Tag Archives: Author: Michael Ajax

My Cretaceous Birthday by Michael Ajax

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Normally, I hated rolling out of bed. Getting up for school really isn’t my thing and waking up early on the weekend never happens. Ever. Except today.

For my birthday, my mom somehow snagged a family pass to the hottest ticket in town—Cretaceous Park. One website she showed me said the park was sold out for the next two years. I was psyched! I couldn’t believe this day had finally arrived.

At first, however, I felt a bit skeptical about the whole thing. Weren’t dinosaurs extinct? But the photos on their website were incredible. Amazing even.

My mother, dressed in a bright yellow top, led us to the car. Hours later, we followed a rough road into a shady looking place with old boards propped up against leaning fences. Faded circus trailers were parked in a row. A bad feeling came over me when I saw a misspelling on the main sign—Cretaceouss Park. It had an extra ‘S’ on the end.

Two guys in red and green clown suits, wearing enormous blue shoes, showed us where to park.

“This is going to be special,” my mom said.

My dad’s eyes twinkled. “A day to remember.”

With spooky clowns around, I wouldn’t be able to forget it.

As we walked toward the main gate, I heard a loud roar. It sounded just like the T-rex I had heard in a movie. Goosebumps ran up and down my arms.

“This way to our Cretaceous experience,” one clown said. “The Welcome Center is straight ahead.”

The employees there were unusually dressed. Some sported blue tights with long, maroon feathers. Our guide wore a cherry red coat and white pants. On his head sat a black top hat. He introduced himself as Ralph.

Our tour was the second group to be called. They showed us to a nice room with pale blue walls. Paper plates and plastic sporks sat next to a table with a huge salad bowl in the middle.

“To begin your experience,” Ralph waited for the others to stop speaking, “we first ask that you get a taste for the plants of the Cretaceous time. Countless new varieties grew during this period. Some were toxic while others spicy. Combining the good with the delicious, our chefs created a feast to fuel your appetite. So while we wait for departure, please enjoy a salad, and some punch, on us.”

“A salad?” My stomach dropped. “I never eat greens.”

“Enjoy the full experience,” my mom suggested.

“Only if they have Brontosaur burgers with Hadrosaur hash browns on the side.”

My dad nudged me forward. “It’s healthy. Try some.”

Dread filled me as I picked up a plate. Eating some exotic plants from the Mesozoic Era probably won’t kill me. As I stepped closer to the salad bowl, all I saw was iceberg lettuce mixed with onions and green peppers. I took a small portion. A little monkey in a tiny hat offered me some luminescent red punch. I passed.

Crunching their salad, my parents went on and on about how delicious the stuff was. They guzzled down cup after cup of punch.

After the salad, Ralph led us to the petting zoo. My excitement started again. Some kids might think they are too old to enjoy petting a dinosaur, but not me. I was ready.

After sanitizing our hands, the nice people dressed in full-bodied, pink tights told us to gently pet the dinosaurs. The first tank had three big land turtles. Although they seemed healthy, they moved pretty slow. In the second tank, a bearded lady in a tight leather jumper held a bearded dragon. In the third tank, a fat woman pointed to a sleepy iguana. Reaching the final tank, I found a bunch of skinks with blue tails. My heart sank. Am I the only one who knows that turtles and lizards aren’t dinosaurs?

I turned to my dad. “Do you notice something missing here?”

“Didn’t you like Dreadnought the Dragon?”

“He was cool. But dad. Dinosaurs are what we came to see. Remember?”

“Not to worry, Matt. Mr. Ralph told me these were just a warm up to the big safari. They can’t let people really touch dinosaurs. Lots of laws prohibit it.”

Really? Although I was disappointed, following the rules made sense. I nodded.

Ralph called for everyone to follow him. He led us to some oversized blue and white jeeps. “These luxurious vehicles will take us on a safari deep into Cretaceous Park. Sit back and enjoy the time travel ride of your life.”

