It’s been almost a month since our house was robbed, and I’m slowly putting back together the pieces of my digital life. The thief (or thieves) stole a few of my favourite pieces of jewelery, my bike, and my camera, but by far the most excruciating loss was the desktop computer and the laptop, where most of my backup was stored. It’s painful realizing that most of my photos and movies of three-year-old Aurora are gone (we were able to retrieve older ones from an older external hard drive, thankfully). Thanks to friends and family who have suggested various ways of recovering lost files – it’s been really helpful to have your advice.
SO! Moving on… Recently I found a hidden cache of files on WordPress, where I write this blog. So for those of you who have something against Facebook, and haven’t seen my vacation photos yet, here’s what you’ve been missing! (Drum roll, please.)
When last we heard from our Creature Adventurers, Chris & Martin Kratt (seen below) and their genius inventor friend Aviva (me), we were driving across BC to get to the dinosaurs in Alberta. We stayed in the cute town of Canmore our first night in Alberta, where we had surprisingly excellent sushi for dinner, and also some equally excellent and much cheaper bagels for breakfast the next morning. Then we headed to Calgary, listening to Jeremy Irons’ brilliant reading of James and the Giant Peach. We drove around for a while in the totally crazy one-way-streets/construction-laden/Stampede-tourist-filled streets of downtown Calgary, and stopped for lunch at Fat City Franks, which used to be called “Le Chien Chaud”. We thought it was a good bet for lunch because Aurora loves hot dogs, right? Wrong! Unfortunately she accidentally got a spicy one, and it was pretty yucky. She didn’t like the lemonade, either. Oh, well.
Finally we got to the Calgary Zoo. Chris and Martin and I loved seeing all the cool creatures there. I was curious to see how a place as cold as Calgary gets in the winter could house warmth-loving animals all year. They do it by building these huge pavilions with airplane-hangar doors that are open to big yards in the warmer months, but keep the animals, shall we say, cozy, in the winter.
Here’s a little sign the gorillas posted in the African Savannah pavilion next door.
Aurora was a trooper, carrying her own clothes change and snack (and little friend) most of the time.
I think Aurora liked the conservatory and butterfly pavilion the best. The butterflies were pretty darn cool, actually.
A little reward (okay, a huge one) for very good behaviour.
I believe that the Calgary Zoo may be unique in that some of its residents are, well, extinct (but I wouldn’t mention it to them if I were you).
Our favourite dinosaur, the Pteranodon, made an unexpected appearance on the cliffs above.
On the way out of the zoo, about an hour past official closing time, one of the numerous peacocks finally decided to grace us with a beautiful display of feathers.
After dinner in Calgary, we drove northeast through the prairies for a couple of hours. Maybe it was just that it’s so different from BC’s topography, or that I finally got to sit in the front seat for a change, but I found the scenery simply magical around sunset. Golden fields of rapeseed (canola) stretched off in the distance, the sky was tinged with pinks and purples, and a huge full moon slowly rose over the gently undulating landscape. Then, when it was almost dark, we arrived in Drumheller. The fertile prairie seemed to crack open and swallow us up as the road descended into a canyon network carved through the layers of earth. It was rather odd, driving through this little town with what has got to be the largest per capita collection of life-sized concrete dinosaurs of any city. Every store, restaurant, motel, and car dealership seemed to have its own big dino statue out front. We knew we’d come to the right place.
Much more convincing in the moonlight, I was glad to have a river between our motel and this “hugantic” Tyrannosaur.
Here’s an odd-looking one: Pachyrhinoceratops, discovered in Drumheller. By the way, did you know there’s an Auroraceratops? Seriously!
The Royal Tyrrell Museum was incredible, and incredibly big, too. I felt rushed the whole day, trying to read all the fascinating tidbits about discovery stories, see the marvelous displays, and learn as much as I could about prehistory.
A picture window gives museum visitors a view into the lab where the scientists work on preserving the largest fossils. I was pretty impressed by the 75 million-year-old desk clutter. The Drumheller area is quite rich in Late Cretaceous fossils, so we saw lots of Hadrosaurs, Ceratopsians, and Albertasaurs (smaller cousins of T-rex).
And what a lovely patio the cafeteria had!
Hey, look over there! It’s a T-rex! Aurora was a pretty good sport, but it was a very long time in a museum for a three-and-three-quarters-year-old.
Aurora was happy to pick out her own souvenir, a loveable, huggable pteranodon of her very own.
From Drumheller, we drove south-southeast to Dinosaur Provincial Park. Friends of ours had warned us that the park was amazing, and that we would need at least two or three days there to really enjoy it properly. We camped in the park for three nights. The general public can freely wander a small network of trails close to the campsites and visitors’ centre, but to really see the cool stuff, you have to sign up for a guided tour in the preserve.
We boarded a (mostly operational) bus the first morning for our “Fossil Safari” tour.
Our park interpreter, Corrie, drove us out to a slight bowl in the landscape where a lot of erosion had revealed lots of interesting tidbits, and taught us how to look for and recognize different types of microfossils, like teeth, claws, scales, and bits of bone.
The bigger bones, like this one, were easy enough for me to find, but were usually broken into pieces.
Small rocks and fossils were scattered all over the sandstone ground, so we sat down and got busy looking.
Brian had the keenest eyes (my laser eyes not really helping) for this sort of task, and he found several fossils within a half hour.
The fossils were so small, I kept wanting to pick them up to get a closer look at them, but that was a real no-no. The only reason why we see them at all is that the previous visitors have left them right there for us to find.
