I spent the past week in Alberta, visiting family and some very old friends in Alberta's dinosaur valley. Okay, that's not an official designation, but when I was a child growing up in Alberta, my brothers and I were fascinated by the province's Badlands and in its epicenter, the town of Drumheller. We loved the area's deep valleys, its weird geological features called Hoodoos and most of all, its enormous wealth of fossil discoveries.
So last week, we all decided to drive out to Drumheller for a very long day trip. I hadn't been back there in more than 30 years, although my elderly Mom loves visiting the area and has gone several times, along with two of my brothers who live in central Alberta near Mom.
I was amazed and really impressed with the Royal Tyrrell Museum, a remarkable facility in Drumheller that is devoted to palaeontology, the study of prehistoric life forms through the study of the fossil record. The Tyrrell is amazingly interactive, using all kinds of different hands-on tools, multimedia programs and computer simulations to help to explain why the area developed the way it did over millions of centuries, and how Alberta came to be so rich in minerals -- and oil and natural gas -- as well as such fossil wealth. A visitor can really get a wonderful sense of how Alberta looked 70 million years ago: humid, rich with swamps, ponds and marshes. Digs continue all the time in the area, where First Nations' people once called dinosaur fossils the remains of the grandfathers of the buffalo.
The Tyrrell boasts more than 125,000 fossil specimens, but for me perhaps the most impressive exhibits are in the gigantic Dinosaur Hall with nearly 40 mounted dinosaur skeletons. Tyrannosaurus rex, who is known as the king of the lizard tyrants, dominates the display, and is pretty amazing for both kids and adults.
We went back over all of our old haunts, such as local history museums, the miners' suspension bridge across the wide Red Deer River, the massive Hoodoos. These formations took millions of years to develop and stand between 5 and 7 metres tall. According to local lore, each Hoodoo is a sandstone pillar resting on a thick base of shale that is capped by a large stone and all were likely caused by wind and water erosion. While I was amazed at the Hoodoos when I was a child, I've since seen far more remarkable formations in central Turkey's Cappadocia region. There, the so-called "fairy chimneys" that dot a wide area which resembles a moonscape are absolutely huge and awesome. However, I kept this thought to myself while my family and I were together.
We also revisited the many large plaster casts of dinosaurs spread around Drumheller. These seemed so exciting large and menacing when we were little. Kids love dinosaurs, and even in the 1960s, before Drumheller was very well developed, our imaginations were captured by the Tyrannosaurus rex and other model dinosaurs which were erected around town.