Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ancient History

Dinosaurs! Real! Live! Dinosaurs!

Ok, slight overstatement. After all, the last dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago (aside from maybe an island near Hawaii). Today we saw the next best thing to the real animals: their fossilized remains. Today we went to Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands.

Unlike the environs of Banff, Jasper, and Canmore, 90 minutes of driving east from Calgary doesn't afford stunning views of aggressive geological upheaval. As the drive was rather plain, I was hopeful that the hoodoos - the first stop on our trek today - would be well worth it. They did not disappoint!

The hoodoos sit at the bottom of what was once a great river, millions of years ago. Over millennia, the river deposited silt in the river-bed, resulting in a soft rock foundation.  As the river receded, this soft rock was exposed to erosion by rain and wind.  In some places, however, a "cap" of hard stone protects the soft rock underneath it from being washed away by the rain. Little by little, a tower of soft rock with a hard stone lid is formed as the rain erodes the unprotected earth around it.

 As we climbed the bank of the old river bed out of the coulee, we passed millions of years of earth's history, painted in layers of exposed earth. There was even a dark layer of coal, showcasing a bit of recent history of this place - when  it was a coal-mining town.

(Just for you, Garry.  I know you love those "arms up" photos!)

It was an aggressive climb in dry conditions. Had it been wet, the path would have been a clay slide, impossible to mount. Once we reached the top, we found two things:

1. Incredible views of the landscape in all directions, with more coulees showcasing the brilliant colours in each layer of earth, and

2. Mosquitoes! Tons of hungry mosquitoes! We took a quick photo and scampered back down into the safety of the old river.

Having satisfied ourselves with the hoodoos, we ventured into Drumheller, the city.  Or "the town". There's one major tourist attraction in Drumheller, which is the Royal Tyrrell Museum. On our way there, we witnessed Drumheller's efforts to showcase its dinosaur history.

I suppose there are two major tourist attractions in Drumheller if you include the World's Largest Dinosaur. As it's made of fiberglass rather than fossilized bone, it was worth a little less attention.

I'm not sure if or when I will ever be back in Drumheller, but if it happens, I want to spend more time at the museum.  Devoted to paleontology and largely focused on the habitats that were once in the Alberta Badlands, the museum is jaw-dropping even if you don't carry an innate interest in fossils. (Just ask Mindy!)

The largest known animal ever to inhabit our planet. This whale-like creature's head was three metres long!

Not the biggest, but certainly the most terrifying! This Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil is the actual thing - not a cast! Black Beauty, so named for it's distinctive colour (a result of chemical processes on the fossil over millions of years in the ground), is one of the most complete T-Rex fossils ever found. The fossilized head is actually the one at the base - it is too heavy to mount in the position it was found. 

I could have stared at Black Beauty for hours, but there was so much else interesting to see!

Three totally different animals from different eras, yet the same bones comprise the forelimb: humerus, tibia, fibula, wrist bones, etc.. Evolution found a way that works for land animals on earth and ran with it.

With far too much undiscovered, it was time to leave the Royal Tyrrell and head back to Calgary. The sleepy drive back through farmland and fields was suddenly interrupted as Calgary's buildings leap out of the landscape at the side of a river. 

We are staying in a downtown hotel tonight - the Calgary Marriott - where we are once again being treated to a stunning room.  With a view of the pedestrian street in the downtown, below, It made us want to host an event from our suite!

Instead of hosting any event, Paul and Stella picked me up to join them for a drink at a park near their place. The park showcased perhaps the best view of downtown Calgary.

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