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Thick-headed lizards, knife-tooth tigers and reptiles — oh my!

Story and photos By Bev Barr BCC Editor

The Bandera Natural History Museum is an educational oasis tucked away on 8½ acres at 267 Old San Antonio Highway in Bandera. This week, the museum will celebrate its 1-year anniversary with a day of festivities geared for the whole family. From African dancing and drumming, to a mobile petting zoo with exotic animals from South America, to photo ops with camels or water buffalo, the day-long celebration is designed with science, family and fun in mind.
And, according to museum director Maggie Schumacher, there is a lot to celebrate. “We are particularly grateful to our 120 members and generous patrons who provide critical support,” she said. “Over the past year our visitors have come from all over Texas, 37 states and 16 countries!”
The museum is quickly becoming a favorite destination for field trips and school groups, too. Just this week, according to Sully Woodland, one of the founding directors, more than 800 students visited the museum in the course of 2 days. Some schools have already booked their trips for the next school year.
What makes this museum special?
Let’s start outside
A stroller and wheelchair friendly sidewalk, a recent addition courtesy of the Peterson Foundation, meanders through beautifully groomed live oak trees, junipers and ligustrum trees, connecting gigantic yard art of the dinosaur variety. It’s a comfortable outdoor space to take pictures and learn about the beasts that roamed the Texas Hill Country 70-some-odd-million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period. But visitors need look no farther than the nearest tree to spy lizards and a sprinkling of fossil artifacts — for those willing to look. It is not a coincidence to find an impressive chunk of petrified wood near a sidewalk. It’s part of a plan to present nature in a way that encourages and reinforces exploration of our natural world.
There’s a shady area for picnics and parties adjacent to a children’s play area that includes raised sand boxes designed for children to play like paleontologists and “dig” and discover 1 and 2-foot-long puzzle pieces that resemble dinosaur bones. A 3-diminsional, vertical puzzle frame stands 4 or 5 feet high, perfect for several children to work together and reconstruct a “play” dinosaur skeleton together.
Let’s go inside
Near the entrance is a classroom-type room with comfortable seats called “Simba’s Den” with a large screen for showing educational films. Beneath the screen are a few “teaching tools” including two display cases which hold “stellar’ arrowhead collections.
Pass through the gift shop and enter The Juan Infante International Hall. (The Bandera Natural History Museum is the fruition of Juan Infante’s lifetime dream and many of the artifacts and full mount animals are from his personal collection.)
The International Hall is like a smorgasbord – a sampling of animals and artifacts from all over the world. A Chinese Tiger is carved from an enormous, single chunk of Jade, a smiling Triceratop prop from the popular movie, Night of the Museum; a rare and complete collection of Isaac Carrasco’s carved animals; scores of tribal masks from all over the world; ancient musical instruments and weapons; and full mounts of exotic animals set on the stage of realistic dioramas.
From the International Hall, visitors move through the Trail of Habitats, which consists of six rooms with dioramas depicting different geographic locations and full mounts of animals found in those settings: The African Savannah, Grand Kilimanjaro, Gateway to Ghana, The Swamp, the Sunshine Forest, and the Arctic Tundra. These are tranquil, atmospheric settings with comfortable seating and original, natural sounding music playing in the background. Be sure to spend enough time in each room to observe the beauty of low-tech details that really work, such as the changing Northern Lights in the Arctic Tundra.
The gate opens at 10 am, Saturday, June 17, and will close at 6 pm.
The regular charge of $10 for those 13 and older and $6 for youth 4 through 12 will apply. The Museum is located on 267 Old San Antonio Hwy, Bandera. Call 830-328-5090 for additional details.

Natural History Museum
Anniversary Celebration

WHEN: Saturday, June 17
TIME: 10 am - 6 pm
WHERE: 267 Old San Antonio Highway,
COST: 3 year olds and younger, Free; 4-years through 12-year-olds, $6; 13-years and older, $10; Active military, free.
For membership information and group rates, Call 830-328-5090


• Debut of interactive, mechanical dinosaur
• Outdoor activities to engage kids of all ages
• African dancing and drumming by Wongai Ensemble
• Photo opportunities with camels and water buffalo
• Petting zoo with exotic animals from South America
• Face painting and food trucks