Albertosaurus was shorter than most of the RVs I’ve been stuck behind on my journey around the great province of Alberta, but as a smaller ancestor of T. rex, he still packed a serious bite. Somehow I fell in love with this species that is no more, perhaps because this dinosaur of the Late Cretaceous was named after a manmade geopolitical boundary for a province that was only officially admitted in 1905. As a traveler in the big badlands of western Canada, I was determined to find it.
Last month I was lucky enough to learn how to find dinosaur bones, and so this weekend, I took my newfound knowledge and put it to work out in Dinosaur Provincial Park. From the driver’s seat, eastern Alberta looks flatter than a coffee table, but out here, suddenly, the land opens like a gaping wound, and the sandstone slopes turn awesomely mysterious.
These are the Canadian Badlands (fom the French: les mauvaises terres à traverser), and they are packed with dinosaur bones. Simply walking around various sections of the eroding landscape, I saw entire, whole dinosaur leg and pelvic bones sticking up out the surface, exposed by the wind and water erosion that carves such fantastic shapes from the rock substrate.
Working with David Lloyd from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, I spent an afternoon uncovering bits of Centrosaurus skeleton, to which there is no end in this eternal dinosaur land. Brushing dust away in the hot sun, and touching actual dinosaur bones with my bare fingers, felt like traveling back in time.
For an even better glimpse of what the world was like 75 million years ago, I spent the following afternoon at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which, in my humble opinion, is the best dinosaur museum on Earth. It was there that I got to see my Albertosaurus, both as a skeleton, and as a full-scale model, complete with a nasty overbite and leering eyes.
And there, in the museum, gazing into this creatures’ representative plastic eyes, I realized that although this dinosaur might have been smaller than the giant dinosaurs of stage and screen, none of those RV’s would stand a chance against Albertosaurus.