RV’22.3: Drumheller is Dinotown

We drove through the rest of mostly-flat Saskatchewan, broken up by things like “The World’s Largest Teepee.” At other points on this trip, we saw the world’s largest dragonfly, the world’s largest dinosaur, and we narrowly missed missed the world’s largest Pysanka.

But as soon as you arrive in Drumheller, Alberta, the flat goes away. It’s like you drive right into the ground. Drumheller is in a deep valley carved out by the Red Deer River, its walls painted by the striations of sediment and prehistory.

Everything in Drumheller is against the background of these beautiful valley walls, even the strip mall with the A&W we stopped at for dinner, and our RV park.

The town itself is full of dino-tourism. There are wee dinosaur statues everywhere, even in front of Shoppers’ Drug Mart.

The centerpiece of town is, of course, the World’s Largest Dinosaur.

We paid the dollarbucks to go up in its mouth, which does give you a cool view of the town and valley.

The town itself is very touristy, as you can tell. It had cute restaurants, pubs, a brewery, gift shops, and lots of bigger things that were closed that early in May. The real reason we had come was a few kilometers north of the town itself: the only museum in Canada devoted entirely to paleontology.

This place was way cool. I appreciated very much how the information was presented: from the basics of evolution and the formation of fossils. Some of the most impressive specimens were here, including this gorgeous juvenile Gorgosaurus.

And “Black Beauty,” a T-rex so named because the minerals that replaced the bone happened to be black. I don’t claim to grasp the entire process, but all I knew before is that fossils were organic matter that “turned to stone.” Turns out this happens by minerals soaking into the bone or whatever and replacing it in some way. Different minerals make different colored fossils. Cool, no?

“Black Beauty.” The girls have their own ideas of what to do when I say “go pose with that dinosaur!”

Once you got through that introductory section, and a spot where you could peer into a lab with real paleontologists doing stuff, the rest of the museum is organized by time period.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures in here – taking pictures in museums always seems a little weird to me – but I appreciated the breakdown into periods and stuff. I grew up learning a very six-day-creationist viewpoint from my textbooks, which I don’t agree with anymore, so having the periods all laid out was very helpful. The best early section was about the Cambrian-era animals found in the Burgess Shale found in Yoho National Park. I spent more time there than anywhere else in the museum. There was even a big display about the process of figuring out which animals were which, over a hundred years of hypothesizing and information-gathering. The history of that process is fascinating.

Between these early periods upstairs and the later ones downstairs was a large break room. It had lots of interactive exhibits focusing especially on Albertosaurus. The kids loved these activities, and there was a spot set aside to eat your snacks, and of course a washroom. This museum kept impressing me with how well-designed it was as an experience, and how it connected you not just to the past, but to the process of discovering the past.

Dooner next to a Camarasaurus leg

The big money, of course, is when you get to the Cretaceous period. By the time we actually got there, we were almost museumed out, so we actually left and came back to this part. There was a big playground outside with picnic area, so we were able to give Sisko lots of breaks from hanging out in the RV.

For some reason, Triceratops was the big stand-out of the day for us.

Not just the trike, but other ceratopsians as well. There was a huge display just showing the variety of species. The frills come in quite the array of shapes and sizes, like this one with a whole crown of scallops. Lots of the varieties had big holes in the frills like this.

The museum also has a gift shop, of course. The kids spent a good chunk of their fun money on stuffies, Jared got us all T-shirts, and I got myself the kids a new dino encyclopedia. I may have googled online paleontology and geology courses. What a place! We had a stupendous day at the museum and in Drumheller. If you are passing through southern Alberta, and you have any love for the terrible lizards of the past, we highly recommend you spend some time here.

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