The metal artwork of Great Bend resident Bob Mix can be found throughout the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo.
Visitors enter the zoo through the Raptor Center, a multipurpose building that features a flathead fish skeleton sculpture created by Mix. At the southeast end of the zoo, a metal vulture — also by Mix — guides visitors to the new home of the zoo’s real-life turkey vulture, Tina.
Zookeeper Ashley Burdick said Tina came to the zoo about two years ago with a broken wing and was unable to return to the wild. She was recently moved to that exhibit area, where she has more room than before. It is the same exhibit that once housed Spidey, a spider monkey that lived to be more than 50 years old.
In between the flathead and the vulture sculptures, zoo visitors can find two more of Mix’s creations. There’s a large-mouth fish near the herpetology building and the skeleton of a 70-million-year-old flightless, Cretaceous bird, Hesperonis Regalis, near the alligator pond.
Mix has been an artist since 1983 and his works can be found throughout Kansas and beyond. He is a featured artist at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, where the website says he uses the skills developed as a conventional metal fabricator to create whimsical machines and creatures. But the pieces at the zoo are more true to life.
Mix said he consulted Alan Dietrich, an amateur paleontologist formerly from Great Bend, before creating the accurate representation of a hesperonis fossil. The book “Kansas Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities and other Offbeat Stuff,” by Pam Grout, says the spine for hesperonis was made from a drilling rig gear chain.
“We did it in 11 days,” Mix said. That’s how his art usually evolves; Mix says if he understands the structure behind something, he creates his pieces using God’s talent and his time. “You see what you want to do and you just keep building it.”
A Kansas fossil
The Cretaceous Period began 145 million years ago and ended 66 million years ago. The middle part of North America, including Kansas, was covered by a huge inland sea, the Western Interior Seaway, sometimes called the Pierre Seaway, for the last 70 million years of the period. Hesperonis fossils include the Late Cretaceous marine limestones from Kansas.
Hesperonis was a penguin-like bird reaching up to 5.9 feet in length. According to the sign that accompanies Mix’s sculpture, it had virtually no wings, and swam with its powerful hind legs. Although it was incapable of flight, Hesperonis was a swift swimmer that could propel itself through the shallow coastal waters of the Pierre Sea with its powerful hind legs and webbed feet. Its webbed feet were similar to a grebe. Its jaws were equipped with sharp, pointed teeth adapted for preying on fish and squids.
Today is the last day to order a “Be Wild at Heart” animal adoption gift package for Valentine’s Day from the Great Bend Zoological Society. Valentine packages cost $20 and include a plush lion, chocolate and a card, available for pickup or delivery within the Great Bend city limits. Enquire at the zoo.
Great Bend Parks Director Scott Keeler said winter is when his staff does some annual seasonal maintenance at the zoo. They clean out the flower beds and trim the trees.
The zoo, located at 2123 Main St. in Great Bend, is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week.