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DINOSAUR HUNTING BY RV
By Lauren Kramer
For Travel Writers' Tales

"I can't believe I'm doing this."

My husband is grimacing as he tries to empty the sewage, known in RV terminology as 'black water,' into a dumping station at an Albertan RV camp. I'm marveling at the fact that he's hardly complained, even after driving our rented RV for hours along Alberta's highways, a process he likens to pushing a bathtub uphill.

The RV is our proposed solution to the economic recession: a relatively cheap way to take a family of six out west to experience the Canadian Badlands, home to the greatest number of dinosaur fossils on earth. Our goal is to encourage the kids' interest in dinosaurs with an educational vacation, and on an economic level, to try a more luxurious version of camping without breaking the budget.

But try squeezing six people into a space not much larger than an average bathroom and you're bound to feel a little claustrophobic. Now add bad directions that accumulate unwanted hours on a long journey and a torrential downpour once you reach your destination, and what you get easily approaches the definition of a vacation gone wrong.

But it's how you look at the situation that defines your interpretation, and early evening in the Dinosaur Provincial Park in eastern Alberta, this is what I was mulling over. We'd arrived with frayed nerves after a seemingly never-ending drive, coming just in time for a quick dinner of grilled cheese at the park concession, the only eatery for miles. A two-hour bus tour of the park had ended just as the rain drenched this dusty land, and between the downpour and the rolling peals of thunder, we were confined to the trusty RV for hours.

Still, we were in a pretty unique spot, camping in a park that protects the remains of 75 million year old dinosaur bones, and boasts 38 different dinosaur species, making it one of the largest collections of fossilized dinosaur remains in the world. Out on tour with park rangers, it was clear that with every step we were treading on history, an ancient world carved into the majestic Badlands.

And despite their unfortunate name, those Badlands are quite magnificent. Etched with the colors of time, these stratified mountains descend to the ground with cracked, dry thighs, embracing each other like a community of tightly knit giants. Time and wind have given many of their peaks the appearance of faces, and in the dusky grey of a summer thunderstorm, it is easy to see the silhouettes of prehistoric creatures staring straight at you. Add the rumbling thunder and you half expect to see a dinosaur round the corner.

Today the land is a semi-arid desert, but back in the dinosaur heyday it was a beach on the cusp of the Bearpaw Sea, a lush landscape that was a clear favorite among Hadrosaurids, or duck-billed dinosaurs, whose fossils are now found here in abundance.

"This one was the size of our bus," our guide says as she points to the virtually intact fossil of one. Excavated in the late 1960s, this Hadrosaurid is curled up in an embryonic pose, leading scientists to hypothesize that it drowned by falling in a river, its remains quickly protected by the layers of sandstone and mudstone that accumulated on top of it. Dinosaur Provincial Park is a veritable bone-bed, an 80-square-kilometer stretch of remote Albertan soil that's richer in dino bone than anywhere else in the world.

To truly understand its significance we drive 90 minutes northwest to Drumheller, home to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The crown jewel of this town of 10,000, the Royal Tyrrell is the only Canadian museum devoted exclusively to paleontology and its exhibits are riveting.

There are the recreated figures of the dinosaurs that testify to their immensity, and the opportunity to peek into the laboratories of technicians who are patiently chipping away at rock surrounding newly found fossils. Hands-on displays help kids understand concepts like continental drift and how fossils form. And a movie to introduces visitors to the museum's scientists, who describe their passion for the work and its relevance today.

Tucked away in an RV park a few minutes from the town of Drumheller, we sit around a camp fire roasting marshmallows while the kids find instant playmates in the community of RVers around us. It's one of those rare moments of family beauty, when the whining has stopped and everyone is happily engaged. Yes, this is a far cry from a luxury cruise. But sometimes the road less traveled yields unexpected adventure. This RV road trip is one of those times.

If You Go:

* The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada's only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of palaeontology. In addition to housing one of the world's largest displays of dinosaurs, the Museum offers a wide variety of creative, fun, and educational programs that bring the prehistoric past to life. 1-888-440-4240; www.travelalberta.com
1.800.ALBERTA (252.3782)

* dinosaur provincial park
www.dinosaurpark.ca; (403) 378-4342

* RV company: www.canadream.com
1-800-461-7368

Photos - Mark Aginsky

1. Image 0757: At Horsethief Canyon, on the outskirts of Drumheller, the magnificence of the badlands is laid bare from a high precipice. In this windswept landscape you can truly appreciate the beauty of the rock formations and colour stratifications.

2. Image 0763: This Tyrannosaurus Rex looms high above the Drumheller Information Centre, informing all who come here that they have arrived in Dinosaur country.

3. Image 0860: The sandstone pillars known as hoodoos are scattered all over the Drumheller Valley. Standing up to seven metres tall, they take millions of years to form.

4. Image 6109: Against the blue prairie sky, these larger-than-life dinosaurs tower over the town of Drumheller.

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

 


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