I walked up to Mr. Ralph. “Wait. You said time travel? For real?”

He smiled. “These fine vehicles will take us on a special safari to see creatures that have not walked the earth for millions of years.” He offered me a cup. “Here have some punch. It takes the edge off the trip.”

My excited grew. Perhaps time travel was their special secret to getting dinosaurs. They must have discovered a wormhole to the past. Tossing out the punch, I climbed into the jeep.

The wheels rolled. I held tight and waited for the time shift to occur. Tall gates appeared in front of us. As we approached, they swung inward. Entering a dark tunnel, blinding lights flashed all around. Loud screeching pierced my ears. As we drove out of the tunnel, everyone, including me, clapped.

Sitting next to the driver, Ralph smiled. “Thank the heavens we all made the time jump safely. Look around. We have reached the Mesozoic Era—the time of the dinosaurs. Due to the delicate nature of being here, we can only remain for a limited time. And never leave the vehicle because dangerous creatures sometimes lurk. Now, on to our first attraction.”

Carefully checking our surroundings, I noticed the plants and trees looked suspiciously like the ones we just left. Did we even time travel?

“Ahead, we have some of the oldest known dinosaurs that began in the Triassic Period,” Ralph continued. “Dangerous and deadly, these creatures are always a crowd favorite.” The jeep stopped beside a fenced section of grass. “Behold the mighty Desmatosuchus. But our staff lovingly refers to them as ‘Legless Lizards’.”

The others in the vehicle cheered. Some high-fived each other. They all snapped pictures.

Remaining unimpressed, I poked my dad. “Those aren’t legless lizard—they’re snakes.”

My dad appeared puzzled. The jeep rolled on.

Approaching the next attraction, with high red and white fences, Ralph turned to face us. “From here, we travel forward to the Jurrassic Period. This is when super-sized dinosaurs walked the earth.”

I leaned forward in anticipation. I couldn’t miss this exhibit.

Ralph’s face gleamed. “We are pleased to present you . . . our own special giant . . . Gladius . . . the last of the brachiosaurs.”

Each passenger pushed to the right side of the vehicle to get a glimpse of Gladius. Cameras were poised to shoot. The jeep eased closer, barley moving as the wide barriers blocked our view. The suspense was palatable.

Finally, we could see. Yet inside the large fenced area only green grass grew. Other than that, the pen was empty.

Ralph’s smile disappeared. He called out. “Our customers expect Gladius. Show us Gladius.”

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From the far side of the attraction, a man in a blue jumpsuit ran out. He whispered in Ralph’s ear then handed him a large envelope. Turning to us, Ralph held up a picture of a huge brachiosaurs. Gladius was printed across the bottom. “I am the bearer of tragic, tragic, news. As of a few moments ago, Gladius is no longer with us. Our old friend has passed on. Could we all observe a moment of silence?”

The heavy woman with two girls in front of me wept. Someone else blew their nose. I too was touched by the untimely loss. My heart felt miserable.

Ralph, his cheeks somber, turned to us. He handed out pictures of Gladius. “With this terrible turn of events, we must sadly cut today’s safari short. If it is agreeable, we will make one final stop before returning to our current time.”

The jeep’s motor roared as the driver sped forward. I heard the two girls repeat the name Gladius over and over between their sobs.

The vehicle slowed as we reached a small enclosure that resembled an above ground pool. Something swam inside.

Ralph leaned close. “Our last attraction is exceptional . . . and dangerous. Although not true dinosaurs, these aquatic monsters nevertheless grew to exceptional sizes. Some fossils have been measured at over thirty meters long. These creatures remain the undisputed Kings-of-the Sea. I give you—Megalodon!”

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Two small creatures, with fins on their backs, swam past us. Cameras flashed. People clapped and giggled.

Somehow I had expected bigger creatures. These two were puny. Runts, even. I called to Ralph. “Aren’t they a little small for Megalodons?”

