Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
"Oh look, I see a dinosaur. Oh look, there’s dinosaurs everywhere!" Jade excitedly exclaimed as our vehicle descended down the long hill into the town of Drumheller. As a budding paleontologist, this child had discovered her Utopia before she reached her fifth birthday.
The town of Drumheller, situated in Alberta’s Red River Valley, is in the heartland of the area once roamed by ancient dinosaurs. During the age of the dinosaur, river deltas, flood plains and swamps covered a large area, snaking through central Alberta. Layers of mud, silt and sand built up over the centuries, hiding the remains of the ancient plants, dinosaurs and other creatures who had lived during the period more than 65 million years ago. The layers of time continued to be added one upon the other throughout the ensuing years. Early layers became petrified rock. As the time clock ticked on, glaciers of the Ice Age wore down the softer surface layers. Water from the melting glaciers carved out the valley now known as the Red River Valley. The glacier ice and flooding water left behind a barren, intricately-eroded countryside. The area is referred to as the badlands because of the weird shaped earth-formations found there. Upheavals over time have exposed some of the many layers, that made up the earth’s early crust. Time lines are visible on the canyon walls for all to see. Layers containing the fossilized bones of prehistoric mammals have surfaced in the badlands - some complete skeletons, have been unearthed there in the Red River Valley. To date 25 different species of dinosaurs have been found in the Drumheller area.
The first Albertosaurus was discovered, by a man named J. B. Tyrrell, only a short distance outside of the town of Drumheller, on August 12, 1884. Tyrrell was not a paleontologist. However he realized the importance of his discovery and took measures to preserve it. Since that day many people have come to search for this amazing confirmation of the age of dinosaurs. Not far from the site of Tyrrell’s original discovery we found the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Queen Elizabeth II granted this world-class museum the appellation, "Royal" in June 1990. It is one of the leading museums of its kind in the world.
We were fortunate our arrival at the Tyrrell Museum coincided with the start of a short film giving an overview of the museum, its history and their efforts to preserve their discoveries. It was an enlightening way to begin our journey back to the age of the dinosaur.
After the film we began our tour of this fabulous facility, with its amazing collection of the preserved fossilized remains of the dinosaur and countless other assorted fossils of that period in the world’s history. In awe I gazed at the upright menacing figure of a Tyrannosaurus rex, ("tyrant" meaning the king), sensing how terrifying this monster truly must have been. In his prime Tyrannosaurus Rex could have been up to 40 feet (12 m.) long, 20 feet (6 m.) tall and weighed about 7.7 tons (7 tonnes). His clawed feet, powerful jaw and large dagger-like teeth, used to tear apart his victims, added to the ferocious appearance of this carnivore.
Everywhere we look in this museum, we were absolutely amazed at the incredible examples of the Age of the Dinosaur that are on display here. The petrified bones of the great dinosaurs have been restored and preserved. Many of their skeletons have been reconstructed to stand here as they once stood in life, only lacking their thick leathery skin to complete the picture. I was surprised to discover that some of these huge, ferocious-looking beasts were in fact plant eaters. The Archiceratops, a horned dinosaur displays a bony neck frill with spiky horns sticking out above its toothless beak.. In life it may have been 20 feet (6 m.) long. The Styracosaurus, with its rhinoceros-like horn and other spikes sticking out of its bony skull, is another surprising example of a plant eater. It is like walking onto the movie set of Jurassic Park! Painted scenic settings show what the valley is believed to have once looked like. A dramatic scene is displayed with a meat-eating Albertosaurus devouring a plant-eating horned Centrosaurus. Overhead we see flying reptiles. There is even a walk-through underwater exhibit allowing us to see what sea creatures were like once upon a time.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum offers many opportunities to learn about the dinosaur and the manner in which these fossils were discovered and then preserved right in their own facilities at the museum. Some are displayed and others are stored in the museum vaults. There are hands-on learning tools for all ages. Also the museum offers enthusiasts of all ages, the opportunity to go out on digs to try to make a discovery themselves. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is in itself a surprising discovery, a world renowned museum set out in barren hills about five miles from a large size prairie town, It is within easy driving distance for a day-trip out of Calgary. However, I would advise tourists not to under-rate their time there as it really is world class and does not deserve to be rushed through.
The town promotes the world’s fascination with the dinosaur and the discoveries made in this vicinity. Not only are statues of dinosaurs found on many corners in the business section of the town, but the world’s largest dinosaur has been erected at the edge of a park, beside the town’s tourist information office. Jade and her mother climbed the inside stairs, going up to the mouth of the monster, to survey the park and the town below.
We will be returning to that little prairie town. One visit was only enough to wet the appetite of a little girl with a fascination for paleontology and dinosaurs. As the sun was setting and we drove up the painted canyon out of the town, Jade turned to her grandfather and whispered in his ear, "Thank you Papa, for taking me to Drumheller!"
Article and Pictures by M. Maxine George
For further information in Canada or the U.S.A call Tourism Alberta at 1-800 ALBERTA or 1-800- 252-3782 (tollfree)
or The Drumheller Visitor Information Centre at 1-866-823-8100 (tollfree)
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Last Updated on May 17, 2010 by M. Maxine George editor.
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