DINO’S ON THE PROWL….DRUMHELLER

Drumheller the “Dinosaur Capital of the World”: The somnolent ‘prairie’ flatlands give way to straggly flat topped, steep sloped Mesas, barren rock formations of multicoloured layers, rusty brown, beige streaked with purple and green lines. We are on our way to Drumheller, the Dinosaur capital of the World. It is a mere 135 km Northeast of Calgary and the stunning terrain assumes an interplanetary anomalousness and our vehicle is a spaceship.

This is the Alberta Badlands or terres mauvaises (late Cretaceous period), with fossils embedded in sedimentary rocks eroded by wind and water. The Badlands, stretching along the southern Alberta river valleys particularly the Red Deer River for 300 km, culminates in Dinosaur Provincial Park, the treasure trove of famous dinosaur fossils.

The ‘dinosaur connection’ is immediately apparent as the town sign sports a giant golden Albertosaurus (cousin to the T-Rex). As we drive further into human habitat dinosaurs are every where from businesses, residences, play areas, car parks in different shapes, sizes and material. I am no fan of dinos and focused more on the scenic wonderland. My granddaughter is impatient to see ‘skeletons’ and it was but natural our first stop would be the The Royal Tyrrell Museum…. though she has been here multiple times already. https://www.albertaparks.ca/albertaparksca/visit-our-parks/road-trips/canadian-badlands/

The first fur trappers, who had ventured to this part of the Canadian west, had found it unnavigable by foot and impossible to cultivate. But with modern amenities at our disposal the Badlands is a paradise for hikers and adventure seekers. For dinosaur aficionados a non-fictional Jurassic Park* home to dinosaur-related discoveries, including fossils, skeletons, dinosaur egg sites and track fields. *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jurassic_Park_(film)

The ‘Badland Adventure’ centres on canoeing and bird watching at Kinbrook Island Provincial Park (90 minutes east of Calgary), hiking the Red River Trails and the doable 1 kilometre-long interpretive trail starting from the Royal Tyrrell Museum replete with signboards highlighting the Badlands geology and ecosystem of unusual wildlife and species from prairie rattlesnakes and horned lizards to prickly pear cacti.

There are hiking options from short, easy boardwalk trails to the more challenging such as the 10-mile trail through Badlands terrain…The Dinosaur Trail. This is a 48-km scenic drive looping around the Red Deer River, including a crossing by cable ferry (only available in summer). The trail takes you to scenic viewpoints like Horsethief Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon. The Horsethief is a viewing point for the canyon carved out by a tributary of the Red Deer River. While the Horseshoe Canyon is a surreal moon-like landscape. Close to Drumheller and not to be missed are the stunning mushroom shaped sandstone Hoodoos.

The interpretive trails starting from the Royal Tyrrell Museum with signboards highlighting information about the Badlands geology and ecosystem of unusual wildlife and species. The ideal time to visit is the winter months as summers in the dry rocky Badlands can be excruciating. This is one of the reasons for not visiting Drumheller earlier as we inadvertently timed our Canada visits to avoid India summers. Actually any time, visit to Drumheller, is a good time depending on activity. If planning on doing the Museum plus the hikes then it is best to stay a few days in Drumheller.

I learn, Museum brochures and Wikipedia, that Alberta was home to nearly 5% of Dinosaur species and that more than 400 dinosaur skeletons were unearthed since the first discovery in 1889 of an Albertosaurus fossil. Another surprise was that this desiccated rugged area was once humid and lacerated by rivers, creating sand and mud deposits that turned into death pits or mass graves for Dinosaurs… graves that furnished evidence of herding behaviour of the dinosaurs. The sand and mud deposits were ideal conditions for fossilisation and the lucky and persistent succeeded like 12 year old Nathan Hrushkin of Calgary. In 2020. while hiking through the Horseshoe Canyon in the Badlands region with his father, the duo discovered partially exposed bones. They sent the photographs to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller that confirmed that the bones were of a young Hadrosaur, or the duck-billed dinosaur. The Museum paleontologist François Therrien, said a discovery like this in Horseshoe Canyon is uncommon.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum (2022): The 12,500 square metre building is under wraps, some new additions, and we wind our way through tarps and construction material into an impressive building named in honour of Joseph Burr Tyrrell, a Canadian geologist, cartographer, and mining consultant. Tyrrell had discovered dinosaur bones in Alberta’s Badlands and coal around Drumheller in 1884. The palaeontology museum and research facility is located on the North Dinosaur Trail at Midland Provincial Park and the fossil-bearing strata of the late Cretaceous Horseshoe Canyon Formation. 

