Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Back from the Badlands
After our visit to the Three Rivers Rock & Fossil Museum, my hunger for more fossils grew. I wanted to see bigger ones, jutting out of rock. I'd heard about Dinosaur Provincial Park even as a kid, (didn't the Polka Dot Door do an episode once?) I wen hoping to see a parasaurolophus skull grinning out of the sandy matrix.

It was a long and beautiful drive out from Calgary. All of the sudden, the lightly rolling hills drop away, and we were in the Badlands proper.

We'd just made it, and hopped on board the 24-seater painted schoolbus, and our guide Eric sprayed misty water on us, claiming it was air conditioning.

He drove out to one of his two favourite spots, and as we got off the bus, he pointed out a femur in the dirt parking spot. It seemed so staged just laying there right where he parked the bus. Boy, was I wrong! We all sat down on some banana-coloured pieces of foam. There was a brief group lesson, everyone looking at small fossils of the kind we were likely to see. Crocodile teeth, scutes from crocodiles or euplocephalosaurus, herbivore teeth, femurs and a great many more.

We swore the One Finger Oath, and were shown how to do the lick-test to identify fossil bone. If you lick your finger, and press it hard against a suspected fossil, the tiny pores in the stony bone will create suction. We walked a few more paces, and the fossils were literally littering the ground underfoot. The picture at left shows a breathtaking lichen encrusted stone sitting on shattered manganese. The stone is likely a fossil, but it was so pretty I didn't lick my finger to test it out.

Our guide Eric was terrific. He spent a lot of time with the children, who eagerly tried to show off to him what they had found in a constant stream. Finding a large shattered femur, bulbous and amazing, I wanted to show off to him too, and grabbed his attention for a few moments. As I'd pass by, wandering on our little exploratory hill, I heard him say one of my favourite phrases for a scientist; "Wow. I don't know what that is, but I'm gonna have to find out". He said it more than once. This is education, kids.

This was one of the most incredibly exalting experiences I've ever had, just exploring this hill in a tiny section of the park. At right is another exposed femur, possibly some kind of hadrosaur. Could it be the parasaurolophus I had sought? It could. Nearby was a covered, partially-excavated spine and ribcage for our viewing pleasure.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is also famous for its centrosaurus beds. Centrosaurus, a ceratopsian with a very pretty head-shield can be found in abundance.

The park is an offshoot of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and more excavated wonders awaited us inside. The displays were heavy on information, and uncompromisingly scientific. Exhausted, the day only half gone by, it was the morning of a lifetime. The thrill of amateur, touristic discovery was rewarding and left me flush with wonder.

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