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In 1884, a young geologist by the name of Joseph Tyrrell was climbing a steep hill in the badlands of southeast Alberta when he made a remarkable discovery. He found a dinosaur skull sticking right out of the ground. It was that of a meat-eating monster, later named Albertosaurus, a close cousin to the ferocious Tyrannosaurus Rex.
“Black Beauty” at the Royal Tyrrell Museum // © 2010 Royal Tyrrell Museum
Today, clients can learn all about dinosaurs at two important badlands sites: Dinosaur Provincial Park (where they can even join a real dinosaur dig) and the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Dinosaur Provincial ParkAfter a two-hour drive east of Calgary, the prairies turn into a moonlike landscape, where wind and water have eroded the sandstone into fantastically shaped pillars and mesas. These are the badlands. Here, Dinosaur Provincial Park covers a swath of 50 square miles, and more dinosaur bones have been found at this UNESCO World Heritage Site than any other place on earth.
A year-round visitor center has displays of raptors attacking a duck-billed Lambeosaurus and full-size replicas of a turn-of-the-century paleontology camp and river raft used for fossil hunting. There are also several self-guided trails, but as 70 percent of the park is a natural preserve accessible only by guided tour, clients who want to make the most of their time should book one of the interpretive programs.
One guided hike visits a “bone bed” the size of a football field, where between 300 and 1,000 Centrosaurus fossils have been discovered. Scientists think these elephant-sized herbivores (like a Triceratops, but with a single horn) drowned in a flash flood while trying to cross an ancient river. As well as observing hundreds of dinosaur bone fragments in their natural setting, clients on the three-hour tour also get to safely absorb the beauty of the backcountry — they may even spot mule deer, cottontail rabbits and a rattlesnake or two.For a more in-depth experience, one-, two- and three-day guided excavations (including accommodations and meals) are offered to “Bonebed 30” between June and September. These are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to participate in authentic dinosaur digs, open to just six adults per day. With an experienced paleontological technician as their guide, clients can learn how to excavate dinosaurs and work in a team to uncover fossils never before seen by human eyes. Their work may also contribute to research at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, a key research partner that operates a lab and fossil exhibits at the park’s visitor center.
Other interpretive tours include two-hour fossil safaris to learn the secrets of fossil-finding (popular with families), 30-minute lab talks and two-hour small-bus tours through the amazing park environment.www.dinosaurpark.caRoyal Tyrrell MuseumOver in the town of Drumheller, near the site where Tyrrell found his Albertosaurus skull (and about a two-hour drive from Dinosaur Provincial Park), lies the Royal Tyrrell Museum. One of the world’s premiere paleontological research facilities and Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science, the museum presents 3.9 billion years of natural history and houses over 130,000 individual specimens. Each year, thousands of new fossils found in the surrounding area are added to its collection. Clients can easily spend a full day within the 835,000 square feet of building space.
A highlight is the main Dinosaur Hall. A mighty T. Rex towers over more than 35 full-size skeletons and reconstructed models of dinosaurs. Another fascinating creature in the museum is a 70-foot-long Shonisaurus sikanniensis, the world’s largest known marine reptile.
Opening May 22 to celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary is a new exhibit of 25 of the museum’s most significant specimens. Top among them is the complete skeleton of a stunning T. Rex embedded in a huge slab of stone, nicknamed “Black Beauty” because of its rare dark bones tinted by soil during fossilization.
There are many excellent programs designed specifically for children — from hands-on fossil-casting sessions to interactive paleontological game shows to simulated dino-digs in a realistic indoor quarry. Another popular activity is watching technicians in the museum lab prepare fossils for research and display.www.tyrrellmuseum.com
Alberta Badlands Top-Down ToursPersonalized half-, one- and multi-day tours are offered in Chrysler PT cruiser convertibles, driven by knowledgeable pilot guides. Both Dinosaur Provincial Park and the Royal Tyrrell Museum can be visited, depending on the client’s interests. “And if a client wants to stop for a photo, all they have to do is tap the driver on the shoulder, and we’ll stop,” says owner Ron Maltin. Agents are paid a 10 percent commission. 403-823-4787www.4PTS-tours.com
Hammerhead Scenic ToursOne-day tours from Calgary visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Two-day tours (overnighting in Drumheller) include Dinosaur Provincial Park. 888-590-6930.www.hammerheadtours.com
Wild West Badlands ToursHalf- and one-day badlands tours by van from Calgary and Drumheller visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum. 403-823-3118.www.wildwestbadlandstours.com
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