Outdoor Report: Dinosaurs and Hoodoos in the Badlands
For an amazing and truly unique adventure this summer, head to the town of Drumheller, Alberta.
Drumheller lies in the Red Deer River valley in the heart of the Canadian badlands and calls itself the “Dinosaur Capital of the World” - visiting is like a step back in time.
75 million years ago this region was a tropical landscape of giant ferns and lush palm trees where dinosaurs roamed. When ice age glaciers retreated they scraped out the valley, then thousands of years of water and wind erosion created the colourful canyons, hoodoos and gullies you see today.
At least 40 dinosaur species have been found here and scientists make major discoveries every year. There are many different ways to explore the area – a driving tour, camping, hiking, golf, exploring Blackfoot heritage, mining history and more – get information for planning your Canadian badlands adventure here.
The world-famous Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller is a great place to start.
There are nine galleries with thrilling exhibits of dinosaur skeletons and vivid life-sized dinosaur replicas, here are the current exhibits.
There are hands-on activities plus behind-the-scenes video tours so you can see what happens to fossils after they’re discovered. There are a number of creative interactive opportunities for kids to experience what it’s like to dig in a quarry or make fossil replicas. You’ll find more information about summer programs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum here. There’s also a self-guided 1.4 km trail nearby which is suitable for all ages and perfect if you’re a bit short on time. Check out the hoodoos for yourself and see if you can imagine them coming alive at night, as Deb Matejicka explained in the video above.
Of all the campgrounds I’ve visited across Canada this is one of the most memorable.
A two hour drive from Drumheller takes you to Dinosaur Provincial Park.
It’s a UNESCO world heritage site and contains the world’s richest deposit of dinosaur bones – and you can camp here, right in the heart of the badlands.
Talk about a truly unique experience! Millions of years ago these giants would have been thundering through the campground - think about that when you’re lying in your tent at night and feel the resonance of the area’s famous history.
For outdoor lovers there’s canoeing, kayaking and fishing on the Red Deer River, biking, plus self-guided trails for hiking.
The park highlight for many visitors is taking part in a guided interpretive program. Most of the park’s a protected area so this is the only way to access many areas. A short minibus trip took us deep into the badlands where a naturalist uncovered protected bonebeds to reveal where more significant dinosaur bones had been found. He also pointed out smaller bone fragments scattered along the paths we would have easily missed. For the sake of preservation we were allowed to touch the bones with just one finger – yes, I touched real dinosaur bones that had been there for millions of years. Amazing.
Depending on availability visitors can sign up for guided tours of fossils fields and visits to bonebeds, some tours offer a chance to prospect for fossils, and there are even trips that offer a lucky few the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in an authentic dinosaur dig. Visiting Dinosaur Provincial Park is like being in a huge outdoor living laboratory, an incredible experience. Isn’t Canada great?!
The badlands have a dry climate and summers can be scorching. Take this July for example – during the first three weeks the average daytime high temperature was 27.8°C and the hottest day was the 16th, 35.2°C The closest I’ve ever come to getting heat stroke was here, there’s almost no shade and the heat can be like a sledge hammer. Be prepared, dress in light clothing, wear a hat and drink lots of water. Get the latest Drumheller forecast and check the bug report too here.
TIME LAPSE TUESDAY: Dinosaur Provincial Park with John Novotny.
Although the badlands climate is more extreme we all experience periods of hot dry weather in summer, which can be a big challenge for gardeners.
Ever heard of ‘xeriscaping’?
It’s the rather practical idea of grouping together plants with similar water needs, also known as ‘hydrozoning’. For example, put thirstier plants in one part of the garden and more drought-tolerant plants in another.
This approach allows you to water more efficiently, giving only what’s needed to each area. Great concept! If you’re now considering making changes to an existing bed or creating a new one, make sure you read my gardening column for useful tips on garden design.
“The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone – and to no one.”