Writer Russell Purcell never did become an archeologist. Next best thing? Peel off in a Porsche 911 Turbo to visit the Alberta Badlands, heading east to the “Dinosaur Capital of the World.” Plus, Dinosaurs
Driving across the Canadian Prairies can be a monotonous task, even when behind the wheel of an exotic sports car like a Porsche 911 Turbo. The reality is that once you begin the journey eastward from Calgary you quickly lose sight of most of the topographical features that give our vast country its identity. Once you become accustomed to the set of scenic elements that dominate this gently rolling landscape- comprised of a patchwork quilt of coloured earth and grassy crops supported by a cast of puffy, cartoon-like clouds – the novelty is gone and boredom steps in, making for long spells of sameness interrupted by the occasional highway crew, accident scene, or remnants of road-kill.
As you streak through Alberta you may spot the occasional oil-pump rocking up-and-down like a dunking bird toy, or car-sized, round hay bales that often perform the secondary function of advertising through the use of wrap technology. Saskatchewan and Manitoba deliver Canada’s iconic grain elevators to the visual menu, which stand stoically above tiny hamlets that appear to be lost in time.
This bland feeling is amplified if you stick to the Trans Canada Highway as it cuts a relatively straight path from urban centre to urban centre as it travels the path of least resistance. I suggest you bust out a road atlas and do a little research before planning a trip through this region. I did just that before departing on my journey, as I knew there had to be some interesting sections of road to explore in an area as immense as this. My research lead me to Highway 9, a rural highway which begins at the Trans-Canada Highway, about midway (32 km) between Calgary and Strathmore near the town of Langdon. The first stretch heads north for about 50 kilometres before you cross the Rosebud River and begin to head east towards one of the most unusual places in Canada, the town of Drumheller.
I have always had an interest in dinosaurs and fossils, and had aspirations to be an archaeologist until I realized that dust, shovels, and pesky blood-sucking insects would become part of my daily routine if I chose that career path. However, my interest in these legendary monsters still burns strong, so the appeal of visiting Drumheller made this detour a highlight of my trip. Drumheller is located in the heart of the Canadian Badlands in Southern Alberta (138 kilometres from Calgary)and is the self-proclaimed “Dinosaur Capital of the World.”
My research lead me to Highway 9, a rural highway which begins at the Trans-Canada Highway, about midway (32 km) between Calgary and Strathmore near the town of Langdon.
As you approach Drumheller the road begins to twist and curve as you descend into the Red River Valley and into a landscape like no other. The road winds through a maze of steep, dry coulees and wind-sculpted hoodoos that give the area an almost supernatural appearance. The entire region was once covered by an immense inland sea, and millions of years of sedimentary deposits have been exposed by both glacial and fluvial erosion. The end result is a truly unusual topography characterized by prominent layers of rock that continue, to this day, to reveal many of the mysteries of the world’s past Age of the Dinosaurs, 230 million years ago.
You would be amiss to not spend an afternoon at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, an architectural showpiece that houses the world’s largest collection of dinosaur skeletons and fossils. What makes this place so unique is that most of the displays place the dinosaurs in a natural setting (using props and set dressings) or engaged in activities believed to be characteristic of each specimen, including battle. There are also many interactive activities for adults and children alike, as well as outdoor programs (Summer) that take you to active dig sites.
An excellent system of well maintained roads create a loop through the Drumheller region that has been designed to promote access to the many attractions in the area. Known as the Drumheller Valley Tour visitors can follow North Dinosaur Trail (Highway 838) for 6 kilometres to the Royal Tyrrell followed by Horsethief Canyon 10 kilometres further. The return route utilizes sections of Highways 837 and 575 (known locally as South Dinosaur Trail) to see most of the town’s commercial district before connecting with Hoodoo Trail (Highway 10) which will lead you 16 kilometres south east to the Willow Creek Hoodoos. Most of these roads are twisty as they follow the course of the Red Deer River, and the pavement is in exceptional condition.
A visit to the Drumheller region is a must for the immense educational opportunities alone, but taking in the sights and atmosphere showcased by the tour route is a great way to reinvigorate a car load of road weary travellers.
Learn more at Travel Drumheller