Five years ago next month, my in-laws were in the middle of a massive and thorough house renovation, so they considered “stay at home and watch as the air conditioning went blasting through the holes in outside walls and through the missing floorboards, or go someplace with more amenable weather.” To their credit, they decided that this was the perfect time to go to Canada. Banff, Alberta, specifically. Considering that at that point I hadn’t been in Canada in 30 years, and even then only to Ontario, I certainly wasn’t going to argue about a family expedition. That is, until we got into the rental car and the Czarina suddenly panicked about on which side of the road Canadians drive.
(Now you have to understand that I love the Czarina in the way I love oxygen, a steady supply of drinkable water, and the ability to pull off a really good fart joke when being chased by mobsters, ninjas, and dinosaurs. However, telling her that the Oxford Dictionary definition of “credulous” has her picture next to it works every time. A perfect example was when the whole extended clan went on a jaunt through the trails in Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, and we passed what once was the hinge to a gate, still attached to a tree. It looked like a spigot attached to the tree, so the Czarina asked about its purpose. “It’s for gathering pine syrup,” I said. “Canadians only use pine syrup on their pancakes. They save that maple crap for Americans who aren’t smart enough to know better.” I had her going for a full ten minutes until she saw me fighting laughter, and then OH MY GOD THE BEATINGS, as Jeff Somers would say.)
I don’t want to intimate that I don’t love the Czarina’s family. Anything but. It’s just that usually their idea of fun is a bit different than ours. While everyone else wanted to go white-water rafting, we were loading the car for a sidetrip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. After arriving in Calgary before driving to Banff, the car rental clerk asked our plans for our vacation, and when I brought up the word “Drumheller”, this poor Newfoundland girl just shuddered. “It’s so FLAT.” I simply responded “In other words, just like North Texas.” And it is. The only realy difference between Calgary and Fort Worth is that the latter has a surplus of cactus and a drought of Mounties, and the only way we were absolutely sure we hadn’t teleported to West Texas on our way to Drumheller was noting that all of the highway signs listed kilometers instead of miles.
Anyway, the Royal Tyrrell Museum actually managed to exceed its reputation in the US. Its Burgess Shale exhibit was the next best thing to seeing the actual formation, and its dinosaur collection is simply incredible. (This includes the life-sized Albertosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus models out in front. With the latter, I couldn’t resist a Steve Irwin pose, and I’m glad I wasn’t deported.) The most intriguing draw, though, was the spectacular Cretaceous Garden. In particular, one glass wall looks over the Drumheller badlands, giving a particularly poignant comparison between the conditions 90 million years ago and now.
Not that the Cretaceous Garden is the only one of its type, even on the continent. For instance, the Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin has the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, similarly planted with flora comparable to that in the area during the Cretaceous. I just wonder, though, what would it take to set up a similar garden here in Dallas?