Black Beauty

April 25, 2010

After a fascinating session with APHIS in Fort Collins on Friday I was a little too relaxed on Saturday morning when I was due on a 1205 flight to Calgary (by way of Dallas). It’s an hours drive from Fort Collins to the airport and I left at 0900 planning to buy a novel (I had mistakenly brought volume one of a new fantasy series when my policy is to wait for all volumes to be published) and find a Star Bucks City mug for Denver. Fort Collins branches only had Colorado. Between the two tasks (neither successful by the way) I lost all track of time and ended up arriving at the car lot with 50 minutes to go, luckily the bus left straight away and there was no check in or security queue but I still only just arrived as they were closing the gate.

I’d decided not to fly from Calgary to Edmonton for the conference at which I am keynoting monday morning. Instead I hired a car (its about the same price) and planned to drive both ways, taking a day in each case and taking some pictures. Having not had a holiday this year, I am snatching odd dates here and there. Next wednesday that will involve the Icefield Parkway and dinner in Canmore with an old friend. Today I fulfilled a long standing personal goal to see some of the badlands and in particular the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology. I spent most of my teenage years with my fossil hammer in the Devonian and Silurian deposits of the Welsh Marches and the Tyrell Museum is one of the places. The picture above must be the most spectacular fossil of all time (and this entry is named for it. A tyrannosaurus rex captured at the moment of death.

I picked up an americano from Starbucks along with city mugs for Banff and Calgary (so some success) in the airport after a overnight in an airport hotel. The snow soon went as I turned off the main Calgary-Edmonton highway and headed east to Drumheller. I would not have wanted to do that drive late at night, it was a very long straight road accross largely featureless flat land. Isolated farmhouses surrounded by what will be wheat fields later in the year, scattered with the nodding donkeys of an oil rich area; few if any cars and a constant danger of nodding off and ending up in a ditch. I didn’t have my iPod cable with me, but CBC is up there with the BBC in terms of interesting programmes. I was lucky enough to catch a Megan Boler which serendipitously helped me prepare for tomorrows keynote. I stopped off at Horseshoe Canyon and wished I had more time, and warmer clothing! I planned breakfast in Drumheller and had looked up a site or two on the web before going. However all those places were closed with See you in May notices on the door. The off season impression was augmented by the number of seagulls in the air and I had this strange sense of Déjà vu with fleeing memories of Llandudno pier in february.

A tourist town in the off season is always interesting, although the dinosaur should come with a health warning. A fruitless half hour later I headed south to look at the hoodoos, discovered the mine museum was closed and walked the Star Mine suspension bridge. Returning to Drumheller I finally found a great place for breakfast (left). An old style dinner, average age of staff 60 and really friendly. My accent gave me aware, my inability to describe how I wanted to my eggs all created interest and I was told that I would want tea not coffee (I didn’t argue). Suitably refreshed I headed for the museum and an enjoyable couple of hours looking at the museum exhibits.

Now I was in part disappointed; it was a brilliant place for kids, but I wanted to know far more about the discoveries, the implications in particular for animal behaviour in the Jurassic. The pioneering work of the museum was hinted at, but not available in the exhibits. The idea of walking through a tunnel of the various geological ages was good, it gave a sense of scale or change, but again if you wanted to go deeper, well you couldn’t I’m afraid. Not even the bookshop had material, it was all T shirts, fluffy toys an picture books. Still worth the trip however.

From there I headed north for Edmonton to pick up Michael from the airport. A long drive, but the scenery changed as I approached Edmonton, the flatness gave way to a more textured landscape. The sky was also clearing, the sun was out and the air fresh. The mountains and the sea all provide that freshness of atmosphere which stimulates the brain.

Full photo stream of the trip here for those interested.

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