By Donna MacNaughton
(Reprinted from Legacy Magazine, Spring 2006)
In a land sculpted by great rivers millions of years ago, stone giants rise up to greet visitors at Dinosaur
Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta. The prairie grassland drops away suddenly to a valley filled with
hoodoos, pinnacles and buttes. It’s called the Badlands and anyone who can see shapes in the clouds
can easily see the giants. The Aboriginals once believed that these stone giants came to life at night to hurl
rocks at them. It may be a legend, but the imposing giants form an eerie landscape that you might imagine
seeing on the moon.
One would be forgiven for thinking they’ve descended into another world when following the winding road
that leads down into the park. A time-traveler landing in that spot seventy-five million years ago would see a
completely different scene. Great rivers flowed into a warm inland sea and the climate was similar to that
found in the southeastern United States today. The park was populated by subtropical forests and was the
habitat of turtles, crocodiles, and sharks. The only giants around in those days were the dinosaurs.
As the land dried over the millions of years that followed, sand and mud deposits made perfect conditions
for preserving the dinosaur bones as fossils. Returning to the present time, that same time-traveler would
discover that Dinosaur Provincial Park is a World Heritage Site and is one of the most famous spots in the
world for fossil finds.
Walking one of the five interpretive trails in the park, it’s easy to imagine yourself alone among the giants.
The rock formations rise up high enough to block the view of the trail as it winds through them. The terrain
is partially made up of Bentonite clay that becomes slippery when wet and is almost like concrete where
the sun has baked it in temperatures that can reach thirty-five degrees Celsius (ninety-five degrees
Fahrenheit). The rock in the park is a mixture of sandstone and shale, and the glowing colors—terra cotta,
bronze, and amber—are very impressive.
Visitors must be careful when hiking the trails, not only because of the heat and the sometimes-slippery
clay, but the Badlands are home to many critters, such as rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, and
scorpions. Other wildlife, like pronghorn antelope, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, and birds may be a little less
dangerous, but signs abound to warn hikers to respect the animals and leave an escape route for all of
The park is relatively small, only seventy-three square kilometers, and can be reached after a thirty minute
drive northeast of the town of Brooks or a two hour drive east of Calgary, Alberta. Services for visitors
include a campground, group area, Interpretive Centre, and a service centre with many amenities.
Towering cottonwoods shade the land near the river, where visitors can find a playground and picnic area.
Despite the size of the trees by the river, nothing can overpower the stone giants who guard the land.
Because of them, visitors camping in the park at night can rest easily, knowing that they won’t be sleeping
with dinosaurs—at least not live ones.
|Copyright 2008 Donna MacNaughton. All rights reserved. Site by Donna MacNaughton