In Western Canada, about 110 million years ago, the oldest discovered dinosaur fossils were living creatures. In fact, southern Alberta is the site of a gigantic dinosaur fossil bed. The area was once covered by ocean, so it is rich in fossils. In the city of Drumheller, about 90 miles from Calgary, the marvelous Royal Tyrrell Museum, considered by many to be the best dinosaur museum in the world, has a great exhibit that explains all the pre-historic creatures and how they fit together.
A new exhibit supplemented the already-great museum offerings in 2017. Called Grounds for Discovery, the exhibit explains how digging at dozens of industrial and construction job sites led to new fossil finds which have contributed to a better understanding of pre-historic creatures.
The museum is well organized in a logical timeline of history, starting with ocean life that proceeded any dinosaurs. Continuing on the path through the exhibit, you learn that the first dinosaurs appeared 245 million years ago in the Triassic Period. This was followed by the Jurassic Period 208 million years ago. It wasn’t until the Cretaceous Period that followed 146 million years ago that the T-rex first appeared. All of these periods are explained at the museum in separate rooms. So that you are guided properly, I recommend paying for the audio guide ($3.75 per person) after paying the admission price. Try to plan to see one or more of the free movies offered at the museum. And save time for one of the best museum gift shops available.
The museum has some of the largest complete dinosaur structures anywhere. In addition to being a museum, it is a research facility. You can watch fossil preparation in the lab. A paleontologist is there to explain what they do. I overheard one child tell his parents, “That’s what I want to do when I grow up!”
What isn’t explained is how the dinosaurs and other pre-historic creatures evolved. When I asked a paleontologist about this, he explained that the evolution is largely not understood yet. So there is work still to be done.
Adjacent to the museum is a one kilometer hiking trail to see and understand the “badlands” in which many of the Alberta fossils were found. Alternatively, a twenty-six kilometer circular car drive can also be taken from outside the museum entrance.
In the Canadian badlands you can see stratified layers of different colored rock on barren hills. The museum explains how these bands were formed during different periods of pre-historic time. For example, one well-regarded theory is that a meteor hit Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs when the debris clouded the atmosphere and killed the plant life that they survived on. There is a layer of rock in the hills that contains iridium which only comes from meteors. So you can get a visual proof for the theory from the geography.
From Highway 10 you can see unique “hoodoo” land formations, stacks of eroded limestone with flat tops and generally bask in the beauty of Mother Earth.
For a little amusement park type kitch, visit the “largest dinosaur in the world,” a replica of a T-rex, not anatomically proportional, but with a great view from its mouth once you climb inside to the top.
Nearby is the Atlas Coal Mining Company exhibit, partially sponsored by the local Rotary Club and well worth a visit. Put out of business by cheaper gas energy, but seemingly abandoned with everything in place, take a guided tours of the mine and the tipple, or explore on your own. An informative film tells why coal miners were willing to work seasonally at this very dangerous job, and also explains the unionization movement from both the miners’ and the company’s viewpoint.
There are several hotels in Drumheller and a good tourist infrastructure, making this a Disney-esque tourist stop based more on reality than fantasy.