Drumheller

Royal Tyrrell Museum

From Lake Louise, we left the Rockies and drove east: destination Drumheller. The road was flat – very flat – and I was puzzled when we came to the 3km sign for Drumheller: where was it? Surely we should see it by now? Then the road suddenly plunged down into the Red Deer River Valley, and there it was at the bottom. We were in the Badlands! (Badlands are a type of dry terrain where soft sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water.) The next surprise was how small Drumheller is. We were here to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, a world leading institution, which we expected to have rather more sophisticated surroundings (sorry Drumheller).

The third surprise was unpleasant. Our hotel claimed to have no knowledge of us and was “fully booked”. Now, I spent my entire career in public service and I know that the answer to a problem is “Oh, I’m sorry that has happened – let’s see what we can do to fix it.” The two staff here had obviously missed that memo and were truculent and defensive. Apparently, it was all our fault for booking through a third party, despite the fact that we had booked most of our accommodation through the same site months in advance and had no problem anywhere else.  It became my responsibility to call the booking company to sort it out – I was grudgingly allowed to use one of the hotel phones when I pointed out that it would cost me a fortune to use a UK mobile. I have nothing but praise for the young lady I spoke to who then spent half an hour talking to one of the staff, and – surprise again! – it turned out they did have a room, although more expensive than the one we’d booked. I don’t know why they couldn’t have found this in the first place: presumably the booking company was inveigled into paying the extra amount. I shan’t name the hotel, but I definitely won’t be using that chain again.

After my blood pressure had returned to normal, we set out to explore Drumheller. They love their dinosaurs. This T Rex is the largest dinosaur in the world, apparently – the one on the right is much smaller, it’s just the perspective making them look similar.

There were also smaller dinosaurs all around town. We even met one in our (nameless) hotel lobby! He arrived every morning to entertain the children, but didn’t seem to mind being photographed with a couple of slightly older visitors.

Drumheller is a former mining area and, if we’d had time, there is a mining trail we could have followed. We did visit one historic mine (which I’ll include in a later post) and stop for reflection at the memorial in town to all those miners killed in the area. A lot of names.

As for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, which we visited on our first full day, it blew us away. It has to be one of the best museums I have ever visited. The layout was so clear that you could easily follow a logical path through it, and the signs had just the right amount of information. And if all you wanted to do was look at dinosaurs (there were many young children who were there to do just that), you could still have a ball.

Why have so many fossils, particularly dinosaurs, been found in Alberta? Apparently, it’s because of the high sedimentation rate in the Late Cretaceous Period which meant that dead animals were buried quickly before they started to decompose, preserving the skeletons intact.

The museum also has a Badlands Interpretive Trail (below) which we spent some time exploring before, mid-afternoon, returning to our hotel to freshen up for our next event at 6pm – the Canadian Badlands Passion Play.

We didn’t know until after we’d decided to visit Drumheller that this was on, but we jumped at the chance to get tickets when we found out. The epic representation of the life of Jesus has been produced every summer since 1994 and, if you live nearby or are likely to visit next July, I strongly recommend it. There are a few professional actors involved, but most are amateurs and they are simply amazing. Photography during the play is not allowed – the first picture below was taken by John beforehand and the other two were supplied to me as part of a set sent to ticket holders after the event, hence the attribution.

The Canadian Badlands Passion Play 2017
The set © Canadian Badlands Passion Play
Cast and crew © Canadian Badlands Passion Play

The site for the play was a few miles out of town and there were hundreds of cars parked, yet the volunteers directing us out were so efficient that we hardly had to queue at all before we were back out onto the main road. An excellent and well-organised event.

On our second day in Drumheller we set out to explore the Badlands further and get some hiking in. More next time!