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article imageInside Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park

By Karen Graham     Nov 10, 2013 in Travel
Located in the badlands of Alberta, Canada is a place of such stellar beauty and awe-inspiring landscapes, it takes your breath away. Dinosaur Provincial Park is not only a place great creatures roamed 75 million years ago, it's also their graveyard.
Only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Calgary, Canada, Dinosaur Provincial Park is a trek back in time for everyone in the family to enjoy. Located in the badlands of Alberta (the largest badlands in Canada), the park itself covers about 28 sq. miles in area. There is a visitors center, gift shop and fossil preparation area, too.
What makes Dinosaur Provincial Park unique is its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To be considered, a site must exemplify cultural or physical significance on a global scale. UNESCO has ten different criteria, and a site must meet at least one of the criteria. Dinosaur Provincial Park met two of them. The park became a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Dinosaur Provincial Park met two of the criteria for being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dinosaur Provincial Park met two of the criteria for being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chris Stubbs
The park is home to the greatest number of fossil discoveries ever made. The fossils date back 75 million years. Over 35 species of dinosaur have been identified with over 60 specimens representing more than 45 genera and 14 families.
Besides the paleontological value of the park, visitors will find a diversity of plant and animal life, as well as geological formations. The significance of the park being in Alberta's "badlands" is also important. An understanding of how the badlands were formed is helpful in understanding the diversity of dinosaur fossils and bones found in the park.
The late Cretaceous period, 75 million years ago
Picture in your mind a place with a sub-tropical climate. It's warm, with plenty of rain, rivers, streams and marshes. The coastal plain, as far as you can see is covered in some areas with lush, thick forests. The rivers run east, into a great inland sea, its warm waters teeming with life. There is abundant animal and plant life, as well as at least 35 species of dinosaurs.
When these animals died, many of their bodies ended up in the river beds, mud flats and marshes, where over time, pressure, lack of oxygen and an overlaying of sand and other materials produced fossils. As the years went by, more layers of sediment covered the area, and all was preserved.
The Ice-Age 13,000 years ago
At the end of the last ice-age, as the glaciers retreated, the top layers of the earth were scraped off, while the huge amounts of melt-water seeped deep into the crevasses formed by the retreating ice. This caused the soft cretaceous shale and sandstone to be exposed, and formed the deep valleys, canyons and "hoodoos" seen as a reminder of the passing ice.
 Hoodoos  6 km. east of Drumheller  Ca.
"Hoodoos" 6 km. east of Drumheller, Ca.
What is left now is called the "badlands." They are a geological marvel unsurpassed by any other place in the world. Visitors have taken in the landscape and called it, "unworldly." And it is truly like going back into another time, and place. The climate now is not like Florida, as it was 75 million years ago, but instead it is one of the warmest, driest subregions in Alberta.
With dry mixed grasses, cacti and shrubs, it looks very different, not unlike a moonscape. Streams are rare here, and the very few that do exist are cut deep into the bedrock. Looking across the panorama of striated valley walls, one can read the history of the world in a glance. The ecosystem in the park is complex, consisting of prairie, badlands and river cottonwoods. A strange combination, yet ecologically complementary to each other.
Only 30 percent of the park is open to the public. The remainder is set aside for archaeological digs and research. Visitors can hike the trails in the open part on their own, or take guided bus tours with very knowledgeable guides. It is also possible to go on a "dig" and be part of a team unearthing a fossil find.
If this writer had a "bucket list," a visit to Dinosaur Provincial Park would be number one at the very top of the list. My interest was piqued after seeing a Discovery Channel documentary about the park, and it is nothing less than a marvel of nature.
More about Unesco, World Heritage Site, Alberta, Badlands, Dinosaurs
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