The Red Deer Expedition: Paddling for Dinosaur Bones


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It’s not quite the Land of the Lost, but this July 18 members of New York’s Explorers Club will put their canoes into the Red Deer River just downstream of Bleriot Ferry, Alberta, to continue a journey first started in 2012 looking for…dinosaur bones.

Alberta’s Red Deer River cuts through a series of Upper Cretaceous rocks that produce a succession of dinosaur faunas that represent the last 15 million years of non-avian dinosaur history on Earth. The rocks represent the lower part of the Horseshoe Canyon Formation, which has produced numerous dinosaur fossils of the Edmontonian Land Mammal Age. And the trip has history on its side.

In 2012, a similar expedition ran the upper part of the river, looking for new dinosaur specimens. It succeeded in unearthing a few new finds, with follow-up research conducted by the University of Alberta. The trip ended in Drumheller, where this year’s expedition will begin.

“The intention was always to continue the trip farther downstream in 2014,” says trip leader Jason Schoonover, 67, a long-time paddler, Explorer’s Club member and amateur paleontologist.

During the two-week-long, 131-mile trip, the paddlers will work their way downriver, stopping at exposures to look for new dinosaur fossil sites, and to attempt to relocate quarries that had been worked by earlier dinosaur hunters.

The expedition will pass through the lower beds of the Horseshoe Canyon formation, the marine beds of the Bearpaw Formation (where dinosaur skeletons that had drifted out to sea have been found), the world-famous beds of the Dinosaur Park Formation, and the upper part of the Oldman Formation. From there, the team will emerge from the badlands at Jenner.

Bones found with the potential for excavation will be worked in subsequent years by the University of Alberta. The team will also collect data and incorporate it into palaeo-ecological studies assessing changes in dinosaur diversity as they approached the extinction event 65 million years ago.

Joining Schoonover will be Field Leader Dr. Phil Currie, 63, Edmonton, an internationally renowned paleontologist from Edmonton; as well as Captain Norm Baker, 84, of Windsor, Mass., the navigator on Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra, Ra II and Tigris reed boat expeditions.

“Any new finds from the trip will add to paleontology’s growing storehouse of knowledge,” says Schoonover. “With 36 eyes to the ground in an area with the richest concentration of dinosaur bones on the planet, we stand a good chance of making important discoveries-particularly as we’ve had a couple of heavy snowfall winters which caused greater than normal erosion.”



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