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Family Travel Ink
Road Trips: Driving Alberta’s Dinosaur Trail
Kids and dinosaurs are magnets and Canada offers one of the best dinosaur drives in the world—the Dinosaur Trail, a 47-km scenic loop through Alberta’s lunar-like Badlands. The famed route starts and ends at the town of Drumheller, (90 miles northeast of Calgary), where you’ll find the world’s largest fiberglass T-Rex. Climb106 stairs into the huge dinosaur mouth for a great view.
Now head westward along highway 838 for about seven kilometres to the world-class Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology. Known for its collection of 35 dinosaur skeletons, some two stories tall, the interactive museum lets kids examine an Albertosaurus or a Xiphactinus, handle a dinosaur eggshell or a raptor’s killer claw. In summer, older kids might want to stop for a guided two-hour Day Dig to watch professional paleontologists at work. Have a snack or lunch at the Museum or pack a picnic for later.
From Drumheller, take highway 10 east to highway 56 south to highway 1. At the town of Brooks follow the signs northeasterly to Dinosaur Provincial Park (about 2 hours from Drumheller) , one of the world’s best viewing and collecting spots for pre-historic skeletons. From this UNESCO World Heritage Site the rich fossil beds, rivaled only by discoveries in China’s Gobi Desert, have yielded more than 300 specimens now found in museums around the world.
Take a guided Fossil Safari walk or enjoy summer afternoon presentations at the visitor centre. The live theatre takes on, what else, a dinosaur theme. At the Royal Tyrrell Museum Field Station, about a mile from the park entrance, you might watch staff members prepare real fossils. (Note: guided tour reservations highly recommended. Call 403 378 4344.)
After a day in the sometimes extreme summer heat of the bone beds, your junior palaeontologists might just nod off during the two-hour drive back to Drumheller.
Royal Tyrrell Museum: 403-310-000;
Dinosaur Provincial Park: 403-378-4342;
Legends, totem carving and fossil hunts on Vancouver Island
Ready to do some time travelling? This scenic route along Vancouver Island’s eastern shore entertains and educates as kids of all ages learn to carve totem poles and hunt for ancient fossils.
From Victoria, take highway 1 north along what's known as the Malahat Drive, a stretch of road that passes by the salmon and eagle domain of Goldstream Provincial Park. Just past Cowichan Bay and before Duncan, follow the signs to the Quw'utsin' Cultural and Conference Centre on the Cowichan River. There, kids can listen to legends about ravens told by Cowichan First Nations peoples, help carve a totem in the world's largest carving shed or paint a spirit rock. On Sunday, there's a salmon brunch with special kids' prices. Or pick up a picnic in Duncan, City of Totems where 80 totem poles line the town streets.
Continue along highway 1, bypassing Nanaimo and turn on to highway 19 near Coombs. Continue all the way to Courtenay (about an hour and a half), the site of recent important fossil finds. At the Courtenay and District Museum & Paleontology Centre, join a weekend family fossil walk to an ancient riverbed. In 1988, fossil hunter Mike Trask and his 12-year-old daughter discovered the 75-ft. long skeleton of an ancient marine reptile known as the Elasmosaur. You’ll see it at the museum. With hammers, chisels and protective goggles, kids can chip away at the nodules and shale rock lining the river banks to unearth fossils of their own to keep—perhaps a small trilobite or shrimp fossil.
If you need to cool off on the way home, exit highway 19 near Qualicum Beach for 19A, the Oceanside Route. Follow the dancing starfish signs to Parksville Beach, boasting the warmest saltwater north of San Diego. Every August it’s the site of Canada's biggest sandcastle competition.
Quw'utsun'Cultural and Conference Centre: 1 877 746 8119 or 250 746 8119;
Courtenay and District Museum & Paleontology Centre: 250 334 0686;
Contact: Deborah Griffiths, Development Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org or Richard Boyle, Technical Supervisor email@example.com. Open June - August daily, Winter Tues to Sat.
For information on the Great Canadian Fossil Trail, visit www.fossiltrail.org
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