Take a Hike Back in Time in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Would you discover dinosaurs in Alberta's baddest park?

There are many things that bewilder me in this world, and dinosaurs would most certainly be placed somewhere near the top of the list. That bewilderment and deep curiosity I have for these inconceivable creatures is what draws me to places like Dinosaur Provincial Park.

I knew from pictures a little of what to expect from this region with the highest concentration of Cretaceous fossils in the world. Approximately 150 complete dinosaur skeletons have been discovered within these 80 square kilometres alone, and about 50 different species. But pictures do no justice to the landscape that you drop into from the otherwise flat plains surrounding the Red Deer River Valley. The 220-kilometre drive from Calgary is devoid of all sensory stimulation, unless you count the dry summer heat and relentless prairie wind. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the ground starts to open up, revealing Alberta’s infamous Badlands.

The term ‘badland’ comes from when French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” simply meaning, ‘bad lands to travel through.’ The dramatic scenery that unfolded before me was like nothing I had ever seen before. Years of wind and water erosion have carved the sandstone into canyons, ravines, gullies and hoodoos, creating an otherworldly landscape. Yet, right through the middle of this harsh scene, a muddy river carved its way through, giving life to banks full of diverse birds, blooming wildflowers and towering trees: a distinct contrast and a stark reminder how crucial water is for survival.

To make the most of our time in the park, my husband and I set up camp in the nearby Steveville Campground. This site had no amenities other than picnic tables and pit toilets, but it also didn’t have a camping fee. In the morning, we made our way into the park and chose from one of the 200 sites available for tents and RVs. The canvas tents available for rent—complete with beds, kitchen supplies, barbeques and private patios—were tempting; however, my husband and I chose to keep it simple and strung our hammock between two trees, creating our own little oasis from the surrounding dustbowl. Other park amenities included showers, a laundromat and cafe.

Guided tours led paying guests though the natural preserve, which is otherwise closed to the public. Explorer’s Bus Tour, Fossil Safari, Centrosaurus Quarry Hike and Sunset Tour were just some of the interpretive tours on offer. But if you don’t have the extra money to spend on tours, don’t worry! There was also a three-kilometre scenic drive that traverses the rest of the park and passes by five self-guided hiking trails. My personal favorite was the Cottonwood Flats Trail. We followed the trail for 1.5-kilometres along the Red Deer River and through some of the largest assortment of plants and wildlife in the prairies, all while being shaded by a canopy of magnificent cottonwood trees. It made for the perfect break between exploring the dry, hot badlands.

On our final morning, we woke up early to catch the sun rise over the ancient landscape. With very few places to find respite from the midday sun, the crisp morning air was welcomed. During the day, the vista was void of color, like a dull canvas. But at sunrise (and sunset), it was splashed with vibrant colour, illuminating the land before time. It wasn’t until the colors retreated that I also returned to the present.

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