DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - The 18-foot-long Parasaurolophus is friendly and patient, allowing children to climb its back, sit on its tail and pat its bumpy, coral-colored skin.
But walk along the tree-lined path, and the evil 30-foot-long Albertosaurus lies in wait. The relative of Tyrannosaurus rex is ready to pounce - but will its next meal be the meat of the Edmontonia, with its head down as it tries to protect itself, or the young Styracosaurus across the path that seems to have wandered away from its herd?
The four are part of the recently completed dinosaur trail at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science in Durham. The trail includes nine types of dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous period, the last period before dinosaurs became extinct, 100 million to 65 million years ago. It's also a period when dinosaurs roamed North Carolina, although none of those stalking the museum grounds lived here.
The first dinosaur, the plant-eating Parasaurolophus, was the favorite of 5-year-old Hannah Myers of Raleigh, who visited the trail on a week day in August with her two older siblings and her grandmother.
''That's a nice dinosaur,'' she said as she played in the fossil pit at the end of the trail. ''He's friendly to little people.''
Whether the real Parasaurolophus was ''friendly'' or not - and the best we can say is that he wasn't a predator - the museum did purposely start with a welcoming dinosaur, one that sits in a grove with a sign that says ''Touch this Dinosaur,'' said Roy Griffiths, vice president for exhibits and planning. The rest of the dinosaurs sit back from the trail, situated among plants and rocks, and are for viewing only.
If You Go...
MUSEUM OF LIFE AND SCIENCE: 433 Murray Ave., Durham, N.C.; (www.lifeandscience.org) or (919) 220-5429. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Closed on Mondays Sept. 14-Dec. 21. Adults, $12.50; 65 and older, $10.50; children 3-12, $9.50.
''The idea was to give an immediate experience that satisfies the need to get close and interact with the model,'' Griffiths said.
''There's something about getting it out of your system that lets you move on to a deeper experience. That feeling of 'I want to get close' gets in the way later on, so we take care of that up front,'' he said.
The trail, which replaces the original trail that Hurricane Fran destroyed in 1996, is popular: In the first two weeks since it opened July 25, almost 35,000 people have visited the museum, compared with an average 13,100 visitors every two weeks in 2008. It cost $1.5 million to build, a combination of bond money and private donations.
After the interplay among the Albertosaurus and its two possible victims, visitors look up to see the 65-foot-long Alamosaurus, whose neck and head are visible through the trees. At its feet, the 7-foot-long Leptoceratops play, trying to avoid being stomped on by the larger feet of the Alamosaurus.
The Alamosaurus is one of the most commonly found fossils, except for its skull, an example of which has never been found.
Paleontologists surmise that's because predators couldn't attack the herbivore from behind because they would get whacked by the huge tail, so they would come at the Alamosaurus head on, biting off its skull as it swung its long neck through the foliage that it ate.
There's also a pair of fighting Stygimoloch, one with a bloody gash. The last dinosaurs are the Maiasaura, whose name means good mother lizard, and in this scene, she is being a good mother, protecting her eggs and newborn from Troodon, whose relatives are thought to be bird ancestors.
Studio Y Creations in Calgary, Alberta, built the full-sized sculptures, based on small, three-dimensional models created by a dinosaur studio in Philadelphia called Walters & Kissinger. Paleontologists, paleoartists and exhibit fabricators reviewed those models. The sculptures - made of Styrofoam, steel, plastic and paint - were shipped in pieces to the museum, where they were assembled and installed.
When design challenged the experts, the experts won. For example, Griffiths wanted the head and neck of the Parasaurolophus to turn a bit more so the creature would be more visible as visitors came up the trail. Nope, said the experts, who said the head and neck wouldn't turn that far.
''There is always the need to reconcile the site environment - how to position it so it's in the most pleasing relationship when you walk into the trail - with what the dinosaurs were actually able to do,'' Griffiths says. ''And we always lean toward what the dinosaurs were able to do.''
At least as popular as the dinosaurs is what waits at the end of the trail: a fossil pit where foragers can find shark teeth, coral, shells and fish vertabrae from 23 million to 5 million years ago. The soil, from PCS Phosphate Mine in Aurora, isn't as old as dinosaurs, whose fossils are more than 65 million years old.
Still, the pit invites children to get dirty as they shovel and sift for fossils. Five-year-old Collin Dock of Hillsborough uncovered so many shark teeth that he shared with two new friends.
Collin, the remains of gray, sandy soil evident on his face and legs, gleefully showed off his haul, stored in an eyeglasses case, as he skipped down the path, headed to a lemur exhibit elsewhere.
''I found a friend who had a lot, and he taught me how'' to find the teeth, Collin said, gesturing to show how he rubbed his hands across the dirt until he saw ''spikes.''
Andy why does he like dinosaurs?
''They're from a long time ago,'' he said. ''And we didn't get to see them.''
And, he added, he doesn't want to meet one now.