A Real Jurassic Park – Grande Prairie, Alberta
I am no dinosaur nut and I most certainly don’t follow paleontology news but when we heard that one of the densest dinosaur dig sites in the world was on our route to Alaska…we knew we had to check it out.
Grande Prairie, Alberta is directly on route to the Alaskan Highway and it’s commonly noted as a good place to fuel up, stuff the fridge with groceries and take care of those last minute auto or RV services needed before hitting the ALCAN…and that’s about all the majority of Alaska travelers like us knew about this small town.
But it’s about to get a lot more interesting! With a spankin’ new dinosaur museum, bone bed tours, volunteer programs, educational programs and even helicopter tours of the dig sites…Grande Prairie is no longer a simple pass-through town, it’s a worthy destination to add to the #AlaskaBound journey.
The new Philip J Currie Dino Museum is scheduled to open later this year and while we couldn’t experience what will be, we did manage to talk our way into a “hard hat” preview of the new digs (pun intended).
We kicked things off with a quick but exhilarating areal tour of the big dig site. It all felt very Jurassic Park-esque with the flowing Wapiti river below and lush treetops nearly touching our helicopter’s skids (that’s the landing ‘feet’). I found myself searching left and right hoping to see a giant tyrannosaur head pop up above the tree line and look up at us as we zoomed by (sadly, no such luck).
Once we landed back at the museum we wandered around the mostly empty halls with the education coordinator (she was chock full of dino excitement) who gave us grand mental visions of the coming interactive displays, what local dinosaurs looked like and she even showed us a sneak peek at the working fossil lab.
The museum is named after Paleontologist Dr. Philip Currie who is the real life version of Dr. Alan Grant in the Jurassic Park movies (seriously, they modeled the character after Dr. Currie according to sources). So…if you ever find a dinosaur on your travels, you now know who to tell about it, the one and only world famous Dr. Currie.
It was a school teacher back in 1974 that discovered the first bone here in Grande Prairie. Since then, the discoveries just keep coming and it’s led to this new state of the art museum way out here in the middle of nowhere…yet only a few miles from the digging action. The museum will take visitors on a journey from paleo to petroleum (which just sounds cool).
The museum isn’t open yet so if you are Alaska bound and headed towards Grande Prairie, you’ll want to check the website to see what’s going on and if there’s something fun you can join in on. Oh, and if you’re traveling with kids it’s an incredible educational stop and I did notice the children’s programs are already in full swing.
If you like flight and archeology then spring for the heli-tour, otherwise save the dough and take the $5 bus out to the dig site for a short hike and close-up viewing of the dig location.
Where We Parked It
What made this an extra fun, and interesting, stop to us is that we were able to camp at Pipestone Creek, which is just a few miles from the largest dig site in the area (and one of the largest in the world). It’s a nice county run park set back off the main roads that runs along the wapiti river. It’s a peaceful and beautiful area that is big favorite of the locals on the weekends and we can totally see why. However…bring your bug spray, bug zappers and the entire anti-bug arsenal because the prehistoric mosquito’s here will physically carry you away and leave your bones to be discovered alongside the hydrosaurs!
Fuel Prices – Gas and Diesel were fairly priced sitting around 1.07 per liter for unleaded. They do have a Costco so fuel up there if you’re a member, it’s some of the cheapest fuel you’ll see for a while.
Road Conditions – The road leading into and out of Grande Prairie is in excellent condition. However, the roads leading to the campground are dirt and when wet are very muddy. But get used to it because if you’re headed to Alaska, there is a lot more of that coming your way!
Dates Visited – May 29 – June 1, 2015
Have you ever visited a dig site or a really cool dino museum? Share your story or favorite museum stops in the comments below!
Disclaimer – A big thanks to our hosts Pipestone Creek Campground and the Phillip J. Currie museum for taking the time to give us the behind the scenes tour.