Chasing dinosaurs (and roadside attractions) across the Prairies.
Perhaps my childhood obsession — filling the pages of a sketchbook with pastel portraits and the facts I’d gleaned from the How and Why Wonderbook of Dinosaurs — was unusual. That, and posing my collection of plastic dinos for photos in the swampy meadow behind our house. But when a return trip from the west coast saw me traversing the prairies on a 2022 Suzuki V-Strom DL650XA, my latent love had me leaping at the chance to explore the many sites in central Canada that are devoted to the prehistoric.
Rather unintuitively, however, this leg of the adventure began in the galactic future, where I met the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise — or at least their cardboard cut-outs. Rolling into Vulcan, Alta. (pop. 1,769), I discovered a diminutive town with a playful soul. A replica of the iconic Star Trek starship hovered outside the visitor centre, and inside I was met by a friendly Trekkie and a centre full of just about anything Trek-related anyone might ever hope to own — including a photo of oneself sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge. Of course, I sat. A short walking tour past sci-fi murals on the main street led to a transporter (where, again, I posed), and a bronze bust of Mr. Spock. It was accompanied by a cast handprint from Leonard Nimoy, who had himself visited in 2010. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of VulCON, an annual convention featuring various celebrities from the franchise.
Famous Watering Hole
Turning my front wheel toward Drumheller, it was time to turn my attention to the past. By degrees. En route, I followed Eleven Bridges Road to the ghost town of Wayne, where all that remained of a mining settlement were the Rosedeer Hotel and Last Chance Saloon. Both had a storied past and looked like they’d just stepped out of a Western film. (In fact, several movies had been shot here, including Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Noon.)
After sailing endlessly across the open prairie, it was a shock to drop over the lip of the Red Deer River Valley and gaze across its yawning expanse. Several hundred metres below, I stopped for the obligatory photo in downtown Drumheller with the “World’s Biggest Tyrannosaurus Rex” (it was monstrous!). But I was headed for the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology which housed the largest collection of fossils in Canada. There I stood face-to-jaws with Black Beauty, one of the world’s most complete skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was mesmerized by displays of Albertosaurus, Triceratops, and five other Guinness World Record-holding dino skeletons.
A Popular Loop
As darkness fell, I rolled out my bivy on the edge of Horse Thief Canyon and watched the Red Deer River meandering through badlands that marched to the horizon. A snowy owl set down unobserved on a fence post right behind me, and a startling screech shot a tremor up my spine. By his second cry — and before I could grab my camera — he was off again on hushed wings.
I wasn’t sure if he had been curious about this unusual intruder, or simply interested in the complex of prairie dog holes all around me. It was a very…