You don't have to search very far before you realize that the town of Drumheller, Alta., is dinosaur country. Little green Triceratops decorate the highway, a winged yellow pterosaur is about to take off from a lamppost and the local hockey arena sports a dino mural.
Further proof? At one end of Main St. a ferocious, giant T-Rex stands guard. For $2, you can mount the 106 steps through loud roars and interior glow-in-the-dark dino bones to emerge unscathed in the lizard's jaw. The higher-than-treetop view is fit for, well, a "Tyrant Lizard" dinosaur. On a clear day, you can see the Badlands, home to some of the world's richest bone beds.
Most junior dinomaniacs, however, will want to head immediately to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. This world-class facility is home to the world's largest collection of dinosaur skeletons -- more than 35 in various poses and dioramas.
Kids come face to knee with two-storey-high reconstructions of such creatures as Albertosaurus. Weighing more than two tonnes, this local carnivore chased down its prey at speeds up to 38 km/h. Peer in at a live Goliath Tarantula or Giant Tropical Cockroach, survivors of the Ice Age, or walk across an ocean floor teeming with trilobites and Burgess Shale worms.
The state-of-the-art museum, about 90 minutes northeast of Calgary, is also an active research facility. Just this month, a new type of raptor with a short, deep snout was identified. Smaller than the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park, it was discovered thanks to a piece of skull found near the museum.
Because the Royal Tyrrell is in the heart of Midland Provincial Park in the heart of the Badlands, they can offer several interactive programs for dino fans and dirt diggers usually relegated to fossil experts and palaeontologists.
Dinosite! and Guided Hikes take all ages through the desert-like topography of the Badlands (so called by French explorers because the sun-crusted land was bad for farming). Our group hadn't walked very far before we saw a hawk and a sleepy garter snake and found real fossils embedded in the clay.
For serious dinophiles, Day Digs give kids 12 and up a full day working side-by-side with Museum staff both behind-the-scenes and at a dig site. The new Excavate It! lets young teens work with an excavation team in the Badlands using fossil replicas. Parents are welcome. Dino Mites Dino Camp is a one-hour time travel for kids four to six. Summer Day Camps give seven- to 12-year-olds an afternoon of dinosaur adventures. Fossil Casting shows kids four and up how to create a keepsake fossil.
Call 888-440-4240 or visit tyrrellmuseum.com. Programs fill up fast.
WHERE TO STAY:
The Best Western Jurassic Inn (888-823-3466) offers indoor pool, free popcorn and family rooms with kitchenettes. The Brontosaurus Suite has a separate sitting room. Next door, the Stravos Family Restaurant serves up the perfect dino feast -- ribs, both salty (Greek) and sweet (BBQ). The Super 8 Motel (888-823-8882) features a waterslide. Pets welcome at both.
Check out the IMAX film, T-Rex: Back To The Cretaceous, a story about a dinosaur hunter and his daughter. Scenes were shot in Dinosaur Provincial Park (about a two hour drive from Drumheller) and in the Museum. For Badlands Trail and Drumheller tourist info, contact Travel Alberta 800-252-3782 or visit TravelAlberta.com.
SAVVY SIDE TRIPS:
When travelling in the area, don't miss:
- Reptile World (403-823-8623), Canada's largest live reptile display with more than 90 species including Alberta's only venomous snake, the Prairie Rattlesnake. On our visit, Girl Guides were taking turns wrapping a Boa Constrictor around their necks. Open daily 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- The Last Chance Saloon in Wayne, population 42. Used in movie shoots from Shanghai Noon to In Cold Blood, this Wild West-style restaurant still sports bullet holes in the walls and serves drinks in Mason jars. Kids welcome on Sundays from noon for buffalo burgers and homemade apple pie. Camping spots are out back. Call 403-823-9189.