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Adventure: Digging For Dinosaurs in Alberta's Badlands

There was a time at our house when dinosaurs ruled. My four-year-old would not leave the house without carting along his large, rubber brontosaurus. Pictures of the terrifying creatures papered the walls. Even suppertime was taken over by the “dinosaurs” roaring at their broccoli.

Add Jurassic Park and Barney, recent discoveries of important dinosaur bones in Morocco and Saskatchewan, and “Lost World,” a brand-new dinosaur sequel by Michael Crichton and it seems as if the whole world has gone dinosaur mad. In response, tourist areas, museums and theme parks are catering to the current craze with animated creatures, tours of digs, and dinosaur day camps. Families can now plan entire vacations hunting for extinct lizards and really dig it. When Stephen Spielberg’s sequel to Jurassic Park is released next spring, dino sites and digging beds are sure to become crowded. So if you have any junior “dino-maniacs” living at your house, here’s where you can catch the action:

DINOSAUR DIGS Imagine the thrill for a kid of digging up the first dinosaur egg in an area known only for its bone beds. That’s just what a 14-year-old girl did at Family Dino Camp in Fruita, Colorado (about four to five hours west of Denver. Kids from six years excavate fossil replicas, do simulated lab work and hike the Trail through Time while teens and parents unearth finds at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry. Ages 16 and up can also choose expeditions in Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. Tools such as whisk brushes, hammers and kneeling pads and expertise from professional diggers are provided. Call the Dinomation International Society at 1-800-344-3466.

In Canada, southern Alberta is prime dinosaur country. There are giant replicas at highway junctions, ongoing digging, and probably the world’s largest collection of dinosaur skeletons at the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller. Over 35 of the life-size creatures who used to roam this fertile marsh are on display, some two stories high.

Kids are amazed to find out that they too can help scientists with their research. The museum’s Vacation Day Camps lets seven to 12-year-olds unearth bones at a working site, make dinosaur models to take home, and play survival dinosaur games. Those over ten who are absolutely hooked as budding paleontologists can join adults for their Day Digs Program in the nearby quarry. But be warned—it can be hot and dusty. If the kids lose interest, there’s nothing else out there for them to do until the bus takes them back to town. Serious dino diggers though love it and beg to come back for more. There’s also a Dig Watch Program that takes any age on a guided two-hour tour to watch ongoing research in a bone bed. Call 1-888-440-4240 for fees and to book a tour or a dig.

HOT OFF THE PRESS By all reports, kids will love the two spectacular new dinosaur exhibits in Denver, Colorado and New York City. With good reason. The two natural history museums spent about U.S. $42 million combined to recreate life-size copies of actual sites and reconstruct skeletons of dinosaurs you’ve never heard of. Your four-year-old can roll “diplodocus” and “stegasauros” off the tip of his tongue but try getting him to identify a four-storey-high mother apatosaurus. Both museums have interactive displays to keep kids entertained as well as educated.

Two years ago, one of only 12 Tyrannasaurus Rex skeletons found so far in the world was discovered in Eastend, Saskatchewan. He’s on show at the Eastend Fossil Research Station near the Alberta border. In Dinosaur Provincial Park, near Brooks, Alberta, there’s a field station where recently excavated fossils are prepared for shipment to Drumheller. You can watch the scientists at work and then drive around the badlands, imagining the more than 35 species that roamed the plain before mass extinction. Not a Barney among them. More than 150 complete specimens have been found in the area including a herd of 80 three-horned Centrosaurus dinosaurs.

REPLICA DINOSAURS If you like your dinosaurs already put together with hides and horns, try the new “Jurassic Park” ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California. It’s a river log splash through a jungle of awesome prehistoric creatures. Or what about a dinosaur “garden?” At the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park in Vernal, near the town of, what else, Dinosaur, kids can explore an outdoor park where 16 life-size concrete dinos, including a 90-foot-long diplodocus, are hidden in the brush. Everyone gets a “Dinosaur Hunting License” signed by Al O’Saurus. And here’s a factory tour with a difference. In the village of Churchtown near Hudson, New York, Louis Paul Jonas Studios have been been making life-size replicas for museums and theme parks for over 30 years. Kids can visit to watch how a real-looking dinosaur is formed. Call (518) 851-2211 to see which creature they are currently piecing together and ask if your kids can come to see one of these terrifying but much-loved monsters actually come to life.





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