hotel. Meanwhile, the husband and wife are gaining a reputation “as the ‘Dino Guy’ and ‘Dino Gal’.” At FantasyCon in Salt Lake City this July, Tally served on a panel with world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Robert Bakker and Morrison Curator Matthew T. Mossbrucker. Their event, “Dinos Vs. Middle-earth,” compared Tolkien’s dragons, fell beasts and oliphaunts to dinosaurs, mammoths, and the fossil record. Tally later took the stage with “about a third of the cast of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings,” he said in a recent Reddit AMA. “In terms of popular culture, dinosaurs never go out of fashion.”
Interest in the extinct lizards is only going to grow in 2015, when both Jurassic World (to be released in June), the fourth in the Jurassic Park film series, and the Pixar kiddie cartoon The Good Dinosaur (November) will be hitting theaters.
The Best Western Southwest Denver’s rather corporate website hardly does justice to the hotel’s cool dino elements. In fact, aside from some concept drawings, there’s little on the site to indicate this hotel has anything to do with paleontology. (Perhaps that’s because the Tallys don’t want their lodgings to be “off-putting to your average business traveller,” Greg said.)
To better showcase the Tallys’s big gamble, I asked Greg to give us an exclusive virtual tour. So get out your shovel and mattock, put on your Indiana Jones fedora, and keep your eye out for stray T-Rexes as we enter the Dino Hotel.
All photos courtesy of Best Western Denver Southwest
Published 7:27 am Thu, Aug 28, 2014
About the Author
Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, and teacher. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Gilsdorf's articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, film, books, gaming, geek culture and travel regularly appear in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, GeekDad, Washington Post and wired.com and dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. As an expert on geek culture, Gilsdorf frequently speaks in public, and appears on TV, radio, Internet media and in documentary films. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. More info at ethangilsdorf.com or follow him on Twitter.