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Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Museum Of The Rockies & Royal Tyrrell

Updated on March 30, 2010

In a corner of the hall, a Quetzalcoatlus, a flying, birdlike reptile known as a pterosaur, stands 10 feet tall in a coastal forest of palmettos, horsetails, ginkgoes, and cycads near the ancient shoreline. Its batlike wings are folded at its sides while more of its kind soar overhead, suspended from the ceiling or painted into a mural.

Horner would be the first to tell you that scientific interpretations must be subject to change, and so must museum exhibits that seek to go beyond bones. Look to the right, beyond the Maiasaura scene, for instance, and you'll see two slender, six-foot meat eaters known as Trosdon formosus. One is brooding a nest full of six-inch, potato-shaped eggs; another walks near a nest where eggs are hatching and young Trosdons are piling out to feed on the carcass of a small plant-eating dinosaur that Horner named Orodromeus makelai.

Until 1998, a fiberglass Orodromeus was tending those eggs. That's because within the same patch of badlands that contained the Maiasaura nesting grounds, Horner's crews had found two dozen skeletons of young Orodromeus, but only a few Trosdon remains among a dozen clutches of such eggs. Not until 1996, when a preparator chipped away sediment from bone inside an unhatched egg, did Horner confirm that the embryo was actually a Trosdon.

Beyond the dinosaur hall, sharing a largely empty space with a life-sized robotic rubber Triceratops, is a glass-front "fossil bank" where volunteers are at work cleaning bones and answering questions. Someday Triceratops will give way to a new Cenozoic display. (Much of the museum is devoted to the very recent Holocene, a mammalian saga of gold miners, settlers, and Native Americans.) The museum also boasts a lively, interactive Paleozoic section where you can look at "a day 370 million years ago" when tropical seas sloshed across much of the region. But for those who share Horner's passion for dinosaurs, the action here will always be in the Mesozoic.

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Alberta

Dinosaurs are all over the town of Drumheller, Alberta. The capital of this empire is the Royal Tyrrell Museum, one of the world's largest and most comprehensive fossil collections, set about ten minutes northwest of town on a highway called the Dinosaur Trail. Canada's crown jewel of palaeontology is housed in a large, modern, glass-and-granite structure surrounded by the eroded sandstone hills that provide it with most of its fossils. Even as the museum was being built in 1984, palaeontologists crossing the construction site found the lower jaw of a Trosdon, the first ever discovered.

The exhibits include more than 30 complete dinosaur skeletons, a great variety of prehistoric mammals, and about 800 other fossils from various periods during the last 3.5 billion years. It is a spectacular, state-of-the-art display, and about as far from a musty natural-history museum as you can imagine. Your first dinosaur encounter upon entering the museum and weaving through the throng of children pulling levers and pushing buttons in the hands-on science hall is an exhibit labeled Extreme Theropods.

Continued in: Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Royal Tyrrell Museum

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