In Part Two of a two-part series, I take you searching, and digging for, dinosaurs in the Badlands of Alberta.
I was given the opportunity to join the University of Alberta on an excavation at Pipestone Creek, in Grande Prairie. This was in preparation for the Ackroyd Foundation’s annual Amber Ball weekend, which included a family and friends dig at Pipestone. The Ball was also set to mark the opening of the world renowned Philip J. Currie Museum.
We camped along the poplar trees at a local farm where the remains of a hadrosaur were discovered a few years back. This would be our home base for the next two weeks. Every morning we would drive past the vibrant canola fields over to Pipestone Creek, giant spruce trees lunging into the summer sky as the poplars sang the morning breeze. A faint haze of smoke hovered midway along the tree line; the reality of summer forest fires in British Colombia and Alberta. We headed down the windy gravel road to the main bridge, on the other side: the River of Death and Discovery Bone Bed.
In 1974, Al Lakusta went on a nature hike in search of leaf fossils, and instead came across the most dense horned bone beds in the world. With over 200 bones per-square-meter, this site has been active since 1986.
As I had mentioned, I wanted to get dirty, and boy did I ever get dirty. Before you can get to the bone bed, you have to clear off the over burden. Heavy, dense, clay filled, rocky over burden. We spent the next two days swinging pick axes, shovelling rock and debris into buckets which we would then haul uphill—we were known as The Bucket Brigade. I must admit, I highly enjoyed this and turned it into my own personal fitness program; my muscles screaming as I repeated in my head, “squat, deadlift, chest press, oblique twist”. The first day was so hot, I jumped in Wapati River fully-clothed, letting the crisp water cool my sun-kissed skin.
“As I drove back to Calgary in my Fiat 500L, I yearned to be back at the bone bed, but sadly knew that I would have to wait until next year.”
The next six days we stationed ourselves along our newly-cleared bone bed and began the slow and delicate process of lifting the prehistoric pages of geological history. It took me a few days to reach any bone, but once I did—and with each layer removed—more and more bone was revealed. They were literally stacked on each other. By the end of the day, I had uncovered four new promising specimens and did not want to leave. I became obsessed with finding out what the bed contained: what secrets it held, what scientific discovery had laid dormant for over 70 million years, just waiting for me to uncover and expose its story.
I began to dream about excavating; rock gently peeling away from shiny, sticky bone. One of the major learning experiences on this trip was being able to tell the difference between rock and bone. There are a few ways, and one is to lick it. Well, lick your finger then touch the potential piece of bone. If the test was positive, my finger would stick. By the end of the two weeks, I had removed over 10 specimens, then prepared them to be transported to the University of Alberta.
During our final days at Pipestone Creek we were joined by the Ackroyd family—and friends, including his wonderful wife, Donna Dixon and their daughters—along with Fran Drescher, Paul Mitchell and the Canadian Tenors, who sang a blessing for the bone bed. That was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The weekend was wrapped up with the annual Amber Ball where over 1,000 guests celebrated and danced the night away.
As I drove back to Calgary in my Fiat 500L, I yearned to be back at the bone bed, but sadly knew that I would have to wait until next year.