Stepping back to the age of dinosaurs which one can barely imagine, requires a drive through the flat prairie plains from either Calgary or Edmonton to Drumheller, Alberta. The horizon seems to barely move with the miles and one is not prepared for the sudden drop into the chasm of an ancient river bed. There starts the story of our past, a world of towering beasts roaming the land on an earth that is unrecognizable of that of today.
We often think Canada is young without the history of European countries, but this barren, beautiful area belies such a notion. This past spawned the oil and gas industry and the land nurtured ancient First Nations culture and ways of living. Drumheller is the epicenter of our learned knowledge and discoveries of this past.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology should be your first stop. Be prepared to be awed. Do not make the mistake of thinking it will fill a couple of hours at most. You can easily spend the day exploring the museum and the surrounding Lookout Point and Badlands Interpretive Trail. You will want to take the self-guided tour and stop and listen to the additional content shared on each exhibit. The commentary is stunning and provides a depth of knowledge you could never gather googling. Bring lunch and take a break while soaking up the sunshine outside or eat at the cafeteria. If you have children with you, play breaks in the kid-friendly and grounds laden with dinosaurs will keep their energy and attention in line.
Taking a journey through time that spans 3.9 billion years of evolution will thrill you. Ten different exhibits started with the Burgess Shales 505 million years ago. The Devonian Reef exhibit shares the stunning underwater vista of a shallow, warm tropical sea that covered much of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Full of strange looking creatures, this age contributed to our mineral, oil and gas wealth. The three Dinosaur Hall exhibits share life-size skeletons of dinosaurs roaming just outside the door 66 million to 145 million years ago. You are immediately struck by the massive size. You try to reconcile the anxious feeling of a wild, chaotic world where simple existence was under constant threat. Deadly beasts filled the sky and nowhere was safe, even the waters..
The evolution of our world was a slow process. Fast forward to 12 million years, one explores Mammal Hall and then the Ice Age of 12 thousand years ago. More recognizable to modern times, it is almost an anti-climactic finish.
They have a rich program offering. You can participate in a dig or take in an overnight camp. There are speaker series and research offerings that offer additional opportunities to learn.
The next stop on your itinerary should not be close to dusk. Remember the sun drops down suddenly over the western cliff and you need daylight to savour and explore the alien, “out of this world” Hoodoos.
Rock formations, carved by glaciers, worn into curves by the wind, create a vista unlike any other. The countless layers of orange red sediment are bared for the world to see. You have trouble telling sky from land in the vibrant pinky orange of sunrise or sunset.
If you have the time, there are many additional sites to see and explore. The Dinosaur Provincial Park, Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site and Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park will fill a couple days. Wonderful camping facilities or hotels if you prefer, will allow you to retreat each evening to ponder those times gone by.