Rugged and arid, Dinosaur Provincial Park’s Mars-like terrain features biscuit-coloured coulees, whose striped layers are composed of sedimentary rock and clay-rich soils. Located outside of Patricia, Alta., just two hours east of Calgary, this is Canada’s largest continuous stretch of badlands.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, this stark, but exceptionally beautiful, region was once a subtropical coastal plain upon which dinosaurs lived, roamed, died and were covered by sediment.
Seventy-five million years later, glacial meltwater at the end of the last ice age and subsequent wind and rain carved the Red Deer River Valley with its cottonwood trees, canyons and coulees. It also stripped away overburden (covering rock), exposing dinosaur and other fossilized wildlife remains. To date, 58 species of dinosaur have been discovered here, including the horned centrosaurus and the duck-billed lambeosaurus.
On five self-guided trails (open year-round), you’ll encounter plants and animals that succeeded those beasts. In June, the prickly pear bloom, and you’ll find prairie crocus and sage. Spot American kestrels, golden eagles and common nighthawks, as well as scorpions, pronghorn antelope and red fox.
Guided one-, two- and three-day excavation programs take visitors onto paleontological dig sites in restricted areas of the park. Hunt for fossils on a fossil prospecting tour, or take a guided excavation tour with experts such as paleontologist technician David Lloyd, who runs the guided excavation and fossil-prospecting programs at the park from June through September.
“You’ll learn how to dig up dinosaurs,” says Lloyd. “You might get to do some overburden removal, trench around fossils or map the fossils in the ground. You might also make field jackets, which are plaster and burlap covers that we put on the fossils to protect them.”
“I enjoy the excitement on people’s faces when they find something never before seen by human eyes,” he adds.
Aspiring paleontologists on the two- and three-day guided tours are housed in trailers by the visitors’ centre (also referred to as the Field Station). Here you can view ecological and fossil exhibits, take in short films on paleontology and pick up souvenirs in the gift store.
The park also features 125 campsites including comfort-camping units.
Three more badlands attractions:
Take a guided pottery factory tour in the city of Medicine Hat.
One of the world’s largest fossil collections is located in Drumheller.
This Star Trek treasury reopens in Drumheller this spring.
Getting there: WestJet flies to Calgary 111 times a day from 24 Canadian, 12 U.S. and 12 international cities.