Dinosaurs, badlands and hoodoo's near Drumheller

Our 2nd day on vacation was already quite different from the first. The weather changed for the better, a few days earlier than we had hoped and we left the city for the prairies east of Calgary.

The fun thing about this road trip is that I managed to add destinations to it that I had never visited before either so I was quite excited to discover new places as well.  I had heard about Drumheller multiple times during my exchange year and in my mind it was a typical school trip museum destination. 

When the entire dinosaur hype started to grow a few decennia ago, I was too old to be amused by cartoons or dino toys but also too young to be interested by the scientific facts behind dinosaurs.  During my first visits back to Canada after my exchange, visiting the dinosaurs in Drumheller never seemed like something I missed visiting. But now I'm the mom of 2 little boys that play a bit with toy dinosaurs. As a mom, I was eager to add Drumheller as a destination of our trip and see whether they'd love the real dinosaurs and their habitat. 

Horseshoe canyon
17 kms before Drumheller, on the left of the road is the Horseshoe Canyon. Hidden from the flat landscape is the badland curved out. This was our first stop.  Pay attention to the sign if you want to go there because the highway just zips by and you have no clue what's just next to you below.

From the parking lot you get a nice overview of the badlands below and a little further you can descend with stairs into the canyon.

The town of Drumheller
It was a bit of a shock when we arrived in Drumheller and found a tacky plastic dino on each street corner.  The city boasts the world's biggest dinosaur and well...you can't miss it near the infocenter and it is huge and ugly.  No...I 'd not pay to go up in there.  While some dinosaurs were a bit nicer than others, I felt a bit of despair : did we drive out of here for all of that plastic kitsch? 

Drumheller Hoodoos at Hoodoo Trail

We drove southeast of Drumheller to have picnic at the Drumheller Hoodoos. Well...there was no picnic table in sight.

I had anticipated to come in a landscape comparable as Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park near the US border full of impressive hoodoos wherever you look (at least in my memory).  So finding just a handful of hoodoos (or mushroom rocks as Kabouter remembers them) was a bit disappointing to me, even when the landscape was rather cool. It reminded me at one point a bit of Painter's Pallette in Death Valley

After visiting the hoodoo's we returned in the direction of Drumheller and had lunch at the Star Mine Suspension Bridge.  It used to serve as access to a historic mine.  While crossing the bridge we saw a beaver taking a swim in the Red Deer River, which was pretty awesome. Since I was too busy freaking out on the wobbling bridge, I could not take out my camera to take a picture of the animal. I only have pictures with fixed ground under my feet. 

The afternoon was dedicated to the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  It felt a bit a pity to spend such a nice afternoon in a museum but I had promised the children dinosaur skelletons so off we went.

The entrance boosted another set of synthetic dinosaurs but right away the museum showed off it's impressive collection of fossils, dinosaur remains etc.   Wow, this was impressive!  The Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller sure is a top class museum and must be one of the leading paleontologic research institutions.  It felt like a relief after passing the tourist trap of the world's biggest dinosaur downtown.

Somehow I expected to run into Ross Geller in one of the museum halls :D.

The children were intrigued by the dozens of skeletons of triceratops, albertosaurus, stegosaurus, T-rex, ...and Kabouter was asking a lot of questions on the displays.  I was intrigued to learn and realise that all dinosaurs did not live together in the same era at all. I had no clue!  And that "jurassic" is in fact a reference to one of the geologic periods. Hmm, yes of course you all knew that.  To me , dinosaurs had been just a bunch of huge scary dangerous animals that went extinct and had been hyped due to some stupic movies.
I learned why in Yoho National Park, the Burgess Shale was always pointed out.

But what I saw and learned now was cool. Learning how the Canadian rockies and foothills have been shaped in the earth's history and how erosion now was releasing the earths secrets and giving us fossils and dinosaur bones. The museum had one lab visible where researches were working on several excevasions with great patience and precision.

Of course I had to speed through the museum...compared to any other human being, my pace in a museum is always 3 times as slow as I want to read and absorbe all information multiple times and with 2 toddles, that's not quite feasible. So I sort of strode through the halls with bones and the ice ages halls with mastodons and mammoths etc.   But it was still cool.

Back outside, we took another trail through the badlands around the museum to grasp a last time these landscapes and erosion giving away such an incredible amount of dinosaur remains. 

So conclusion: a day-trip from Calgary to Drumheller is definitely worth it. If you have more time, you should probably combine it with the Dinosaur Provincial Park...the actual location 2 hours further away where a lot of the excavations actually took/take place.
And if you want a lot more impressive hoodoos plus archeologic first nation's carvings in rocks, continue 4 hours south to go to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park nearby the US border, which is nominated and is pending for the UNESCO world heritage list.   I guess we'll have to make a south-east tour in Alberta next time we visit. 


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