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A Visit Back to the Time of Dinosaurs

Updated: Jun 15

Thursday, June 13 we ventured up to see the Dinosaur Provincial Park in the Alberta Badlands. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated within a two hour drive east of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; or 48 kilometers (30 mi), about a half-hour drive northeast of Brooks where we are staying.

The park is situated in the Red Deer River valley, which is noted for its striking badland topography, and abundance of dinosaur fossils. The park is well known for being one of the richest dinosaur fossil locales in the world. Fifty-eight dinosaur species have been discovered at the park and more than 500 specimens have been removed and exhibited in museums around the globe. The renowned fossil assemblage of nearly 500 species of life, from microscopic fern spores to large carnivorous dinosaurs, justified its becoming a World Heritage Site in 1979. We started in the Visitor's Centre (note the Canadian spelling) to get our bearings. The park employee recommended we drive the 3K scenic loop past the campgrounds. We also purchased tickets for the 2 PM Explorer Bus Tour into the restricted "Paleo" zone of the park.

During our drive through the scenic loop we stopped periodically to walk the trails and examine the display structures protecting the excavation sites preserved for the visitors. It was really fascinating to see the fossil remains still in the rock and the extent and care that the researchers use to recover them.

According to the park information displays, the geologic sediments exposed in the badlands at Dinosaur Provincial Park were laid down over a period of about 1.5 million years during the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous epoch, and belong to three different geologic formations. The top of the terrestrial Oldman Formation, which outcrops at the base of the sequence, is the oldest. It is overlain by a complete section of the terrestrial Dinosaur Park Formation, which is in turn overlain by the base of the marine Bearpaw Formation. The Dinosaur Park Formation, which contains most of the articulated dinosaur skeletons, was laid down between about 76.5 and 74.8 million years ago. It was deposited in floodplain and coastal plain environments by river systems that flowed eastward and southeastward to the Western Interior Seaway.

After a brief break for something to eat we walked back up to the Visitor's Centre to meet our tour group for the bus. Our tour guide and driver Griffin told us we we about to travel back in time as we entered the restricted preserve area, She talked about the historical, cultural and scientific value of the park.

One of the highlights of the tour was the story about the Corythosaurus exhibit on the tour. The first specimen was discovered in 1911 by Barnum Brown in Red Deer River of Alberta and secured by him in the Fall of 1912. As well as an almost complete skeleton, the find was notable because impressions of much of the creature's skin had also survived. This Corythosaurus is among the finest dinosaur specimens ever found. The preservation of fossilized skin impressions and a meshwork of calcified tendons that stiffened the tall vertebrae make it a rare find.

Corythosaurus is a member of the group of duck-billed dinosaurs called hadrosaurs, which walked and ran on their two hind legs. The species’ strange skull is capped by a crescent-shaped helmet that contains extended tubes, which formed elaborate nasal passages. Its name is derived from the Greek word κόρυς, meaning "helmet", named and described in 1914 by Barnum Brown.

This specimen found on the preserve site was left in the rock and examined near where it was found to prevent damaging the fossil remains in transportation. An exhibit was built around the remains so visitors can walk up to and see up close this creature from the past.

From our campsite at Tillebrook Provincial Park we plan on traveling north near the town of Drumheller, Alberta to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum where many of these fossil remains are assembled and on display.


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