Don’t look now Indiana Jones, but Keith and Judy Roynon and their highly eclectic, totally jaw-dropping Roynon Museum of Earth Sciences and Paleontology is gaining on you.
The Roynon’s’ huge, private collection of fossils from around the world along with rocks and pre-historic artifacts once filled their South Escondido home. It brought in school groups by the busload for about 15 years. Museum official Jeannie Nutter estimated that 20,000 school children passed through the home-turned-museum this century.
“It had been in a residential area for 15 years,,” Nutter said. “Someone complained. The City of Escondido came by and said we had to move or they were going to shut us down.”
What’s a few months, when one has hundreds of thousands of years of remnants to house safely?
A native of Santa Cruz, Keith Roynon is an energetic former antique companies owner who took a BS degree from Seattle Pacific University. He attended University of Washington’s geology graduate student until he ran of of money, something he still talks about with obvious regret.
Roynon became a very successful business person and antique dealer along with his wife Judy, who taught at Escondido elementary schools . All the while, Roynon continued his passion for the Indiana Jones-like task of collecting fossils and working with rocks and earth sciences for 50 years.
The huge Roynon collection is believed to be the largest private collection of such materials this side of Denver. Perhaps it’s smaller than the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but if this were a class, it wouldn’t take long to call the roll.
In any event, Roynon and company were faced with the task of having a whole lot of bones and rocks looking for a place to go.
“Everybody said we had to keep this for the kids,” Roynon said as he patrolled, spoiler alert, the 5,000-square-foot main exhibit hall . “We started looking for a new place in July. They really wanted us in Poway and Oceanside, but my wife and I have been in Escondido since 1972. We wanted to keep this in Escondido.”
Demolition and remodeling for the new museum took place in August. A soft opening, if one can say that of such a grandiose collection of fossils and stuff, took place on Sept. 12. With little fanfare, the museum began operations at a former medical and health industries office that had contained the likes of dentists and a Covered California, or Obamaacre, office.
A grand opening party started the publicity flowing like lava from a Hawaiian volcano with 2,500 people attending, according to Roynon.
Work continued last week even as the museum along with intriguing gift shop started taking in the bewildered folks just passing by as well as students and fellow travelers. Roynon’s operation is a non-profit 501(c) enterprise.
Exhibits and costs
To defray costs, admission costs $12 for adults, $10 for military with ID and seniors, $8 for youth ages 5 to 17 and $5 for children 2-to-4 years old. The museum at 457 E. Grand Ave. is open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Ticket sales stop one hour prior to closing.
Thanks to the soft opening of a place with such hard objects like dinosaur eggs and a Mongolian T-Rex replica model that fills the main room, human foot traffic has been slow, but picking up pace.
Elizabeth Lewis tried to curb in the raucous enthusiasm of grandchildren Sebastian Lewis, 3, and Robert Lewis, 4, so they could buy a few knick-knacks in the gift shop.
“We just saw the sign the other day,” Lewis said, “We thought we’d come in. We enjoyed this a lot.”
They passed by the likes of Tarbosaurus, “a genus of tyrannosaurid dinosaur that flourished in Asia about 70 million years ago, at the end of the Late Cretaceous Period,” according to Wikipedia. They saw what is believed to be one of the largest collection of dinosaur eggs in the nation and world.
The replica prehistoric Siberian bear may amuse if it doesn’t alarm first. The crazy prehistoric fish fossils might as well be from another world. All that and they one gets started on the earth science collection and rock rooms.
“A docent at the museum will take you through a sequence of life from the Precambrian to the Pleistocene (periods) showing actual fossils,” Roynon says. “Also the physical events in the earth’s history, such as changing climates, volcanism, plate tectonics, and mass extinctions are brought to focus as to their overall effects on living forms.”
Actually, Judy Roynon, museum vice-president, may be better known to some as longtime Escondido Union School District teacher. With five decades at local schools, she now heads the home economics program and pitches in at L.R. Green Elementary School on Las palmas Avenue.
Keith Roynon also is very much into education. He presents a three-hour program for school groups that includes hands-on workshops with rocks and tools, bringing out the Indiana Jones in the kids. “This is what it’s all about,” he said, :academics as well as fun.”
To find out more about the fun and venue, visit http://www.roynonmuseum.org/ or call (442) 999-4449.