Zeus sniffs the air. He smells treats, but he sees…
We’ve seen ferocious dinosaurs in the movies, but it’s hard to picture them actually walking around in Canada.
The picture becomes more vivid when you drive the 48 kilometre Dinosaur Trail, from Drumheller, Alberta. Some 75 million years ago, Eastern Alberta was teeming with dinosaurs. At the time, lush subtropical forests covered the land, and large reptiles flew above it.
The conditions were perfect for preserving dinosaur bones as fossils. Over 50 kinds of dinosaurs have been found here on what now looks like a lunar, sometimes desolate, landscape.
Seeing it for yourself is surreal experience, and one you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Here are some of the fascinating stops along the trail:
Just before you get to Drumheller on Highway 9, the prairie gives way to a canyon, carved by glaciers in a U-shape, called Horseshoe Canyon. It’s a dramatic introduction to the badlands, so named because the land was bad for farming. The walls of the canyon show the eroded layers of sandstone, mud and coal. You can hike into the canyon, but you’ll need good shoes and to be prepared for hot weather in the summer months.
The World’s Largest Dinosaur
Yup, it’s kitsch, but you don’t want to miss the chance to see the world’s largest dinosaur and check that off your bucket list. It’s 25 metres (86 feet) tall, and you can climb the stairs to the top and look out from its jaws. It cost over a million dollars to build. This big dinosaur is located at the Drumheller visitor information centre, where you can pick up a good map and information about what to see along the trail.
Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology
The Royal Tyrrell Museum houses one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs. These are not movie set mock-ups – – they’re the actual skeletons and bones of dinosaurs that once roamed these lands. The one in this photo is a T.Rex that was discovered in 1980 by two high school students when they went on a fishing trip. It’s considered one of the best preserved skulls in the world.
The Museum also offers activities that allow you to indulge your inner Fred Flintstone and bring the prehistoric past to life. For example, you can search for fossils on a guided hike or take part in an archeological dig. You never know what you’ll find.
Horse Thief Canyon
As you look down on Horse Thief Canyon, you can easily imagine how it got its name. More than a century ago, outlaws were known to hideout, with their stolen horses, in the coulees between the rock walls. It gave them cover to rebrand the horses. The canyon is rich in geological layers and in fossils, with some 35 species of dinosaurs having been found here.
After Horse Thief canyon, the Dinosaur Trail takes you across the Red Deer River on the Bleriot Ferry, and then loops back towards Drumheller. This is where you’ll find the Orkney Lookout, a natural look out point on the red rock cliffs with a sweeping view of the Red Deer Valley. It’s easy to miss the turnoff, but you won’t want to miss this view. There’s a reason they call it ‘Big Sky Country’.
The hoodoos are recognized as an iconic symbol of the Alberta badlands. These freestanding rock formations are composed of sand and clay, with solid capstones to protect the base. They’ve been formed by thousands of years of erosion. But there aren’t as many of them as there used to be. The hoodoos are eroding rapidly, and have suffered damage from careless visitors.
To see the hoodoos, you switch over to the Hoodoo Trail (Highway 10), after the Dinosaur Trail brings you back into Drumheller.
Last Chance Saloon:
This region can be dry and dusty so you may want to take a slight detour off the Hoodoo trail for a beverage at the Last Chance Saloon in the town of Wayne. The coal mining industry, which started in the area in 1912, turned Wayne into a boom town with a population of more than 2500. Now, with the mines closed, there are just 27 residents remaining.
But, the population grows considerably as visitors drop in at the Last Chance Saloon. This is a family-run bar with character. The walls are covered with animal trophy heads and memorabilia accumulated over the classic western saloon’s history. It’s a beer and burgers kind of a restaurant, just the right spot to sit and ponder the unique experience of the Badlands. From dinosaurs to horse thieves and hoodoos, there’s no place quite like it.
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