Foot imprints have been uncovered in coal mines. Egg nests have been found in coulees. And discoveries continue to make headlines. In other words, Alberta does not lack in the dinosaur research department. Here are five ways to follow their tracks back to a time 75 million years ago when eastern Alberta was a lush, coastal plain teeming with herds of veggie-eaters and their predators.
The find ORNITHOMIMUS
Where to see it Some of the most significant finds at Drumheller’s Royal Tyrrell Museum are displayed in gold frames in the Lords of the Land exhibit, including this one, its bones arching in a striking death pose.
Why This one got Tyrrell paleontologists excited. It was the first discovery of a feathered dinosaur in North America and the first to establish the existence of feathers in ornithomimids. But these ostrich-like dinos didn’t fly, so what was the purpose of such plumage? Perhaps for mating displays or egg brooding, researchers suggest.
More info More than 40 complete dinosaurs are on display at Tyrrell, with 140,000 specimens in the collection. All that translates into a whack of engaging exhibits, from the recreated Cretaceous Garden to the majestic Dinosaur Hall.
The find ORNITHOLESTES
Where to see it Part of the Dino Adventure Hour at the Royal Tyrrell.
Why Even the youngest explorers can get a hands-on paleontology experience here. Children learn how to identify dinosaurs, pass around a mystery fossil (dinosaur poop, eww!), then grab bright pails and shovels to uncover this late-Jurassic-era specimen hidden under sawdust pellets. (While the ornitholestes was not found in Alberta, it is an interesting learning experience.)
More info The museum is rich in hands-on programs for all ages, from the Jr. Dig Experience to the Seven Wonders of the Badlands, a walking tour. Plan accordingly.
The find A HEADLESS HADROSAUR
Where to see it One stop on the car-accessible, all-weather Scenic Loop Road at Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, Alta.
Why It’s not much to look at: a partial skeleton embedded under Plexiglas in the hot, sandstone terrain of the park. But it reveals two significant details. One, it shows what a find looks like in situ. And two, it opens a connection to a time when fossil hunters scoured the badlands for bones worthy of museum dollars.
More info While there are trails and exhibits around the visitor centre, some of the best experiences involve getting out into the park. Programs include fossil safaris, sunset tours and guided hikes.
The find CENTROSAURUS BONE BED
Where to see it This is part of the almost three-hour Centrosaurus Quarry hike at Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Why After a vigorous climb over sandstone ridges and dry creek beds, visitors arrive at this dig site, where hundreds of single-horned centrosaurs are buried. What killed them? A flash flood? A tropical storm? It’s a dinosaur murder mystery.
More info If you’re keen for more, the park allows adult visitors to join real dinosaur digs on guided multi-day excavations.
The find A HADROSAUR EMBRYO NICKNAMED CHARLIE
Where to see it At the Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur & Heritage Museum in Warner, Alta.
Why A local teenager made the news in 1987 when she discovered fossil fragments of eggshells along the Milk River Ridge. Since then, several nests of hadrosaurs and troodons have been found, making it one of the richest nesting sites in North America. The hadrosaur embryo, stunning in its tiny details — from teeth to toe bones — was created out of three embryos and is the sole cast made. (The original is in climate-controlled care at the Royal Tyrrell.)
More info This is a low-key site compared with flashy Tyrrell, but handson displays, personalized tours and guided hikes of Devil’s Coulee (where eggshell fragments still litter the ground) make it a compelling stop.