Although at first glance, this picture might seem like a bunch of boring old pebbles, if you look closer (click once or twice to zoom in) you’ll see a dozen or so microfossils, like the pale one in the centre of the picture, or the one with a bit of yellow lichen right below it.
The sun and heat were really intense here, so Aurora took her own measures to find some shade. If you ever visit in the summer, remember to bring a water spray bottle!
And then the bus broke down. The rapidly eroding sandstone trails of the backcountry are pretty rough on these little buses, which definitely weren’t built with off-road safari travel in mind. Most people tried to find a bit of shade, although it was nearly noon, while Corrie radioed for another bus to come and rescue her tour group.
I preferred to look at cool rocks instead.
Chris and Martin ventured up a tiny mountain. We were finally rescued, and went back to camp for a relaxing afternoon being devoured by mosquitoes. That evening, Brian and Aurora went to see a one-woman play called “The Ugly Eya”, about owls, falcons, and other raptors. Brian really got a kick out of the songs, with altered lyrics, to the tunes of “Help!”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “What I Like About You”. They really enjoyed the show, even with the crazy-hungry mosquitoes bothering them the whole time.
My special treat for the trip was a grownups-only sunset photographers tour of the preserve. I took about 225 photos, most of which are lost now, but hey, they were mostly just pictures of rocks anyway. Here’s a few of my favourites, just to give you a sense of the uniqueness of the landscape:
You don’t want to know where I had to stand to take this picture.
There’s a small metal rod in this hole in the ridge to indicate where a dinosaur skeleton was excised.
It was a Corythosaurus, and it’s housed in a concrete shed about 6 metres away, so people can see it.
Here’s a fossil skin impression, so we can actually see what the texture of its skin was like.
These hoodoo couches looked really comfy to me.
Our tour guide, David, took us up to a high plateau to see the sunset, and extended our tour by almost an hour so that we could catch the whole sunset out on the preserve. Thanks so much!
My favourite sunset shot.
The next day we spent a lot of time at the Visitors’ Centre/Museum, where we could get a break from the bugs and the heat. Aurora was signed up for a class called “Paleo Puzzlers”, which challenged us to search the museum’s galleries for examples of different types of fossils, and puzzle out some facts about dino life.
Leaving Dinosaur Provincial Park and heading back to Calgary. I think I can count about 20 mosquito bites on this upper arm alone. Ouch!
It was great to visit with our friend Bob at his home in Calgary.
Bob collects fossils and world globes (or “earth balls”, as Aurora calls them), and she warmed up to him immediately. He took us out for a delicious lunch at the Purple Perk, in the Mission district.
Next stop? Banff! Our hotel, the Bow View Lodge, had a great location, right on – you guessed it! – the Bow River. It was on a quiet street close to everything, so we didn’t have to use our car at all. We had a delicious dinner the first night at Melissa’s, in a cool heritage log building one block from our hotel.
Taking a walk around the town of Banff, we saw a whole lot of geology shops, full of very, very pretty rocks. Some dangle from your ears, or rest on your fingers, but they also had a few big fossils you can hang on your wall. Somehow we managed not to buy anything except food. One of the shopgirls recommended a place called Timbers, on Wolf Street, and we enjoyed a lovely al fresco lunch on the patio, even though it was just starting to drizzle. That afternoon Brian and Aurora went for a swim at the hotel while I wrote. They actually went swimming three times in Banff, and Aurora made a lot of progress with so much practice.
Going to dinner that evening was something of an adventure. Around six’o'clock we finally made up our minds about dinner and decided to brave the pouring rain in order to go out to a Japanese restaurant two blocks from the hotel. Within one block we were soaked to the skin, and by the time we got to the restaurant, our shoes needed to be emptied. We sat at one of those low tables where it’s okay to take your shoes off, and ordered something hot to eat. Ten minutes later the rain slowed down, and in half an hour it had stopped completely.
By the way, have I mentioned how much Aurora loves sushi? She occasionally eats the fillings, but mostly she loves the nori & rice wrapper that goes around the maki rolls. Edamame beans are yummy, too. Since it’s low fat and high fibre, it’s one of the best things we can get for her when we’re eating out. Most kids’ menus consist of hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, or other high fat items. We really lucked out food-wise in Banff. The place where we got breakfast the last day was called Wild Flour Bakery, and it’s one of those wholesome, gourmet eateries that are so popular in Vancouver, but much rarer the farther you get from here. Aurora’s whole wheat flaxseed waffles were absolutely gorgeous, with a mixed berry compote and real maple syrup. Divine! (Actually, I found something even better recently at Little Nest – “Brioche French Toast with seasonal fruit, toasted nuts and vanilla whipped mascarpone” – but it was twice the price. Sorry, I digress.)
Banff is quite touristy, but with scenery this spectacular, who wouldn’t be? On our last day we drove out to the campgrounds for a short hike. Brian saw lots of wildlife when he camped there with his family as a kid, but we weren’t so lucky on this trip. There was, ahem, evidence of wildlife near the trail, but no actual visible animals that day.
We did like these pretty wildflowers, though.
Our last stop on the trip was at Grandma & Grandpa’s house again. It was lovely to be there, one last time before they moved. Aurora and Grandma went “fishing” in the pool for squid, sharks and “whopper” fish to feed Aurora’s young friend Polar Bear. Polar Bear now finally has a name, by the way. It’s “Purple Cake with Blue Candles”, but you can call her by her nickname, “White Cake”.
It’s been a long trip, and White Cake is happy to get such a fresh and delicious shark to eat.
That’s it! I’m done. Maybe by January I’ll be able to post pictures of our August trip to California!