He flashed me a crooked grin. “These two are micro-Megalodons. Quite rare, actually. We’re lucky to have them.”

The others buzzed with excitement, yet I did not. Gazing at my parents, I shook my head. “They’re not micro anything, they’re just baby sharks. This whole safari’s a scam.”

My mother frowned. “No, Matt, this time travel is incredible. Soak it all up before these creatures have forever vanished. Like Gladius.”

My dad held up the picture. “Yes. Poor, old Gladius. Extinct forever.”

We reached the dark tunnel a few minutes later. While the others poured over their sightings on the safari, I sat back, depressed. Was I the only one who believed these guys were fakers?

Entering the time tunnel to return, lights flashed as deafening guitars sounded. On the other side, everyone unloaded. I was glad to be done with the safari.

Ralph pointed. “After time traveling, you may feel disoriented or woozy. Please don’t drive for at least an hour. And while waiting for your head to clear, please stop by our gift shop and donate to the Gladius memorial fund.”

As the others walked away, I stared at Ralph.

“So what was your favorite attraction?” he asked. “Let me guess—the micro-Megalodons?”

“No.” I glared at him. “Your safari sucked.”

“So you didn’t drink any punch? Too bad, you would have loved our park.”

“How can you tell I didn’t have any?”

He nodded. “I have loads of experience with young men like you. But what you’re actually upset about is Gladius’s death. Your passionate words show it. Realizing that we are all players in this circle of life is the first step to acceptance. Go in good health.”

Had he just dismissed my heartfelt comment with an old circle-of-life cliché? I was stunned. My clueless parents thanked him for his considerate nature then walked to the gift shop.

But I wasn’t finished. “This whole place is a hoax. And you’re a liar. There were never any dinosaurs.”

Ralph’s friendly smile faded. “We delivered just what our name says.”

His words confused me. “But it is Cretaceous Park, right?”

“We started off as a struggling circus, but that all changed when my wife wanted to open an amusement park. So we did and nearly lost our shirts. Nobody wanted to see old, fat, circus animals. But after we changed the park’s name, and started passing out free punch, everything blossomed. People wanted dinosaurs, so that’s what we gave ‘em—but with our own special twist. Just like our name promises.”

Ralph pointed to the overhead sign. “My wife’s middle name is Cretaceous so we call our place—Cretaceous’s Park.”

Feeling low, with tears welling in my eyes, I headed to the gift shop. My fifth birthday, my Cretaceous birthday, was a total bust. Perhaps next year, when I reached the first grade, this could be one of those stories I look back on and laugh about.

 

***

 

Michael’s novel, Tomb of the Triceratops, follows three high school friends to the Badlands of Montana where they search for a paleontologist that claimed to have discovered a portal to another dimension were dinosaurs escaped to. What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

Rare Hawaiian Treasures by Michael Ajax

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After flying all night, getting off the packed airplane at Honolulu International airport felt wonderful. The warm, tropical sun and swaying palm trees greeted us. Jumping into the rental car, we wanted to drive straight to the western shore where our fabulous beach front condo awaited. But arriving early in the morning, allowed us to reflect on why we didn’t request an early check-in. Never a group to waste an opportunity to explore, however, we headed for Waikiki beach. After enjoying a nice lunch with live music at the Hard Rock Café, we strolled across the street and dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean. The enormous beach, packed with tourists, radiated excitement.

A bit of shopping along the row of tiny t-shirt stores filled our need of being with the busy crowds. After that, off to the quiet west shore we went. The curvy drive past old, densely packed houses gave us a chance to see what life was like for the inhabitants of the island. It wasn’t the polished perfection of the steel and glass hotels and lush condos of Honolulu, yet there was a grittiness about the place, a feeling of balance with the island and the ocean that could never be experienced from the top of a skyscraper.