The entrance opens into the Cretaceous Alberta section recreating life in the region of lush rainforest 69 million years ago. A giant Albertosaurus, the apex predator and a distant cousin to the T-Rex, glares down from between the trees. Not a fan of giant ‘lizards’ I follow my family and the crowd, masked fortunately, down the halls surrounded by stunning fossils including the entire skeleton of a juvenile Gorgosaurus and a rare T-Rex skull, complete with razor-sharp teeth. Among the exhibits are unknown and known dinosaurs such as the Pachyrhinosaurus with horns and bone buttresses over the skull and a mummified 6-metre long Nodosaurus, an armoured-skin dinosaur discovered recently by mine workers.

It gets amazingly spine-tingling with the staggering ichthyosaur, the largest marine reptile in existence, skeletons of wooly mammoths and extinct mammals. Towards the Museum exit there is a scale to measure height and weight against a Dinosaur image. This makes you wonder if man would have been able to survive in this ‘Brobdingnagian’ setup.

Wikipedia tells me that as of November 2021, the Museum ‘holds five Guinness World Records for its unique collection of fossils including the best-preserved Borealopelta, and a Albertonectes fossil that has the longest neck recorded. The museum’s personal collection includes over 160,000 cataloged fossils, consisting of over 350 holotypes, and the largest collection of fossils in Canada.

One can spend an entire day even if a repeat visitor. Every visit there is something new to discover due to changing exhibits and educational programs for adults and children, play areas and gift shop. My granddaughter can vouch for this.

The Museum is an ideal place for children and adults to spend an entire day.

For a more extensive Dino knowledge one can drive to Dinosaur Provincial Park about 48 km northeast of Brooks, Alberta and about two hours from Drumheller. We decided to do the Hoodoos, something to get away from extinct creatures.

Hoodoo Trail. about 20 km southwest from the Museum. A few minutes later staring at these mushroom/chimney-like formations one tends to agree with the Cree belief that these Hoodoos were ‘petrified giants’ guarding the valley.

In the present they are tourist magnets and the place was swarming with visitors trying their luck scaling the rocks. One mother was screaming to her teenage children to come down. They had scampered to one of the steep cliff tops but were hesitant in the descent. A parent was engrossed with his toddler in assembling an Inukshuk* probably wanting to commemorate their visit.

The peculiar shape of the Hoodoos is highlighted by hard, wide rock layers or ‘umbrellas’ protecting the mushroom ‘stems’ underneath from erosion. But one wonders how long will the ‘stems’ withstand the still persisting weather onslaughts before they snap into crumbled rocks.

The Hoodoos, the result of sediment deposition and erosion are similar to the tall, cone-shaped rock formations or “fairy chimneys” found as far away as Cappadocia, Turkey; Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah; the Davolja Varos, Serbia; Putangirua Pinnacles, Wairarapa, New Zealand ……

An hour devoted to admiring and exploring these weird formations we are back in the tony mining town of Drumheller to be glared upon by a man-made 30 metres high behemoth, resembling a T-Rex, only 4 times bigger. This is a Google image of the tallest Dinosaur in the world. We did not stop looking at the long waiting line to climb up the 106 steps and view the surroundings from the creatures mouth.

We bid adieu to the ‘extinct giants’ with a drive around historical Downtown with its mid-western coal town ambiance and a break at an Irish-themed bar & grill. O’Shea’s Eatery and Ale House.

  • Inukshuk …..These are man made stone landmarks or cairns assembled by the Inuit, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other Native tribes, North America.

3 thoughts on “DINO’S ON THE PROWL….DRUMHELLER

  1. Fabulous description and tour of the Drumheller area! No matter how often we go always a fascinating experience to step back in time.

  2. It seems incredible to me that these creatures existed. I still associate them with Hollywood movies. Fact! Stranger than fiction.

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