Skidding on the loose soil I wobbled, flapping my arms to regain balance. Just a meter ahead of me my sister carried on upwards ignoring my bleating while jolting infrequently through her own noodle dance. After a few seconds I successfully fought off gravity’s affection and managed to acquire the proper vertical position once more. The last few steps to the top were simple, but I still had to chase my breath. Overhead the blue dome sky stretched on to forever. The clouds seemed to reach out from infinity. As the eternal hills and silent river posed for my eyes the trees continued their seasonal wardrobe change without pause.
I must have gazed upon this land at least a dozen times in my 22 years of life. Heck, I thought that the last time I laid sight on it I’d had my fill of Dinosaur Provincial Park.
A memory echoed across my thoughts. I was complaining about having to show it to my German relatives for the “thousandth time”. Living on a small prairie acreage two hours away from any major city by car meant there was never too terribly much to show my foreign relatives off-the cuff. The nearby man-made Lake Newell and this bulky park were just about the only constant gems on my mental shelf of “interesting places to see in the Brooks, Alberta area”.
The park’s claim to fame is that it’s home to one of the biggest depositories of dinosaur fossils in the world. Forty species that once roamed the ancient landscape have been dug out of the badlands and cottonwood river habitat.
It’s rich ecology and history placed it on the UNESCO list as a World Heritage Site in 1979.
You can visit a small field museum to view some of the bones paleontologists uncovered in the area or you can even visit the mother museum in Drumheller (which is an amazing place too).
The park doesn’t only present ancient history, it also houses the cabin from John Ware, a famous African-American cowboy who lived in the area when Alberta was still young.
There’s something for everyone: a physical workout, nature, dinosaurs, facts and history. I lived in the area most of my life and I’ve never had trouble with rattlesnakes, which are known to live in the area, but I’ve met plenty of white-tailed deer, rabbits and birds.
I admit I’ve never camped in the park (since I live so close), but a day trip is really all that’s needed to experience the park in my opinion.
There is a public route you can drive through with a series of trails visitors can hike for free. Each trail is in a different habitat and the differences are fantastically stark.
The first (third on the PDF map) is a trip through the badlands where you get to learn about popcorn rock, hoodoos, and what environmental conditions formed the lunar-like landscape.
The second (4th) leads to a 1913 quarry site and retells the story of historical local fossil hunters as they race to discover new dinosaurs.
The third (5th) provides a marvelous finish to the day with a gentle stroll through the cottonwood forest growing within the ancient Red Deer River flood plain.
If you are interested in having an expert around you can join a paid tour in the park too for a more in-depth experience.
From what I’ve read online the people who didn’t enjoy visiting the park had a tough time with the mosquitoes. I have to agree that sometimes these pests can be horrendous in the dead of summer.
So, for this site I highly recommend visiting it with an eye on the calendar. Exploring in early spring or late fall is the best time to dodge the bugs. You also get to see the diversity of the seasons. A visit in early spring means green grass and budding flowers, while a visit in late fall will reveal a valley full of gold and dusted brown.
I think this dynamic nature is what filled me with anticipation as I climbed the hill for the thousandth time. I was back from England for a two-week visit and decided to visit the park I’d been absent from for over a year.
Perhaps I wanted the reassurance that though I may be away for long periods of time the prairies would remain the same.
Overlooking the valley I hoped my home would continue to present a land of sprawling openness. As ineloquent as that word is it encompasses everything the place stands for in my memories. When I come home I come back to open land, open sky, open minds and open hearts. And that’s all I’ll ever need.