A stop at the local grocer reinforced this feeling. Simple green corrugated steel decorated the store as we passed through the small front doors and walked into a bygone era. From the store, we drove two miles to the tall, gated condo. As we made our way to the fourth floor and opened the door of our room, the actual decor didn’t resemble the pictures from the internet. Old plywood protected the patio windows from the construction going on outside. A full work scaffold, complete with ropes, buckets and cement tools hung directly before the windows. This was not a welcomed sight to exhausted travelers.

A few frantic calls later, the agent arranged for us to move to a smaller condo on the eight floor. Since the kids agreed to sleep on the couches, we decided to make the best of it. A stunning view of the bay and beach below was worth the inconvenience.

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After getting a good night’s rest, I convinced everyone that hiking up Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater on the east side of Honolulu, would be a great day trip. Since Mark Twain had visited the Kingdom of Hawaii almost 150 years earlier, and ridden a horse to the top of Diamond Head, I longed to follow in his steps. Although no horses are allowed on the path today, every step for me was special. Breathing hard and sweating, we walked through the long tunnel to the exterior cliffs of the ancient volcano. In that moment, we were swept back to WWII with the weathered concrete gun turrets and narrow stairs that once housed soldiers that defended the island. The vistas of Honolulu on one side and the expansive Pacific Ocean on the other were breathtaking from the summit. Although this same cityscape was not what Mr. Twain saw, I imagined how he might compare it to what the beautiful island had been in his day.

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The following day, we visited the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor. Taking a tour of the USS Bowfin submarine gave us a glimpse into the past. The Park Service’s movie of the attack on Pearl Harbor and ferry ride out to the Arizona Memorial were somber, moving events. No trip to Hawaii is complete without a stop here.

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Back at the condo, relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous beach became our highest priority. Walking along the uneven rocks that jutted deep into the powerful ocean made me appreciate this astonishing place for what it is—a delicate blend of moving life and beauty. Every night my kids attested to this because although the calming roll of the ocean lapping at the sandy beach is wonderful as you drift to sleep, the pounding of the high tide in the middle of the night is not as soothing as one might believe.

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On the morning of our fourth day on the island, as we awoke to balmy breezes, we immediately slid open the balcony doors to enjoy breakfast on the patio. Below us, on the normally tranquil beach, people gathered near two large, dark objects that must have washed onto the shore during the night. Covered in sand and not moving, two Monk seals lay next to each other. Neither one moved.

In short order, signs and cones were erected to form a perimeter to keep onlookers away from the mammals. We wondered what terrible events could have occurred to cause two seals to be in such an unusual state. It was not natural for wild animals to be so close to humans.

As we approached the barricade, a nice woman greeted us. A volunteer from the Monk Seal Response Team, she came down to help educate people and protect the monk seals from harm. Since the Hawaiian Monk Seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with only about 1300 remaining, we were happy to lend our support in any fashion we could.

Monk seals are named for the folds of skin that somewhat resemble a Monk’s cowl. Normally, these warm-water seals live near the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, but this mother had, just two days earlier, separated from her young pup near Kawaii and swam straight onto our beach to recuperate. She wasn’t sick or injured, just tired from traveling. We totally understood. Since monk seals do not mate for life, the other seal next to her was most likely her suitor, a younger male.

As we milled around, admiring the seals from a safe distance, the female opened her eyes. With a few twists of her body, and flaps of her tail, she wiggled into the ocean surf. The next large wave carried her off. The darker, sleepy male opened his eyes and lifted his head. Realizing the other seal had left, he made a mad squirm toward the ocean. Like an arrow, he swam to the female and together, the couple danced up and over the waves like birds in flight. And without any warning, the two disappeared into the Pacific.

After returning to our condo for breakfast, we spent the rest of the day submerged in the crisp ocean learning to body surf. That evening, we took the kids to a beach front luau and danced long into the night. We all had a great time, along with a few cuts and bruises from surfing.

