Western Science Center Museum presents ‘Windows of the Past’

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Anton Dooley, sitting, executive director of the Western Science Center in Hemet, and staff member Chenelle Thompson greet visitors coming to the paleontological museum’s first “Windows of the Past” outdoor exhibit. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Western Science Center opened “Windows into the Past,” Saturday, Sept. 26, and it was hard to say whether the eager young visitors and their parents or the museum staff were more anxious to see and show what was new at the first outdoor event.

The Western Science Center Museum, 2345 Searl Parkway in Hemet, which allows visitors and students to look into the world’s last great ice age that began 10,000 years ago, has been closed to the public since March when the coronavirus pandemic brought nationwide shutdowns.

Andrew McDonald, Western Science Center museum curator and paleontologist, sits behind a window with some of the center’s latest ice age fossils found in a New Mexico dig including a Dynamoterror tyrannosaurus skull. Valley News/Tony Ault photo
The McIntyre family from Riverside watches scientist Leya Collins cleaning a tyrannosaurus fossil through an office window at the Saturday, Sept. 26, Western Science Center’s “Windows of the Past” outdoor exhibit. The museum’s event was held outdoors, observing the COVID-19 health restrictions and safety protocols. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

With all COVID-19 safe practices in place, the “Windows into the Past” event offered outdoor displays of museum pieces and peeks into the laboratory windows with scientists working on fossils from the ice age and before. The first time visitors were allowed to visit the museum grounds in months brought more than 40 families, their children, students from the Western Science Academy and others to view the outdoor displays and hear from the WSC staff about the latest fossil finds through the center’s windows. One group of six or less at a time could visit every 10-minutes by reservation only; tickets were $5.

Paleontologist Alton Dooley, executive director of the WSC, was on hand to greet each visitor and answer any questions about the event before they entered. Each youngster or student received a little goodie bag with many kinds of information materials from coloring books to a tiny 3-D CAD printer model of a real fossil. Dooley said his staff was excited about the opportunity to set up and moderate the displays.

“We had 14 out of 15 of our staff volunteering for the event. They spent a lot of their own time setting it up,” he said.

Equally excited were students from the Western Center Academy, such as senior Agatha McIntire and her eighth-grade sister Gwendolyth McIntire who had been working at home with their online studies.

“I am so glad to be back here at school,” Agatha McIntire said, who is eyeing anthropology as her future career. Gwendolyth McIntire wore a big grin, looking around, and said, “I like studying. I’m learning anatomy right now.”

The parents of 4-year-old Bria Rivas had a hard time keeping their daughter from running back and forth between the displays.

“What is that? What is that?” she said, looking into each window where WSC researchers were studying fossils.

Western Science Center scientist Leya Collins grinds out the casing on the fossilized vertebrae of a Dynamoterror tyrannosaurus found in a New Mexico paleontological dig as visitors watch her work through the window of the center’s offices during the museum’s “Windows of the Past” outdoor event. Valley News/Tony Ault photo
Four-year-old Bria Rivas, holding a goodie bag she received entering the first Western Science Center Museums “Windows of the Past” outdoor exhibit, watches through a window as a scientist prepares to remove an ice age fossil from its casing. Valley News/Tony Ault photo
Margaret Ozolins, teacher at Western Center Academy, explains how academy students work in model archaeological digs during classes to visitors during the “Windows of the Past” outdoor exhibit. All COVID-19 protocols were observed during the event. Valley News/Tony Ault photo

Looking at a fossil of a tyrannosaurus tooth through a window, she said, “He ate too many sweets.”

Those around her shared a few laughs.

WSC educator Margaret Ozolins was ready to greet the visitors as she stood in front of three educational archaeology dig sites being excavated by students. She said WSC teachers, like herself, have been missing the face-to-face contact with her students because of the coronavirus restrictions.

“I definitely miss the kids,” she said, lamenting at the loss of the archeology summer camp this year.

“I really miss playing in the dirt with them,” she said wryly.

She delighted in telling the Rivas family about the school and the offering they gave the students.

To open the outdoor event, a behind-the-window display of some of the latest paleontology finds was featured with Andrew McDonald, WSC curator who held them up for visitors. The recent find of a Dynamoterror’s skull and shoulder bones was the subject of the scientist’s latest study. The fossils from a member of the furious predator Tyrannosaurus family found in Utah were found in a New Mexico dig. The dig, according to McDonald, has also revealed the fossils of a smaller version of a sabretooth tiger and other, still-to-be classified fossils.

Dooley said he was pleased with the first outdoor evenings and expected to conduct others in the future so long as the coronavirus restrictions continue. He said the staff probably will allow more of the six and under groups to come during the time periods.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.