Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Canada’s Boneyard

executive summary by darmansjah
ON THE DRIVE southeast from Calgary to Canada’s badlands, eerie hoodoos (rock pinnacles rising up from the Red Deer River Valley) first signal to kids they’ve time traveled back some 75 million years. Although mesmerizing, this wind-and-water-carved landscape is but a gateway to a real T.rex-size dinosaur adventure.

Dinosaur Provincial Park-a UNESCO World Heritage site-is the final resting place of countless dinosaurs. During the late Cretaceous period, it was a marshy coastal plain, and dinosaur thrived in its warm, subtropical climate. Now it’s dry and barren-except for the treasure of fossilized bones the animal left behind. “The most amazing thing you first notice is the amount of dinosaur bones out there. It’s the real deal-no cement dinosaur statues here. You step on actual dinosaur bones, and sometimes you see a giant bone sticking out of nowhere and think, shouldn’t that be in a museum?” says family travel writer Jennifer Merrick, who made a pilgrimage to the park with her nine-year-old son.

More than 40 species of dinosaurs have been discovered at the park, and although hundreds of specimens have been removed for display in museums, kids won’t notice or care. “As soon as you get out to the fossil fields, kids will find bones right, left, and center. There are so many dinosaur bones that soon kids won’t even look for them anymore because they’re so common. Instead, kids start searching for microfossils, dinosaur teeth, and crocodile scutes, the bony plates under the skin or prehistoric amphibians,” says Merrick.

Because most of the area is a protected natural preserve, access to the fossil sites is restricted and guided tours are limited-so make reservations for the hands-on Fossil Safari well in advance. Try to sign up for Dinosaur Day Camp (ages 7-12) to learn excavation techniques and tour the park’s badlands. During the fossil-finding program, kids learn what to look for an then are set free to dino-hunt, without digging or pocketing any treasures, of course.

Helpful human and printed guides assist kids in identifying what they’ve found .these moments of discovery make dinosaurs exciting again, even for older kids who have relegated their models and books to storage in the attic.

“Being there rekindled my son’s love of dinosaurs,” say Merrick. “After visiting the park, we stopped for one last look from the edge of the canyon. My son pointed out toward the badlands, saying, ‘Look, there’s an Alberstosaurus (a bipedal predator who roamed western North America more 70 million years ago).”
“Learning about the history and the time period made the dinosaurs come to life,” says Merrick.

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