In Alberta, Canada, the Dinosaur Park Wows ‘Em with Bones
By Gregory Williams
Slowly, I work my foot back and forth. I can feel my weathered hiking sandal come loose, and I hold on to it with the tips of my toes pressed into the sole. The mud along the Red Deer River is not to be trifled with.
The suction finally gives way, and my foot pops out of its muddy tomb. I adjust my grip, and with one hop, I move from the shore into our canoe.
A quick check confirms my sandal was not left alone on the shore.
The Red Deer River
My canoe mate steers us toward the rest of our group while I settle in and prepare for the long paddle to the next stop. The Red Deer River is low this year. Smoke from the nearby wildfires has not affected us during this expedition. The team is a mix of scientists, explorers, and one or two first-time adventurers. Our mission is to find dinosaurs.
Next stop, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada
Alberta is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Accessibility can be challenging for some locations, so the river has been our gateway to this stunning landscape. For those who like adventure, a 16-foot canoe packed with gear, some fellow explorers, island camping, and endless riverbanks to pitch a tent is the way to go.
For those who prefer a road trip to Dinosaur Provincial Park, that is also an option and a lot less muddy.
Some consider this area to be the dinosaur capital of the world. We are exploring a land of beautiful prairies and endless canyons that reach the horizon. They call this area the Badlands. After a few hours of hiking and climbing in this part of the world, one can see why. The sun is relentless, the terrain is quite challenging, and the weather is unpredictable. It is also worth every step and effort put forth.
The team has decided to make camp in Dinosaur Provincial Park. This well-organized facility and museum provide the amenities we have been missing for days. A hot shower is a pleasant change from the brown water river baths we are used to. The line for two scoops of strawberry cheesecake ice cream is no problem after drinking warm water morning, noon, and night.
The tents are up, our food and drink replenished, and most have washed the Red Deer mud away. It is now time to find a dinosaur. Dinosaur Provincial Park is an amateur paleontologist’s playground.
It is a dream come true for a child fascinated with the Hollywood version of T-Rex and Triceratops. I prefer a good balance between the wonderment of dinosaurs and the scientific advancement of discovery. Not to mention, finding a dinosaur bone is just cool.
Head Down and Do Not Look Up
Okay, look up from time to time so you do not walk off a cliff. The park has a designated area for the public to explore and search for fossils preserved in the geology of the Badlands. Finding a tooth or claw from a Tyrannosaur or Hadrosaur is possible.
Even a few large bones are still visible for one’s imagination to venture off into the land of the lost. If you do not find anything, there is no need to worry. A few rainy days will change the landscape in no time.
Our team is led by two of the world’s leading paleontologists. The park has several scientists and field experts to show you around and teach you the basic principles of responsible prospecting and preservation.
Having the freedom to venture off-trail in the designated areas is an explorer’s dream. The layers of time compressed together are visible at every turn.
Words like bentonite and Hoodoos become part of the evening’s campfire conversations.
“There’s an incomparable rush that comes from finding dinosaur bones. You know you’re the first person to lay hands on a critter that lived 80 or 90 million years ago” – Jack Horner.
Is that a tooth??
I have been fortunate enough to enjoy this rush a time or two. It requires patience and persistence, but beware it is also addictive. The lead scientist finishes our daily safety brief and sends us on our way. With water in hand, some snacks, rain gear, and a band-aid or two, I set off to discover a new species.
The terrain is loose; stunning formations distract you as you navigate the challenges of the Badlands. Your fellow explorers appear and disappear as they climb and descend throughout the canyons. Those moments of solitude surrounded by your imagination and endless views are unforgettable moments.
My dino senses come alive while traversing a small path. I descend into an area that looks promising. A small glimmer catches my eye.
My focus is the contrast of a shiny brown object against the tan and red soil. A tooth from a dinosaur appears in the rock at the base of my foot.
From my limited knowledge, I can see it is from a carnivore and, I guess, a Tyrannosaurus. The detailed serration that is still visible after all this time is amazing. I am the first creature to hold this tooth since a dinosaur lost it 85 million years ago.
A unique Experience that takes you to a Lost World
As a photographer, my first instinct is to capture the world around me through my lens, but my fascination with Dinosaurs and their world was still capturing my imagination.
This hard landscape, called the badlands, was once a lush tropical environment. Where creatures that no longer exist fought for survival.
The sun has now begun to set on this day, and I force myself to take off my amateur paleontologist hat and focus once again on photographing this amazing place.
I can only wonder if a Ceratopsian or Duckbill Dinosaur stood in this same spot millions of years ago and watched the same sun set over the horizon.
Then, it turned and continued with its journey through the Badlands.
An award winning photographer and member of The Explorers Club. Greg Williams is a retired Naval Officer and lives in Washington DC. He currently works for the Smithsonian Institution.