So many of the world’s great museums are simply showcases for natural history, yet nestled in the badlands six kilometers (3.7 mi) northwest of Drumheller , the Royal Tyrrell Museum (North Dinosaur Trail, 403/823-7707 or 888/440-4240, www.tyrrellmuseum.com , mid-May–Aug. daily 9 a.m.–9 p.m., the rest of the year Tues.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., adult $10, senior $8, youth $6, under six free), the world’s largest museum devoted entirely to paleontology, is a lot more.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum integrates display areas with fieldwork done literally on the doorstep (it lies close by that first “official” discovery), with specimens transported to the museum for research and cataloging. Even for those visitors with little or no interest in dinosaurs, it’s easy to spend half a day in the massive complex. The museum holds more than 80,000 specimens, including 50 full-size dinosaur skeletons—the world’s largest such display.
The adventure starts as soon as you enter the facility, with a group of life-sized Albertosaurus dinosaurs in a Cretaceous setting to welcome you. Beyond the lobby is a massive, slowly-revolving model of the earth set against a starry night—a perfect introduction to this planet’s place in the universe. Beyond the globe, a “timeline” of exhibits covers 3.8 billion years of life on this planet, beginning with early life forms and the development of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Before the age of the dinosaurs, the Precambrian and Paleozoic eras saw life on Earth develop at an amazing rate. These periods are cataloged through numerous displays, such as the one of British Columbia’s Burgess Shale , where circumstances allowed the fossilization of a community of soft-bodied marine creatures 530 million years ago.
But the museum’s showpiece is Dinosaur Hall, a vast open area where reconstructed skeletons and full-size replicas of dinosaurs are backed by realistic dioramas of their habitat. Another feature is the two-story paleoconservatory, featuring more than 100 species of plants, many of which flourished during the period when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Nearing the end of the tour, the various theories for the cause of the dinosaurs’ extinction approximately 64 million years ago are presented. The coming of the ice ages is described in detail, and humanity’s appearance on Earth is put into perspective.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is also a major research center; a large window into the main preparation laboratory allows you to view the delicate work of technicians as they clear the rock away from newly unearthed bones.