In the end, our vacation was rich with Hawaiian memories. Yet with all the unique things we did, it was our brief encounter with the monk seals, and enjoying their simple splendor, that still resonates deep within me. The world is a richer place because of the rare treasures found only in Hawaii.

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Want to find out more about Michael’s writing? Check out his website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

 

Backyard Fossils by Michael Ajax

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It was a crisp spring morning when my son and I headed toward the pond in the woods behind our house. Heavy dew beaded on the thick grass and soaked our boots as we headed to the trailhead that attached to the yard. On both sides of the raised trail patches of soft muck awaited the unwary. Loads of deer traveled this narrow path daily, and their tiny hooves cut the fragile soil, making it especially soft and muddy.

Carrying a shovel, a cup, and a jar, we ducked under the curvy sassafras limbs and slogged forward. Our goal this morning was to capture some recently hatched tadpoles in the pond that formed each spring from the snowmelt and move them to a deep pond in the front yard. We hoped that a few of these frogs might choose to live there.

My son, about seven at the time, loved every excursion we made into the backwoods. A stand of aging shagbark hickories marked the front border of the woods and a pair of monstrous oaks stood at the far end near the creek that ran north and south. Every time we stepped out of the grassy yard, and onto the muddy path leading to the backwoods, it was like entering another world where nature made all the rules.

Since the backwoods had always been a low area, no farmers or developers ever disturbed it. Going there was truly like walking back in time to what Michigan might have been a thousand years ago—a wild and untamed thicket brimming with wildlife. Thick bushes and blossoming pussy willows blended with the wide cattails around the two acre water hole. Animal tracks, of various shapes and sizes, led us to the pond’s edge. Bending low, we spotted a few tadpoles swimming in the deeper water. As we expected, none were within reach. Not wanting to sink into mud up to our knees, we had a different plan. With the shovel, we would dig a small hole and make a tadpole swimming area at the edge so the tadpoles could swim to us. It seemed a perfect plan.

But as I began to dig, a few stones blocked the shovel. In truth, so many rocks were buried just below the soft surface that they threatened to foil my plan entirely. Not deterred, however, I dug even deeper. From below the murky water that rushed into the hole, a rock different than the others became visible. The first ones had been standard fare, mostly rounded field stones, dark in color, with bits of red or blue or brown in them. But this last rock was different. It was ivory white with long, sharp edges.

My son pulled the pale rock close and rubbed at the course, grimy surface with his fingers. Then his big eyes looked up at me. “What are all these tiny holes for?”

I couldn’t help but smile. “This is not just any rock. It’s sandstone.  All these tiny holes are the remains of an ancient sea sponge.”

“You mean this is a fossil? We saw some in science class, but they were tiny, not like this.”

“Fossils come in all shapes and sizes. At one point, ages ago, Michigan was under the ocean. Sponges and coral were some of the creatures that must’ve lived here.”

My son’s eyes gleamed. He knew this rock was special.

After cleaning more of the mud off the hardened sponge, we noticed that half a dozen tadpoles had entered the newly deepened section of the pond. Catching them with the cup was easy.

As we headed back to the house, I grabbed the shovel and cup. My son had his sponge fossil in one hand and the jar of tadpoles in the other. On his face he wore the biggest smile I had ever seen.

I knew this would not be the end of our fossil exploring, in fact, it was just the beginning.

 

About the Author

Michael Ajax is the father of two curious kids and the author of a novel about dinosaurs. He enjoys spending time with both his son and his daughter, telling them stories to challenge their imaginations—while also keeping them out of mischief. During one cross country vacation, Michael and his kids spotted a unique rock shop. They had to stop. With breathtaking fossils surrounding them, the topic of dinosaurs came up. The next few hours of their drive quickly passed as Michael told of a wondrous adventure that began in the Badlands. This story eventually became his novel.

Michael’s novel, Tomb of the Triceratops, follows three high school friends to the Badlands of Montana where they search for a paleontologist that claimed to have discovered a portal to another dimension were dinosaurs escaped to. What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops